Critically Speaking Picks the 83rd Academy Awards – Part One

When will I be named a member of the Academy already?

In years past, one of my favourite posts to make was the Andy Awards, where I chose not only who I thought should win awards in the various movie categories, but also who should have been nominated in the first place. After all, why pick from a flawed list put together by Academy members influenced by various politics and what not? Plus, if you’re interested in reading my opinions, then you’d probably want me choosing from my own opinions, not from someone else’s.

But, now I have a son and a lot less time to watch movies. Gone are the days where I could compile unique choices of nominees from the dozens of qualifying films I’ve watched. Last year, I did a quick selection of winners tacked on to a year end list. This year, I’m giving in and picking from the Academy’s list of nominees; largely because I haven’t seen many movies from 2010 other than the ones that were nominated. Of the films to score major nominations, the one I haven’t seen yet but wish I had is 127 Hours. I’d be interested in seeing Rabbit Hole if I thought I was capable of handling it, but as a father of a young son, I don’t think I could. I almost watched Animal Kingdom the other night but didn’t, while I’m comfortable skipping Biutiful (Iñárritu films leave me cold).

To clarify: this is a post of who I think should win each award, not who I think will win. Oscar predictions are all over the net, and basically are no fun unless you’re in a pool. It’s become an annoying side business that distracts from the real discussion of what is worthy when all anyone wants to talk about is the various campaigns and tea leaf readings trying to predict the hive mind of members of the Academy. Also, I’m only going to be picking categories where I seen enough of the nominees to have at least a partial basis for an opinion (which probably puts me ahead of many members of the Academy).

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale in The Fighter
John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner in The Town
Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech

Christian Bale has been dominating this category with all the other awards giving bodies, and given that it’s easily the showiest of all the performances here, it’s not hard to understand why. It’s got all the intensity and manic dedication to body-shaping and character you’d expect from Bale, displaying an aggressive charisma that threatens to dominate every scene he’s in. My biggest concern is that Bale went TOO big here, eschewing subtlety for scene stealing. Much of that concern was assuaged with the interview that played over the credits with the real Micky Ward and Dicky Ecklund, proving that Bale really wasn’t stretching things too far.

Mark Ruffalo’s casual sex appeal was one of the best elements of The Kids Are Alright, while Jeremy Renner brought an exciting energy to the THE TOWN, but truth be told, if I were picking my own nominees, I’d probably replace both of them with Andrew Garfield and Matt Damon. The biggest challenger to Bale is Geoffrey Rush doing the Geoffrey Rush thing in The King’s Speech. Sure, it’s not a stretch for him, but he’s the biggest reason why the film works as much as it does. Yes, Colin Firth does the heavy lifting, but it’s the chemistry he shares with Rush and the humanity Rush brings to the film that lifts Speech from standard, stuffy royalty fare to become the feel good hit of the Oscar season.

So Bale or Rush? I half considered splitting the difference and going with John Hawkes’ hypnotic performance in Winter’s Bone, a role that’s all about the subtlety Bale’s sometimes lacked (again, given the reality of the character Bale was playing… a role for which Bale still found some room for quiet moments). But ultimately, I’m not going to rock the boat on this one (after all, a good rule of thumb is when in doubt, just give the fake award to Batman).

The award goes to…

Christian Bale in The Fighter

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
The King’s Speech
True Grit

Haven’t seen Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (and probably will never see the former, eventually will see the later). This is a pretty easy award to just go with “period film recreating royal opulence”, but I’m going the other way and going with “film that created layers of dreamscapes”.

The award goes to…

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams in The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo in The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom

Strong field here. I haven’t seen Animal Kingdom, but I’ve heard great things about Jacki Weaver in it (which I believe, since it’s the only explanation for an Australian actress from a movie most people hadn’t heard of scoring a nomination in the first place). The problem with this group is how ridiculous it is that Hailee Steinfeld’s role in True Grit is considered a supporting role. She’s in every scene in the film and the film is her story (literally, her character is narrator). You could make a stronger argument for Jeff Bridges as supporting than her. But the marketing people at Paramount pushed to get her nominated here, thinking she had a better chance, as so here she is, and thus I’m forced to weigh a leading role vs supporting ones.

Melissa Leo has been winning this award in all the shows leading up to the Oscars, with a performance with similar strengths and weaknesses to her co-star Bale: it’s a showy performance lacking subtlety. It’s a strong performance, but it’s still hard to shake the feeling that it was at least 65% Boston accent. She’s overshadowed co-star Amy Adams, whose performance I preferred for its nuance. It was nice to Helena Bonham Carter escape from the realm of Harry Potter/Tim Burtonland to remind us that she’s perfectly capable of playing human beings in interesting ways. But ultimately, I’m going with the non-supporting role, whom I may well have considered giving the award in Leading Role to as well if she was nominated where she should have been.

The award goes to…

Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Music (Original Score)
How to Train Your Dragon John Powell
Inception Hans Zimmer
The King’s Speech Alexandre Desplat
127 Hours A.R. Rahman
The Social Network Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

I was going to download each score and rediscover the major themes of each score and how strongly they hit them, but then I remembered that no one cares.

The award goes to…
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network

Animated Feature Film
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

I’ve actually seen two of these, and thought How to Train Your Dragon was a fun little adventure story and a sign of the improvement Dreamworks has shown since the release of Kung Fu Panda. But there’s as little doubt as to who my pick is as there is about which film will win the actual Oscar. Given that my son loves these films possibly as much as he loves me (Buzz is part of his two dozen or so word vocabulary), it’s possible that I’ve watched Toy Story 3 more times than I’ve seen every other movie in 2010, and it still gets me every time. It only grows in my estimation with every subsequent viewing, and I will now spend the rest of the post deciding on whether or not to just go ahead and give it Best Picture as well.

The award goes to…

Toy Story 3

Short Film (Animated)
Day & Night
The Gruffalo
Let’s Pollute
The Lost Thing
Madagascar, a Journey Diary

I’ve seen two of these as well! The Gruffalo was kinda cute, but again, I’m going with Pixar’s effort here with Day & Night. It’s been awhile since Pixar’s won the animated short category, as the Academy has decided to spread the wealth and reward some of the creative efforts of smaller filmmakers, which I think is the intent of the award. But still, Pixar’s use of 3D with Day & Night was pretty original. It might be time to recognize them again.

The award goes to…
Day & Night

Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
The King’s Speech
The Tempest
True Grit

Only saw two of three here. I’m going with royal uniforms and spiffy 1930s suits over cowboy wear for an award that always seems to go to the movie that does period best.

The award goes to…
The King’s Speech

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
127 Hours Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
True Grit Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Winter’s Bone Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

The four films I’ve seen here are four of my very favourites of the year, and I’d choose any of them over the nominees in Original Screenplay. Winter’s Bone provides a glimpse into a new world rarely shown on screen, expertly building tension throughout, and it’s my number four. I feel like True Grit is getting a short shrift in the run up to awards, in large part because it was released late in the year, but also because it’s almost too entertaining to be taken seriously this time of year. The script is grade A Coen brothers, with all the love of language and morality plays that entails.

A lot has been made about how Pixar has been eliciting tears more effectively than a room full of onions with their past few films. And the end of Toy Story 3 is as powerful as they’ve ever done. It understands its characters and their connection better than any other story I can think of, but more than that, there’s a poignancy in its depiction of the passage of time that other more serious dramas can’t match. This has to be the final chapter in the story of these characters, as it ended in such a perfect way, but I still have a hard time accepting that I won’t get to visit them again (but that could just be because I watch all three of them several times a month right now).

Which is why it kills me to give this award to anything but Toy Story 3. But almost universally, what people loved most about The Social Network is the snappy patter of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay. It was great to see Sorkin at the height of his powers again, with a story that plays to his strengths of writing for hyper-intelligent people who treat their issues as the most important thing in the world. It’s certainly the most quotable film of the year, but it also cleverly uses this specific story to say more interesting things about the modern age. But the best thing you can say about Sorkin’s screenplay is that he took a concept that we all laughed at when we first heard it “they’re making a movie about Facebook” and made me a believer by the end of the opening scene.

The award goes to…
Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

Writing (Original Screenplay)
Another Year Written by Mike Leigh
The Fighter Screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Story by Keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
Inception Written by Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
The King’s Speech Screenplay by David Seidler

This is a two horse race. I loved Inception, but the screenplay might not even make my top five reasons why. This is between The King’s Speech and The Fighter. Speech will win the Oscar, and that’s cool. The snappy dialogue between Firth and Rush are on par with what Sorkin achieved with The Social Network. And David Seidler’s story about how he suffered from a stammer as a child that he thinks was the result of emotional trauma from the war, and how he found King George VI’s story inspirational, but then had to hold on to the idea until the Queen Mother passed is probably more inspirational than the story he wrote. I look forward to his acceptance speech.

As for the The Fighter, the four guys responsible for the screenplay were able to take a concept that is beyond tired at this point, the underdog boxer film, and breathe new life into it. The film has pathos, drama, and a surprising amount of humour, all while telling what most people familiar with Micky Ward would think is the less interesting part of his story: who he was before he fought Arturo Gatti. I honestly wasn’t all that interested in seeing The Fighter until the critical raves came in, dismissing it as a fight film as generic as its title suggests. I ended up loving it, in large part because of its unique take on old material. Choosing between the two screenplays isn’t easy, so I’ll just go with the movie I liked more.

The award goes to…
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington for The Fighter

Black Swan Matthew Libatique
Inception Wally Pfister
The King’s Speech Danny Cohen
The Social Network Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit Roger Deakins

The Academy tends to get their nominees right in this category, as I’m guessing only people who care about cinematography bother voting on it. Then the ballots go out to the group at large, and they sometimes get the winner wrong due to voters who confuse “cinematography” with “direction” or possibly “location scout”. Matthew Libatique brings a washed out look to Darren Aronofsky’s verité style, giving it the necessary mix of real and surreal. Roger Deakins continues his brilliant career in making Coen brothers films look so good. He could win this award every year and I’d be cool with it (instead, he’s criminally gone winless in nine attempts). The King’s Speech is handsomely filmed by Danny Cohen, managing a lot of tight close-ups with natural light and a nice foggy look to London to hit the right historical tone.

But the top two in this category for me are Jeff Cronenweth’s work in The Social Network and Wally Pfister for Inception. Cronenweth nicely mixes the darker tones of the Ivy leagues with the brighter world of California, reinforcing the difference between the establishment that rejected Zuckerberg and the new world that allows a 20-year-old kid to become a titan. What Deakins is to the Coen brothers, Wally Pfister is to Christopher Nolan. While you immediately associate Nolan’s look with the darker, blueish-grey tones you see on the posters of Inception, Dark Knight, and The Prestige, he does a solid mix of tones in Inception, most notably the brightly-lit hotel hallway that might’ve been the most stunning scene of 2010, but also with the snowy white world of the third dream level. Each dream level is given a different palette, giving the viewer an instant identifier of where they are.

The award goes to…

Wally Pfister for Inception

Sound Editing
Toy Story 3
Tron: Legacy
True Grit

The award goes to…
Toy Story 3

Sound Mixing
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

The award goes to…

Yeah, it’s probably overindulgent to dig into the two sound awards, especially since I’m not entirely clear on which is which. But since I’m forced to skip the documentary and foreign film categories, I decided to pad this out a bit. Plus, I wanted to give out two more fake awards to two of my favourite films of the year.

Stay tuned for part two, where I get to the awards you may actually care about. If I have to, I’ll rush my way through them to get them in on time, just like the real ceremony!

5 thoughts on “Critically Speaking Picks the 83rd Academy Awards – Part One

  1. I don’t really have any disagreements. Because, shockingly you have seen more of the nominees than I have. And, as you know I won’t see two of them.

    But, I did enjoy what you said about How to Train Your Dragon. And I completely agree. I realise I talked it up a lot, but that was for exactly the reasons you stated. Dreamworks is nowhere near Pixar’s level, but finally someone is bringing something to the game.

  2. Pingback: Critically Speaking Picks the 83rd Academy Awards – Part Two « Critically Speaking

  3. Pingback: Top 10 Movies of 2010 « Critically Speaking

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