Critically Speaking Picks the 83rd Academy Awards – Part Two

Now for the awards you've heard of...

I issued 12 fake awards in the first half of this post, but now it’s time for the lead acting, director, and best picture awards… along with a little bit of filler. On with the show!

Actress in a Leading Role
Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman in Black Swan
Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine

Natalie Portman is going to win this award, and that’s fine by me. Black Swan is a great movie, and Natalie Portman’s performance is a big reason why. A lot of the attention is on the bigger elements of her performance: the craziness at the end, the big scene with Mila Kunis that probably confused a lot of dudes into seeing a movie that really wasn’t up their alley. What gets less notice is how strong she is with the film’s slow build, which is largely done in wordless tight close-ups. In many ways, Portman was perfect casting for the story Darren Aronofsky wanted to tell. For most of her career leading up to this film, Portman was the white swan, using him impish looks to play the good girl. Even in roles that called for more edge, like a stripper in Closer or a revolutionary in V for Vendetta, she tended to struggle to convincingly play the “black swan” elements of the character. Aronofsky tapped into that struggle, and the results were fantastic.

However, I’m going to use my tiny little soapbox here to highlight a different performance. Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely captivating in Winter’s Bone, conveying every bit of concern, terror, and weariness needed to drive the film forward, without ever once devolving into histrionics. She generates the maximum amount of sympathy from the audience even while her character is almost completely unable to generate any from the rest of the characters in the film. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so.

The award goes to…

Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone

Film Editing
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network

I’m dumbfounded that Inception didn’t garner a nod here. I usually skip this category not because editing isn’t important: film is basically a director’s and editor’s medium. But when I watch films, I don’t think about the editing, so picking a list of five nominees is too difficult. But if I was going to attempt that, Inception would’ve been near the top of my list. The entire third act pieces together three separate levels of story!

So I’m a little disappointed with the nominees, but I’m comfortable with my choice for winner. One of the biggest difficulties modern filmmakers have had is making computer stuff visual. You get awkward choices like actors reading out every thing they type, rapid keyboard strokes that no one would ever do, or imaginary interfaces that resemble nothing we’ve ever worked on. The Social Network doesn’t do that. It tells the story of computer programmers with effective montages, giving us just enough of what we need to understand what the computer guys are doing, then it keeps the story moving. That’s editing. Plus, if you’re piecing together a scene of rapid-fire Aaron Sorkin dialogue from the hundreds of takes David Fincher is infamous for, you don’t just deserve an Oscar, you deserve a purple heart.

The award goes to…
The Social Network

Actor in a Leading Role
Javier Bardem in Biutiful
Jeff Bridges in True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
Colin Firth in The King’s Speech
James Franco in 127 Hours

I’m a little disappointed that I’ve only seen 3 out of the 5 nominated performances here, especially since I have the feeling that James Franco could’ve seriously contended for my award. But of the three that I have seen, I’d be fine with any of them winning. Jeff Bridges is doing a fairly standard old-codger-begrudgingly-becomes-hero role, but he infused it with such flair that it instantly became one of his more memorable roles in a career full of them.

Because Jesse Eisenberg is the size that he is, people are still thinking that he plays the same role in everything. Which is ridiculous. The Eisenbergian/Ceraian role is characterized by a muttering, weak-willed, passivity. Which are three words that can only be used to describe his Mark Zuckerberg if one was writing in antonyms. Eisenberg is able to remain enigmatic throughout while still portraying Zuckerberg’s inner confidence, intelligence, and arrogance. And despite that, you still side with the guy at times. It’s not as showy a performance as others in contention, but it’s still impressive all the same.

That said, I’m giving the award to the same guy everyone is giving their award to. Yes, his stammer is a fun actorly trick, but it’s also essential to the film and would have been easy to screw up and make the whole thing ridiculous. But that’s not the reason he gets my award. His character is reserved in a typical British fashion (and especially in a typically Colin Firthian British fashion), but he’s able to pull the veil back on all the pomp and circumstance to portray real humanity without sacrificing the necessary regality of the role. His is a king you can cheer for, which is why The King’s Speech has become the feel good hit of the Oscar season.

The award goes to…

Colin Firth in The King’s Speech

Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Iron Man 2

This award is typically the Academy’s one shot at populism, and is generally dominated by big budget blockbusters (understandably, as they’re the ones with the biggest visual effects budgets). It would’ve been nice for the Academy to think outside of the box this year, and find room to nominate The Social Network for the face-swapping technology that gave us the Winklevii, and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, whose old school visual effects were an essential part of what made that movie so fun.

But ultimately, there’s only one legitimate choice here. Visual effects teams have gotten so good at what they do that even the most proficient effects feel commonplace to me. Not so with Inception, which left me in genuine awe. From Ellen Page folding up the world of her dream, to the MC Escher-inspired stairways, to Joseph Gordon-Levitt fighting in the spinning hallway that I discussed earlier.

The award goes to…

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

The biggest snub of the entire awards this year was Christopher Nolan here. Kinda unfathomable. If you think this film is worthy of standing as one of the best of the year (and I do), isn’t Nolan’s work the main reason why? Especially in comparison to Tom Hooper or David O. Russell’s work?

I mentioned earlier that Natalie Portman’s work was a big reason why Black Swan is a great film, but undoubtedly the biggest reason why is Darren Aronofsky’s direction. He’s got a lot going on in a film that dabbles in camp without fully giving over to it, from the lengths of abuse entertainers are willing to put themselves through for their art (continuing his thesis from The Wrestler), to dabbling in Cronenbergian body horror, to a haunting psycho-sexual adaptation of Swan Lake. It’s audacious, unafraid to go to some unusual places or teeter on the edge of ridiculousness.

I’ve already written a lot about what makes The Social Network so great, from its script to its editing to its cinematography to its performances. But the biggest reason is David Fincher. His best films all feature a level of obsessiveness that are a reflection of the man himself. He understands what drives a character like Zuckerberg, because Fincher is just as dedicated to the details, and reportedly as unconcerned about how it may reflect his personal relationships. There’s a cool precision on display with The Social Network that is classic Fincher, which is both perfect for the subject matter and a reason why some had a hard time warming up to the film (i.e., it’s not a film that wants you to warm up at it. Like Zuckerberg, you have to meet it on its terms, and if you don’t, that’s your problem not its). The best thing you can say about Fincher’s direction is that he took a film about software and courtroom depositions, and he made sure it moved. Yes, a lot of that is script and editing, but more than anything, it’s a result of Fincher’s vision. He wasn’t interested in making The Facebook Movie we all preemptively made fun of, he was interested in making The Social Network.

The award goes to…

David Fincher for The Social Network

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

I tend to rush through this, the most important award of the entire post, because by the time I get to it, I’m ready to do anything else other than write about movie awards. But also, you should by now be able to figure out what I think the best picture of the year is (hint, it’s the one winning a lot of awards) and what I think of the various nominees.

But since I put “If I Had a Ballot” in the graphic above, I thought I’d write this one out as though it were a real Academy ballot: by listing the films from tenth to first. I must say, it wasn’t easy, as this was the best group of nominees I can remember. There’s usually at least one film in the Academy’s list of nominees that I think is either abysmal or at the very least undeserving, and that was true when there were five nominees instead of ten. Not so this year, as I have no problem with the nominations of the nine films I’ve seen. So good job Academy!

10. 127 Hours (because I haven’t seen it)
9. The Kids Are All Right
8. The King’s Speech
7. The Fighter
6. Black Swan
5. Winter’s Bone
4. Inception
3. True Grit
2. Toy Story 3
1. The Social Network

Of course, while they got the nominees by and large correct, you’ll note that I fully expect them to get the winner wrong. By all indications, The King’s Speech is the favourite to win, a film I found enjoyable enough, but decided to rank second-to-last amongst those I’ve seen. It’s a nice little film highlighted by strong writing and performances. But it’s not a special film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s basically the art house version of an underdog sports film, with Geoffrey Rush as Mr. Miyagi and Colin Firth as Daniel-san. But you couldn’t create a more perfect awards baiting film if you tried: a period British film about royalty overcoming a disability in the face of the Nazi threat in World War II. Throw in the fact that it’s the only non-animated film on this list that left viewers feeling good when it was finished, and you have yourself an Oscar winner. But will we be thinking about this film in five years, except in how it played Shakespeare in Love to The Social Network’s Saving Private Ryan? I don’t think we will.

The award goes to…

The Social Network

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3 thoughts on “Critically Speaking Picks the 83rd Academy Awards – Part Two

  1. I finally watched The Social Network last night. Now I never had any interest in it, so it had that working both for and against it. With no expectations sometimes I am pleasantly thrilled. That didn’t happen. You say its my fault that I didn’t warm up to the film, because that wasn’t the point? But, shouldn’t I have felt something for any of the characters? Two best friends fighting in court (although at no point did I feel there was any friendship or connection between the two), three guys suing another guy about a conversation. I thought the ‘twins’ were fun, but didn’t care about them at all. And the protagonist was just there, spouting snappy dialogue that for me never landed anywhere.

    I love Sorkin’s dialogue, am watching The West Wing again. In that show the dialogue is launched AND caught. At some point I have liked and disliked all the characters in the show, often in the same ten minutes. In The Social Network I was completely ambivalent to all the characters, at least if I had strongly disliked any of them I would have been emotionally invested.

    I did like the manner in which the computer ‘action’ was shown, I agree it was different and interesting. And although the pace didn’t work for me at first, as it went on I enjoyed it and came to appreciate it. But, without some emotional connection it wasn’t nearly enough. When I want a Fincher movie I’ll go to Seven or Zodiac.

    Wow, this is a really long post. But, what the heck I’ll do my list (which may surprise you).

    10. The Fighter (haven’t seen)
    9. 127 Hours (haven’t seen)
    8. The Social Network
    7. True Grit
    6. The Kids are Alright
    5. Black Swan
    4. Inception
    3. The King’s Speech
    2. Toy Story 3
    1. Winter’s Bone

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

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

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