An Ill-Informed, Underqualified Oscar Preview

Although NPI officially endorses the new Oscar voting policy for the Best Picture award, one of the major downsides of expanding the category to 10 is that it makes it twice as hard to keep up. I have seen five of the films nominated for the Academy’s grand prize tonight; you’d think that would be enough, but it leaves me without anything to say about 50% of the nominees. I mean, who has time to see 10 movies a year? I have TV to watch…

Anyway, if the Academy thinks that not having seen most of the films up for awards tonight is going to stop me from offering predictions and analysis, they were wrong. Dead wrong. Like last year (when I was 5/8), we’re sticking with the eight major awards:

8) Best Adapted Screenplay

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

John’s Take: It’s going to go to The Social Network, right? Isn’t this the consensus? I mean, as overrated as that film was, people loved Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay. To be fair, the dialogue was witty and the film was beautifully structured, if not all that deep. In truth, this award should go to the Coen brothers for the way they stuck faithfully to Charles Portis’ dialogue, and yet made a Western feel modern and fresh. Joe Posnanski explains it better than I could, but Sorkin will win.

 

7) Best Original Screenplay

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

John’s Take: How the hell did Inception get nominated for its screenplay? Seriously, does the Academy love complicated exposition that much? Other than that, the only film I’ve seen in this category is The Fighter, which I don’t think will win. Let’s say…oh, I don’t know, The King’s Speech. People seem to like that film.

 

6) Best Supporting Actress

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

John’s Take: Two things occur to me about this category: 1) How is Steinfeld a “supporting” actress? She was in practically every scene—certainly more than Jeff Bridges, who is considered the lead of the film. Her character is quite clearly the protagonist, if not necessarily the hero. I’m not saying Steinfeld doesn’t deserve a nomination—she was excellent in the film—but she’s in the wrong category.

Second, although I really didn’t like Black Swan, I am kind of disappointed that Mila Kunis wasn’t nominated here. When Christian Bale won his Golden Globe this year, he made a point to thank Mark Wahlberg, and mentioned that an actor can only give a “loud” performance if he has a quiet anchor to play opposite. Well, while Natalie Portman’s performance wasn’t loud in a literal sense—quite the opposite—it was certainly loud in the look-at-me-being-a-great-actor-and-bringing-this-crazy-character-to-life type way that Bale seems to be talking about. Meanwhile, Kunis’ performance was practically all that kept Black Swan grounded in any kind of recognizable reality and kept the film from being a complete and total farce.

Anyway, both of the actresses from The Fighter were greater, but I’d give the award to Leo, who I think will win.

 

5) Best Supporting Actor

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

John’s Take: As many have said already, Bale was stunning as Dicky Eklund in The Fighter. He’s already won the Golden Globe, and he seems like the favorite to win tonight. I just hope Rush doesn’t steal it from him.

 

4) Best Actress

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

John’s Take: I hinted at this above, but I should say it explicitly: I do not think Portman’s absurd, over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance in Black Swan deserves anywhere near the praise that it’s been getting. She won the Golden Globe and she’s the clear front-runner here (and I, too, am a sucker for her charm and wit), but I just don’t think she was very good in that movie. On the other hand, Williams was both subtle and arresting in Blue Valentine (a film that probably should have gotten Ryan Gosling nominated as well). As for who will win, though, I’m predicting an upset here: The newcomer Lawrence denies Portman another chance to share her laugh with the world.

3) Best Actor

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

John’s Take: Man, with this category, the amount I like the actor is inversely proportional to his odds of winning. I really like both Bardem and Bridges, but neither seems to have much of a shot. I kind of like Franco and Eisenberg, and each of them seem like viable dark horses. I don’t really like Firth at all, and he’s the clear front-runner. Anyway, for the second straight year, I’m predicting Firth will win Best Actor.

 

2) Best Director

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • David O. Russell, The Fighter
  • Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
  • David Fincher, The Social Network
  • The Coen Brothers, True Grit

John’s Take: This is the category that I’m probably the most qualified to analyze: I’ve seen four of these five films. My feelings about Black Swan prevent me from seeing any merit to Aronofsky’s nomination. On the other hand, Russell, Fincher, and the Coen brothers all did great work. As usual, I probably liked the Coen brothers’ work the best: True Grit featured some shots that were both beautiful and skillfully set up, especially the climactic showdown.

At the same time, I don’t think the Academy shares my love for the Coens. This award probably comes down to Hooper and Fincher, and since I haven’t seen Hooper’s film, I’ll call this award for Fincher.

 

1) Best Picture

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

John’s Take: Of the five films that I’ve seen from this list I would rank them as follows: 5) Black Swan 4) Inception 3) The Social Network 2) The Fighter 1) True Grit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like The Fighter or True Grit have much of a chance, so I’m once again stuck rooting for my third-favorite nominee to win.

You may remember that I was relatively disappointed with The Social Network when it came out: While I thought the film was enjoyable, it was not nearly as good as it could have been. So when it became the Oscar front-runner, I wasn’t particularly excited.

Recently, though, The King’s Speech has overtaken The Social Network as the front-runner. This is even more disconcerting. Now, I haven’t seen The King’s Speech, and everything I hear about it indicates that it a very good, well-acted movie. I certainly do not bear it the animosity that I had for Avatar last year.

But here is my problem with The King’s Speech: It’s a movie about a figurehead’s speech impediment. I know that’s not all it’s about. I’m sure it’s about friendship and honor and bravery and family and all that crap, but it’s also about a speech impediment. As Anthony Lane said in his review, “The object of The King’s Speech is to make us care, as deeply as possible, about the vocal impediment of a dead British monarch.” He does not add that it’s not even a particularly important dead British monarch.

It may be a near-perfect telling of its story—and I have every reason to believe that it is—but it’s a story that is incredibly small in scope and that is barely consequential. The Best Picture award should go to a film that it more ambitious than this, one that aggressively challenges the way an audience thinks. The other films in question at least attempt this: True Grit deals with the morality of vengeance. The Fighter is a tragically honest story of the sacrifices made for family. Even Black Swan, Inception, and The Social Network attempt to be about bigger things than the way a king talks, even if they all ultimately fail. When you swing for the fences, you often strike out, but that’s still better than a perfectly executed bunt. I’d rather root for an ambitious failure than a beautiful story that is of no consequence, so I’m predicting and rooting for a win for The Social Network.

 

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tim on February 27, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    I haven’t seen “The King’s Speech,” either; then again, I haven’t seen many of these films (“Inception” was my favorite of 2010). But your closing argument about TKS fulfills the promise of your titular adjectives. Of course, if you define what “The King’s Speech” is “about” this explicitly — a speech impediment — it sounds petty. Let’s do it with the others: “True Grit” is about a girl who wants to kill someone. But she’s not even an important girl, let alone royalty. “Black Swan” is about someone who likes to dance and is pretty good at it. “The Fighter” is about an okay real-life boxer; it’s like making a football movie about Jay Fiedler. You can joke about King George VI being an insignificant king, but he is still 1000x more significant a historic individual than Mickey Ward.

    Finally, “The Social Network” is a falsehood about a website. You say it takes risks, but wasn’t a big part of your (and my, which you discussed in your) critique of the film that it falls back on clichés and presumptions of character that aren’t particularly interesting? How is that especially ambitious?

    So you can’t define “The King’s Speech” in a specific, plot-oriented manner and the others in these broad strokes. After all, can’t someone just say (and hasn’t everybody already said) that TKS is about “finding your voice” or “overcoming fears and obstacles”? Isn’t psychological and physical fear of public speaking more externally valid/relatable than a lot of the other films mentioned?

    (And again, I haven’t seen it, either, so I don’t know if these things are true. But I’m not the one arguing that they’re not.)

    Reply

    • Posted by John S on February 27, 2011 at 7:27 PM

      This is a fair response, though I think even your response shows that my argument is irrefutable. I mean, you’re intentionally trying to reduce all these films to banalities and they all still sound more interesting than The King’s Speech. “True Grit” is about a girl who wants to kill someone? Well, already you’ve established stakes that are far greater than the stakes of TKS, since a stutter has never killed anyone. The Fighter and Black Swan are about people who are pretty good at very specific skills, but even within that dull and cliched framework there are obvious points of conflict and dramatic challenges. The Social Network is about a website (although calling Facebook “a website” is like calling The Bible “a” book), but even that movie had an obviously compelling story.

      Also, I’m assuming that your jokes about Mickey Ward vs. King George VI were just jokes. Obviously the artistic merit of a movie is not determined by the historical significance of the film’s protagonist; that should go without saying. I was only trying to point out that the ONLY THING that makes King George’s stutter more cinematically interesting than, say, David Sedaris’ lisp, is the fact that he happened to be the king of England during WWII (long AFTER being the King of England meant anything substantial) and that he gave a speech I doubt most people even knew had been given prior to the film’s release.

      Basically, even those who have praised The King’s Speech have called it a “small” film that is very limited in scope. And whatever you and I thought of The Social Network’s overall success, it at least TRIED to have a major social significance (and some people certainly seemed to find it in the film).

      Reply

  2. Posted by Weylin Ruetten on February 27, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    This is tonight?!?!! Also, I like anne hathaway in that picture; I think this is a first. Lastly, the only category I am interested in is documentary feature. As such, I am slightly disappointed in this feature
    😦

    Reply

  3. Posted by Weylin Ruetten on February 27, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    Did you see it? One of the best docs I’ve seen in a long time. Very funny.

    Reply

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