Oscars: A Last-minute Guide to an Informed Opinion

Oscars: A Last-minute Guide to an Informed Opinion February 24, 2011

I would normally approach an Oscar blog for Patheos from an explicitly spiritual perspective. However, with the Academy Awards less than three days away, I want to offer you something more pragmatic: a guide to catching-up on films you’ve missed before the big night. Emergency Rooms use a process known as “triage” in order to treat the most critical patients first, and I’ll use a similar process to help you be best informed about the films you will most likely enjoy in the limited time period between now and Oscar night.

First, limit yourself to the “Best Picture” nominees since those are the films most likely to be of the highest all around quality. Assuming you don’t have time to watch ten films in the next three days, I’ll eliminate a few initially. In alphabetical order, The Fighter (if you’ve seen Rocky, you get the idea), Inception (Director Christopher Nolan should be applauded for his ambition, but the film doesn’t quite achieve greatness, nor are the special effects as impressive on the small screen at home), and Toy Story 3 (worth seeing, but not a priority — and not that different from the first two installments).

Perhaps the next most obvious advice is to see either or both of the two films most likely to win “Best Picture”: The Social Network or The King’s Speech. Your choice between the two should depend on whether you prefer contemporary or historical drama.  And my emphasis on personal choice hints at the most important advice I can give you: although there is much to be learned from reading film reviews that can help you expand your appreciation for a wide variety of films, ultimately films are like wine — no matter what the critics say, your palate and what you enjoy is equally important as the advice of the alleged experts.

According, to look at the five remaining “Best Picture” nominees (again in alphabetical order), do you like ballet meets psycho-sexual drama — or do you particularly like Natalie Portman — then check out Black Swan.

Or is great acting and smart writing in a modern family drama more your wheelhouse? If so, check out The Kids Are All Right.

Are you drawn to high-intensity action and taunt suspense — or do you really like James Franco — then see 127 Hours. Relatedly, I can’t recommend highly enough New York Magazine’s fascinating profile of Franco’s almost unbelievably frenetic real life titled “The James Franco Project.”

Or are Westerns your bailiwick — or do you rightly see everything the Coen Brothers direct as a matter of principle? The Coens deliver another phenomenal genre-piece with True Grit.

Finally, if you were only to see one of this year’s “Best Picture” nominees, I would recommend Winter’s Bone. The film deserves championing for numerous reasons.

First, Debra Granik, who both wrote and directed the film, was robbed of a “Best Director” nomination. All five nominations for “Best Director” this year went to men, and as has been noted elsewhere, Hollywood has a sexism problem.  I should note relatedly that Hollywood also has a racism problem as Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott highlighted in their article Hollywood Whiteout: “With a few exceptions, [2010] was perhaps the whitest year for Hollywood since the post-Richard Pryor, pre-Spike Lee 1980s.”

Returning to a focus on Winter’s Bone, the acting is brilliant — with both Jennifer Lawrence getting a nod for “Best Actress” and John Hawkes for “Best Supporting Actor” — and the writing received a nomination for “Best Adapted Screenplay.”  Moreover, the depiction of life in the Ozarks is haunting, captivating, and pitch-perfect.

However, according to Box Office Mojo, the domestic take for the film, as of Feb. 21, 2011, was only $6,425,778.  See Winter’s Bone; the film is an underdog that both needs and deserves your attention. You can view the trailer for free on the film’s website.

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