Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Film feature: This year, Oscars have 10 best pictures worthy of the honor

Natalie Portman in Black Swan.


By Hap Erstein


Going into today’s release of Academy Awards nominations,‭ ‬it looked like a two-horse race between‭ ‬The Social Network and‭ ‬The King’s Speech‭ ‬--‭ ‬both superior pictures‭ ‬--‭ ‬and nothing about the announcements from Hollywood changes that.‭

Both movies,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬made it into the field of‭ ‬10‭ ‬for Best Picture and they will also be competing head-on for Best Director‭ (‬David Fincher vs.‭ ‬Tom Hooper‭) ‬and Best Actor‭ (‬Jesse Eisenberg vs.‭ ‬Colin Firth‭)‬.‭ ‬Both films are nominated for their screenplays,‭ ‬but‭ ‬Social Network is an adaptation,‭ ‬while‭ ‬King’s Speech is not based on another source.

This‭ ‬83rd annual Oscars race marks the second year in recent times that there are‭ ‬10‭ ‬Best Picture nominees and,‭ ‬while I have problems with‭ ‬Black Swan,‭ ‬the surprise is that there are actually‭ ‬10‭ ‬movies worth calling the year’s best.

In addition to the three already mentioned,‭ ‬the category also includes‭ ‬The Fighter,‭ ‬The Kids Are All Right,‭ ‬Toy Story‭ ‬3,‭ ‬Winter’s Bone,‭ ‬127‭ ‬Hours,‭ ‬True Grit and‭ ‬Inception.‭ ‬The most obvious beneficiary of the expanded category is surely the low-budget independent‭ ‬Winter’s Bone,‭ ‬which also pulled in a much-deserved nod for the terrific young Jennifer Lawrence as the backwoods girl in search of her drug-dealer dad.

It is hard to quibble with the‭ ‬10‭ ‬Best Picture nominations‭ ‬--‭ ‬ok,‭ ‬OK,‭ ‬Black Swan still strikes me as overwrought and out of control in its second half‭ ‬--‭ ‬but it is unfortunate that Ben Affleck’s‭ ‬The Town was snubbed here,‭ ‬gaining only a mention for Jeremy Renner in the Supporting Actor category.‭ ‬Affleck’s script and direction were impressive,‭ ‬and a later release date might have made the difference.‭

Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman in Barney’s Version.‭

The other egregiously overlooked movie,‭ ‬and a far longer shot at a Best Picture nod,‭ ‬was‭ ‬Barney’s Version,‭ ‬which opens this weekend in South Florida.‭ ‬Also low-budget,‭ ‬it opened at year’s end in Los Angeles for eligibility’s sake,‭ ‬had little or no nomination campaign and was roundly ignored.‭ ‬I will say more about the movie at the end of the week,‭ ‬but believe me,‭ ‬it was robbed,‭ ‬as was its star,‭ ‬Paul Giamatti,‭ ‬doing his best work yet on screen.‭ (‬He won the Golden Globe for best male comedy performance,‭ ‬but‭ ‬Barney’s Version is no comedy.‭)

With‭ ‬10‭ ‬Best Picture nominations,‭ ‬but only five Best Director slots,‭ ‬the category is like a game of musical chairs.‭ ‬For sheer directorial virtuosity,‭ ‬it is hard to beat Christopher Nolan‭ (‬Inception‭) ‬or Danny Boyle‭ (‬127‭ ‬Hours‭)‬,‭ ‬but the Academy didn’t see it that way.‭ ‬Yes,‭ ‬I would have taken them over Darren Aronofsky‭ (‬Black Swan‭) ‬and those perennial Oscar favorites,‭ ‬the Coen Brothers‭ (‬True Grit‭)‬.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter in The King’s Speech.

The surprise,‭ ‬but a worthy one,‭ ‬for Best Actor is Javier Bardem in the bleak Mexican film‭ ‬Biutiful.‭ ‬He is up against Colin Firth‭ (‬The King’s Speech‭)‬,‭ ‬James Franco‭ (‬127‭ ‬Hours‭)‬,‭ ‬Jesse Eisenberg‭ (‬The Social Network‭) ‬and Jeff Bridges‭ (‬True Grit‭)‬.‭ ‬Not making the cut was Ryan Gosling,‭ ‬superb in‭ ‬Blue Valentine,‭ ‬whom I would take over Bridges or even Eisenberg.‭ ‬The point is moot,‭ ‬because Firth has a lock on the win.

Gosling’s co-star Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Actress,‭ ‬the difference being that there are so few strong female roles this year.‭ ‬More dubious is the glum performance by Nicole Kidman in‭ ‬Rabbit Hole,‭ ‬made worse by her botoxed-immobile face.‭ ‬It looks to be a two-way race between Natalie Portman,‭ ‬who suffered through‭ ‬Black Swan‭ ‬and emerged victorious,‭ ‬and Annette Bening‭ (‬The Kids Are All Right‭)‬,‭ ‬who may have the edge because of past Oscar losses.‭ (‬Her co-star Julianne Moore jockeyed between Best Actress and Supporting,‭ ‬a strategic campaign that saw her lose out both ways.‭)

Also likely to sail to an easy victory is Christian Bale as the irresponsible,‭ ‬drugged-our brother in‭ ‬The Fighter,‭ ‬a can’t-miss performance for Best Supporting Actor.‭ ‬The rest of this field is quite deserving,‭ ‬though‭ ‬--‭ ‬Renner‭ (‬The Town‭)‬,‭ ‬John Hawkes‭ (‬Winter’s Bone‭)‬,‭ ‬Mark Ruffalo‭ (‬The Kids Are All Right‭) ‬and Geoffrey Rush‭ (‬The King’s Speech‭)‬.

Jeff Bridges and Hallie Steinfeld in True Grit.

That great actress’s actress,‭ ‬Melissa Leo,‭ ‬who plays Bale’s determined mom in‭ ‬The Fighter,‭ ‬should also have an easy win for Supporting Actress,‭ ‬but the nomination of Amy Adams from the same movie does not help her.‭ ‬As expected,‭ ‬Helena Bonham Carter‭ (‬The King’s Speech‭) ‬and newcomer Hallie Steinfeld‭ (‬True Grit‭) ‬will be in the running,‭ ‬along with surprise nominee Jackie Weaver,‭ ‬another tough mom in the Down Under crime family flick,‭ ‬Animal Kingdom.‭ ‬Perhaps an indication of the weak support for‭ ‬Black Swan‭ ‬--‭ ‬am I just hoping this is the case‭? ‬--‭ ‬is the no-show here for either Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey.

Anyway,‭ ‬that is how the Oscars shape up from my perspective on the day the nominations were announced.‭ ‬But there is a long time between now and Sunday,‭ ‬Feb.‭ ‬27,‭ ‬when the awards are given out.‭ ‬Let the disinformation and negative campaigning begin.‭

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