83rd Annual Academy Award Nominations

Like most film buffs, I awoke yesterday morning at the crack of  8am when my alarm went off, shuffled around, did my morning routine, got my coffee on, ate a yogurt (part of my New Years Resolution to be more like Michael Westen) caught the end of the Saved By The Bell episode when Zack accidentally knocks over Screech’s parents’ bust of Elvis, then gambles away Screech’s dog… not the best episode, but OK. And THEN, at 8:30, I turned to the Oscar nomination announcement ceremony.

My take is one of watching from the sidelines, having not seen all of the nominated films, nor even all of the Best Picture nominees (will be at 8 of 10 this weekend), but being a fan of not only film as an art, but the Oscars as a celebration of the art, I want to chime in, have my say.

I’m going to focus on the Big 5 (Picture, Director Writing, Actor, Actress, and technically 6, since there are 2 writing categories) & the supporting role categories, because I’d be lost trying to dissect “Best Documentary – Short Subject.”

As for locking in my predictions, that will happen a week before the ceremony on February 27th.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

127 Hours; The Social Network; Toy Story 3; True Grit; Winter’s Bone

It’s interesting that Toy Story 3 got the nod for adapted screenplay, as it, according to the rule, is based on the screenplay for the 95 original. I don’t see it, but hey, I don’t make the rules, or nominate films. But looking at the list, I’d say Toy Story 3 is the only serious contender to upset Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant script for The Social Network.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Another Year; The Fighter; Inception; The Kids Are All Right; The King’s Speech

This is a category that’s just wide open. All the scripts are just so different, with their own merits and nuances. But ultimately, it’s a three-way race between the heavy family drama of The Fighter, the sometimes comedic character study of The King’s Speech, or the intricacies of Inception.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Fighter; Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech; Melissa Leo for The Fighter; Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit; Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom

As with most of the major categories, there were snubs. And as with most of the major categories, the field just became too crowded to fit them all. Who would you swap, and why? Personally, the two biggest snubs for Supporting Actress are Mila Kunis in Black Swan, who keeps pace with Natalie Portman (who did get a nomination) and Chloe Moretz in Kick Ass who  exhibited a reckless bravado that blindsides you when you realize that she was (at the time of filming), in fact, a mere 11 years old. But who do you kick out? Steinfeld, who showcased a calm intensity against Bridges & Damon? Weaver? Bonham Carter?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale for The Fighter; John Hawkes for Winter’s Bone; Jeremy Renner for The Town; Mark Ruffalo for The Kids are All Right; Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech

This one was a much less crowded field, only if you discount just about everyone from The Social Network. It seems almost criminal to have left out Andrew Garfield or Armie Hammer and, to a lesser extent, even Justin Timberlake. But like the Supp. Actress category… who would take out? Renner? It seems more criminal that he’s the lone nomination for the superb The Town. Ruffalo?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right; Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole; Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone; Natalie Portman for Black Swan; Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine

This is another crowded category (which is surprisingly unusual) where you could bemoan the snubs, but who would you take out. The biggest snub I’m hearing is Julianne Moore instead of Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right. I’ll reserve my judgement after I see it this weekend. I’m also disappointed in, again, no love for Chloe Moretz, this time for her raw, emotional and entirely beautiful performance in Let Me In, achieving emotional highs that elude actresses more than double her age and experience. Ultimately, this category belongs to Natalie Portman.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Javier Bardem for Biutiful; Jeff Bridges for True Grit; Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network; Colin Firth for The King’s Speech; James Franco for 127 Hours

Lead Actor will essentially come right down to the wire. Firth is the heavy favourite, coming into this with two previous nominations and a multiple wins for this role, but I think newcomer Eisenberg will be the spoiler. The Social Network is a strong contender in all categories, and Eisenberg breathed life into not only the character (or, caricature? perhaps) of Mark Zuckerberg, and the story of Facebook. But Bridges and Bardem are previous winners, and Franco could also prove to be a viable dark horse. Perhaps the biggest acting snub belongs to this category with the absence of Mark Wahlberg, considering The Fighter picked up nominations everywhere else. But, yet again, the slogan for this year’s Oscars is “Who would you bump?”

Best Achievement in Directing

Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan; Ethan & Joel Coen for True Grit; David Fincher for The Social Network; Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech; David O. Russell for The Fighter

This boasts a stellar, and interestingly diverse cast of characters, who all have their own distinct style. Unfortunately, this also contains a major snub, and the “Who would you bump?” question is easier to answer. As much as it pains me to say this, as I’m a huge fan of their work, I’d drop the Coen Brothers in favour of the more finely orchestrated work of Christopher Nolan on Inception.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

127 Hours; Black Swan; The Fighter; Inception; The Kids Are All Right; The King’s Speech; The Social Network; Toy Story 3; True Grit; Winter’s Bone

Last year, the Academy started to experiment with expanding the Best Picture category to 10 nominees, in a bid to bridge the gap between audiences and voting members, and to a degree it worked. And I think we’re slowly seeing a trickle down that could, over time, open up the other categories to “non-traditional” Academy movies. The race is still wide open, with no clear front-runner. The Social Network is the heavy favourite for this category, but The King’s Speech is gaining momentum, with The Fighter and Black Swan also on track to be spoilers, and you can’t, of course, count out the great Toy Story 3.

Top 10 Films of 2010

These were the films that struck a cord with me in 2010, that I enjoyed for various reasons. Before the list, some Honourable Mentions, just missing the top 10: The Losers,  Tron: Legacy, Easy A, How To Train Your Dragon, The Crazies, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows prt 1, Iron Man 2, Catfish, The A-Team, Tangled

10- The Town (Directed by Ben Affleck; Starring Ben Affleck, John Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall) Even after Gone Baby Gone, I wouldn’t have pegged Affleck as a director who could deliver. But here we are. He’s 2 for 2. He was able to get some great performances out of some terrific actors, and he even elevated his game in front of the camera. We get a tight thriller that excites every step of the way, and pushes Jon Hamm more and more into super stardom.

9- Black Swan (Directed by Darren Aronofsky; Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel) One thing that can be said about Aronofsky’s films is that they are an experience. And he comes off his gut wrenching look at professional wrestling by taking  a look at the New York Ballet scene, and how the drive to be the best can drive one mad. We experience the descent Portman’s Nina goes through, in her best performance to date.

8- The Fighter (Directed by David O. Russell; Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams) Say what you will about Russell, his films tend to be love or hate, but this one is hard to hate. His last pairing with Wahlberg produced Marky Mark’s best performance, add in the drama of a boxing story (which I’m a sucker for) and the almost always great Bale and Adams, it’s a winner.

7- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Directed by Edgar Wright; Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and  Chris Evans) It was easy to miss and dismiss this film as being too esoteric, too targeted, too Michael Cera being Michael Cera (again). But what you missed with this film is one of the most strikingly original romantic comedies, and for once, Cera playing his type works in the film’s favour, as it contrasts with his adversaries. Wright consistently delivers some of the most finely crafted films, even if they are genre films.

6- True Grit (Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen; Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Brolin) My approach to this film is how I approach most remakes. If they bring something new to the table, or can stand on their own merits, then there’s nothing wrong with them. The Coen brothers bringing their dark humour and bleak sensibilities to the classic (which is actually a readaptation of a book, rather then a remake of a film) western, and Bridges continues with a late career resurgence in both quality and popularity.  Of particular note, young Hailee Steinfeld, with the gravitas and talent not normally seen in someone so young, and holding her own against the likes of Bridges, Damon and Brolin.

5- Let Me In (Directed by Matt Reeves; Starring Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Richard Jenkins) Like True Grit, Let Me In is less of a remake (of the 2008 Swedish film Let The Right One In) and more of a readaptation of the original novel, and it loses none of the haunting beauty of the original. It’s a disservice to compare the two, as both are fascinating. The two children, who were both about 13 when the film was being made, carry the film, and handle the roles better than some actors with twice the age and experience.  Reeves is an emerging voice in genre cinema, and made an indelible impression.

4- Toy Story 3 (Directed by Lee Unkrich; Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack) Pixar has been on a 15 year hot streak since the first Toy Story in 95, and I’m not ashamed to say that this brought a tear to my eye (several tears, actually). Pixar never compromises story for spectacle, one thing other animation houses (including Pixar parent, Disney) have struggled with. But they are first and foremost storytellers, and give the fans who grew up with Woody, Buzz & crew a great final, closing chapter.

3- Kick Ass (Directed by Matthew Vaughn; Starring Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Mark Strong) The superhero genre reached critical mass and market saturation with the powerhouse of The Dark Knight and Marvel Studio’s ambitions Avengers plan, but 2010 belonged to a nerdy guy who just wanted to do good. Not since Edgar Wright’s Hott Fuzz has a film so thoroughly skewered the conventions of the genre, yet lived entirely within the confines of the conventions. Moretz delivers her first great performance of the year, and coupled with Let Me In, she should be a lock come Oscar time, and I’m looking forward to more from her for years to come.

2- The Social Network (Directed by David Fincher; Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer and Justin Timberlake) Fincher works from a script by the great Aaron Sorkin, a story that they both acknowledge is both a fictionalized and sensationalized account of mostly true events, but sometimes what actually happened needs to be jazzed up a bit. Eisenberg is the best emerging talent, breaking through in 09, and hitting his stride in ’10 to bring excitement and energy to Zuckerberg and the start of Facebook.

1- Inception (Directed by Christopher Nolan; Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy) I’ve seen critiques of this go both ways, but in earnest, Nolan does the near impossible: Combines the spectacle to to appease mainstream audiences, but he actually has a complex plot, interesting characters, and compelling dialog. I’ve been following Nolan for 10 years, and he’s a filmmaker who will consistently deliver. And the cast, what a phenomenal ensemble cast he put together, especially the always pleasing Cotillard.

Not on the list because I have yet to see them:

127 Hours, The King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Waiting for Superman

112 Movies in 1 Year

In 2010, I broke my personal record for most films seen in theatres in a single calendar year. The final count came to 112. I assembled a video, my first video, to represent the films I saw. Here it is, in the order in which I saw them

Leap Year, Up in the Air, Youth In Revolt, Daybreakers, The Book of Eli, The Lovely Bones, Nine, Legion, The Tooth Fairy, Edge of Darkness, When in Rome, An Education, Dear John, From Paris with Love, The Wolfman, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Valentine’s Day, Shutter Island, Cop Out, The Crazies, Alice In Wonderland, Crazy Heart, Brooklyn’s Finest, Green Zone, She’s Out of My League, Bounty Hunter, Repo Men, How To Train Your Dragon, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Last Song, Clash of the Titans, Date Night, Kick Ass, Death at a Funeral, The Back Up Plan, The Losers, Furry Vengeance, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Iron Man 2, Letters to Juliet, Robin Hood, Shrek Forever After, MacGruber, Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Get Him to the Greek, Splice, The Karate Kid, The A-Team, Toy Story 3, Jonah Hex, Knight & Day, Grown Ups, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Last Airbender, Predators, Despicable Me, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Inception, Salt, Ramona & Beezus, Charlie St. Cloud, Dinner for Schmucks, The Other Guys, Step Up 3D, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Eat Pray Love, The Expendables, The Switch, Piranha 3D, Takers, The Last Exorcism, The American, Machete, Going the Distance, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Easy A, The Town, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, You Again, The Social Network, My Soul To Take, Secretariat, Life As We Know It, Jackass 3D, Red, Hereafter, Catfish, Paranormal Activity 2, Saw 3D, Megamind, Due Date, Unstoppable, Skyline, Morning Glory, The Next Three Days, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows prt 1, Tangled, Love and Other Drugs, Faster, Burlesque, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Tourist, Tron: Legacy, The Fighter, How Do You Know, True Grit, Black Swan, Little Fockers, Gulliver’s Travels.

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