I am so happy with myself. I have long been a fan of movies, and a pretty faithful watcher of the Academy Awards. Yet, I rarely ever seem to have the time or drive it takes to see all the Best Picture nominees. This year, however, I made a concerted effort to see as many as possible, along with movies from other categories, as well. I had an excellent reason this year…an Oscar Party. I am currently involved with a great movie viewing/ discussion group called Art on Life, and for our Oscar party, I wanted to be as prepared as I could be, so that my picks would be informed. After all, is hard to vote on a fake Oscar ballot if you don’t know for what you are casting your vote.
For the purposes of this post, I will mainly focus on the Best Picture category, and how those nominated films fare against each other. I have seen nine of the ten nominated films, and I will thereby rule myself qualified to write with decent authority on the subject. At the end, though, I will give my predictions for several of the major categories. I’ll write about these in the order in which I saw them. Oh, and there will be some spoilers.
Finally, before we dive in, the question should be asked, “Why should a Christian care about the Oscars?” My answer is that it is likely that someone you know, and more likely a lot of people you know, will be interested in the movies, the gossip, the dresses, or some aspect of the Academy Awards, and as long as it does no harm to you spiritually, it’s always good to be aware of what is going on in pop culture so that you can have a say and be a relevant presence in the lives of your friends and neighbors. It is, I believe, one of the reasons this site exists.
Inception: This is probably the movie viewed by the most people of all the nominees. It was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but not for Best Director, and Christopher Nolan is responsible for both. It was a unique, though sometimes convoluted story, so kudos to Nolan for being able to direct this story with the clarity it has. The acting was excellent (Cillian Murphy, I love you), but the movie’s actors were slighted in the Best Acting categories. Inception was not, however, up to par with most of its fellow nominees. Because it was extremely high-concept, the script spends too much time explaining, and then explaining again, what the rules are in this particular game. It is fun to look at, though, and I like the movie.
True Grit: I went to see this with a friend and we spent most of the movie giggling, right up until it was not funny anymore. Were we supposed to react this way to the Coen Brothers latest production? I think so. We were still able to appreciate the greater themes- the need for justice, the lost father figure and his less-than-perfect replacement, but come on. Matt Damon’s cowlick was enough to keep us thrown off kilter for half the movie. It was a nice relief after the tragedy of No Country for Old Men. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance was more impressive to me than Jeff Bridges’, especially considering she was thirteen when the movie was filmed. And yet, she was nominated for a supporting role in a film she drove from the beginning. Puzzling. The cinematography is beautiful, and supports the themes of innocence and treachery. In a different year, True Grit might be good enough to pull a win, but I believe the competition is just too strong this year.
The Social Network: I loved this movie. When I first heard Trent Reznor had scored it, I was skeptical. But the music (great direction, Mr. Fincher) creates a tension as early as the opening sequence so that, even if you didn’t know what was about to happen, you would be filled with a thrill of expectation. The simple genius of the powerful, sparse chords chosen by Reznor and Atticus Ross serve as a metaphor for the film, and the idea behind the movie itself – Facebook was successful, according to its creators, because of people’s desire for exclusivity. I had to watch the movie twice to appreciate Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, but he won me over with his jerk-faced, understated brilliance, and I so wish Andrew Garfield had gotten a supporting nomination. And don’t forget the writing. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue was fast-paced and dead on. All the elements come together to make a great film in The Social Network. This one could easily take the win.
The King’s Speech: I knocked this and The Fighter out in one Saturday, which I have to say, was one great Saturday. I had the best time spending my day watching, truly, two of the best films of the year. After The King’s Speech, the nearly full theater applauded. I have never seen that happen except at a midnight premier where the fans are hardcore, usually of a book, comic, or film franchise which already has a strong following. I am happy to say about this movie (and The Fighter) that they leave you filled with hope, which is not typically true of movies chosen for Best Picture. From this true story, those with eyes to see should recognize God’s sovereign hand bringing these two men together to fulfill the need of a future king, which at the time no one, including himself, ever thought he would be – a king who would need strong speech to lead a nation against the threat of fascism. This film is brilliant in its storytelling, its pacing, its acting (Colin Firth is in a league all his own, and I can never get enough of Geoffrey Rush). Let’s do this just because it’s fun: Most of us know Colin Firth from the best adaptation of Pride and Prejudice ever, as the haughty Mr. Darcy. Also in The King’s Speech was Jennifer Ehle, who played Mr. Logue’s wife, Myrtle, and was Eliza Bennett in P & P. Additionally, David Bamber, whose unforgettable turn as Mr. Collins in P & P does not allow me to miss him in his little cameo as the theater director who turns down Logue for a role in a play. Also, as a Potterphile, I was not shocked that the king-to-be had a speech problem. After all, his dad was Dumbledore and his wife was Bellatrix LeStrange. Talk about family issues. This one gets my vote for Best Picture. It is one of the best I have seen in years.
The Fighter: I was expecting to be disappointed by The Fighter, because I had just come out of The King’s Speech, and I had fallen in love with it. But I was wrong. The only thing I really knew about The Fighter going in is that it was about…a fighter, and it had Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg in it. It was great fun, and it was also tragic in some ways, and since the movie was primarily about family, that was a perfect way to approach the film. Even less dysfunctional families have both elements, and I sat there thinking, “I’ve just seen a story about a king and now I’m watching a story about Massachusetts rednecks, and I feel like they’re the same story.” Good call, Academy, for nominating David O. Russell for best director. He basically takes a film set in the 1990’s and makes it a legitimate period piece, with the time and place becoming characters themselves, and though the themes are universal, seeing them through the lens of this particular setting and these particular people makes for a unique and crazy ride. I just want to add a note here on Mark Wahlberg, who plays Micky Ward. He is under-appreciated in anchoring this film in the realm of normalcy, where all around him are characters in the truest sense of the word. Melissa Leo, as his mother Alice, and Christian Bale who plays his brother, Dicky (yes, Micky and Dicky) Eklund, lead the pack, which includes seven sisters in this family of crazies who are trying to control Micky but favor Dicky, and in the process are ruining Micky’s potential boxing career. The craziness cannot work unless the film has a base to stand on, and in The Fighter, it stands on the shoulders of Mark Wahlberg. I cannot wait to see this one again.
127 Hours: I wanted to see this one, even though I was a little scared of “the scene”, but by the time you get to “the scene”, you’ve earned it, and you’re ready for Aron to be free. I was asking my friend what he thought of it, and he said something like Danny Boyle made that movie as well as that movie could be made. A great observation, I thought. It cannot be easy to make a movie as compelling as 127 Hours when most of the movie is one guy trapped in one place. Of course, his mind isn’t trapped, but are we willing to journey with Ralston to the sometimes dark places his mind goes as he relives his choices and mistakes – the ones he admits led to his current predicament? The movie bares the signature stamp of Danny Boyle- the driving musical score, especially. I particularly liked the electric sound which accompanied Ralston’s breaking through his own arm nerve – you knew exactly what was happening there because of the music and the pain on James Franco’s face. I think The Coen Brothers’ nomination for directing this year should have been Boyle’s instead. Also, I have a new respect for James Franco now. But how can you not admire a guy who, in the middle of a successful film career, does a 41-episode stint on General Hospital?
Black Swan: This is the one over which I had the greatest spiritual dilemma; I wondered whether I should even see it at all. This is, of course, partly because of the highly graphic sexual scene between Natalie Portman’s Nina and Mila Kunis’ Lily, on which most of the talk surrounding the film had been focused. It is unfortunate this scene pulled so much focus, though, because there are important issues raised in the film which should receive more attention than they have. As I learned more about the movie, I heard it was almost a psychological horror movie, following one girl’s descent into madness. This, also, gave me pause, as did the fact that it was directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose films are typically not my bag. I only made it through about ten minutes of The Fountain, and greatly regretted that ten minutes. Thankfully, though, a couple of girlfriends from my church family also wanted to see it, so I was able to tell them about my concerns, and warned them that if I needed to leave during the movie, I would, and they understood that completely. As it turned out, it was a much more coherent, linear film than I expected from Aronofsky, and the questions it raised were well-worth those parts which were tough to watch. The sexual scene isn’t as much about the sex itself as it is about Nina trying to tap into the dark side of herself, in order to better play the Black Swan in a ballet performance. One of the excellent questions raised here is how far a performer should go for a role, and it warns of tapping into a world of darkness which cannot be controlled, but will, in the end, control the one who seeks it. Maybe I will return to this film for a separate article. It really should be addressed further. Also, shocking I know, but I am not a huge Natalie Portman lover like practically everyone else in the world. People trash Hayden Christensen for his wood-like performance in the Star Wars prequels, but she was just as blah, or worse. I think the main problem there was George Lucas. But I digress. My point here is that I have overcome this prejudice to see that she should win the Best Actress award this year. She rocked both swans.
Winter’s Bone: The title creates the tone for this film, set in the Missouri Ozarks, where nearly every man around has fallen into manufacturing meth, and nearly every family suffers the effects of that insidious pestilence. If I was not so won over by Natalie Portman’s performance, I would vote for Jennifer Lawrence in a heartbeat, who plays seventeen year-old Ree, who has to go through hell to find out if her father is alive or dead, in an effort to save her house and keep a roof over the heads of her brother, sister, and sick mother. John Hawkes is amazing. He makes you somehow love him as Teardrop, Ree’s addict uncle, even as he threatens her with violence and waves bags of meth under her nose. This one is a bleak look at rural life, but offers redemption where it can be found, in the love of one sister for her family, and her willingness to self-sacrifice to ensure their survival. Like True Grit, I don’t think it will stand this year among so many tough competitors, but is a great movie.
Disclaimer: I have not seen The Kids are All Right, so my picks are a little lacking. I am making the choices I can based on the information I currently have…
My picks for the winners:
Best Picture: The King’s Speech
Best Director: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Best Actor- Lead: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress- Lead: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Actor- Supporting: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Actress- Supporting: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Art Direction: Inception (though I’d love to see Deathly Hallows, Part 1 win)
Cinematography: True Grit
Editing: 127 Hours
Writing- Original: The King’s Speech