I don’t force every domestic drama I see to stand up to “American Beauty.” Nor do I weigh every romantic comedy against “Annie Hall.” So in a sense, why should I make a superhero movie stand up to “The Dark Knight?” I consider it every bit as paradigmatic as the two previously mentioned Best Picture winners, so an apples-to-apples comparison is hardly even possible. It’s more like apples-to-Garden of Eden fruit.
Indeed, a number of directors have tried to make their genre films a little more in the mold of Christopher Nolan’s iconic tale of the Caped Crusader, such as Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man 2” and Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class,” to little success. Yet even “The Dark Knight Rises,” the sequel to the revolutionary film itself, can’t recreate its magic nor cast a comparable spell. Perhaps its time to declare those heights unattainable to avoid further disappointments. If Christopher Nolan himself can’t reach them, surely it is time for Hollywood to find its next golden goose.
“The Dark Knight Rises” also has the added disadvantage of being scrutinized as a Nolan film, not merely a post-”Dark Knight” facsimile. Coming off an incredible decade of filmmaking (five supremely acclaimed films: “Memento,” ”Batman Begins,” ”The Prestige,” ”The Dark Knight,” and “Inception“), it is hardly premature to call him the Millenial equivalent of Steven Spielberg. His movies are so good that they have merited many a repeat viewing, allowing dedicated fans to really analyze what makes his work so exceptional. Now, it’s immediately recognizable when his films are not up to the sky-high standard he has set for himself. For instance, in the opening scene of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Surely I can’t be the only one who’s a little shocked that Christian Bale is just receiving his first Oscar nomination, and if there’s any justice in the world, his incredible performance in “The Fighter” will earn him a statue on his first time to the big dance. Bale is one heck of an actor who really can do it all: headline blockbusters like “The Dark Knight” and “Terminator: Salvation” but also step into unconventional leading man roles in independent movies such as “Rescue Dawn,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”
Bale plays real-life Dieter Dengler, a U.S. military pilot shot down over Laos in the early years of the nation’s involvement with Vietnam. He survives the crash and attempts to run to safety, but he gets caught by hostile militant forces who take him to a P.O.W. camp. There, Dieter meets other prisoners, including Duane (Steve Zahn) and Gene (Jeremy Davies), all gaunt from their extended stays.
Dieter won’t be held back or held in and almost instantaneously begins plans for escape. After getting the lay of the land, it takes him a while to find the perfect way and the perfect time. He and Duane manage to get away unscathed, but that leaves the two of them with very little food in the middle of the jungles of Laos. Lost and desperate, the two embark on a journey for survival that is both harrowing and inspiring.
Sure, Bale makes another one of his trademark physical transformations to make the role believable; however, this is not what makes “Rescue Dawn” such a fantastic watch. It’s his emotional transformation that’s so gripping. Bale’s stripping away of all acting instincts to portray the most primal instincts with such raw power is nothing short of astonishing. (And on a lesser note, will someone give Steve Zahn his own movie? The guy kills every supporting role has gets – it’s time for him to move up to the big leagues.)
The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees. It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie. But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?
That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do. Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation. My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.
So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, the second movie on our countdown of the Academy’s best of 2010 is “The Fighter.”
You’ve probably heard “The Fighter” described as Mark Wahlberg’s passion project, and his fight for four years to get the movie made has finally hit the silver screen thanks to the personal identification the star has with the story. Both Wahlberg and his character Ward grew up in large Massachusetts families with nine siblings. Both had tenacious mothers who favored their older brothers – which, in Wahlberg’s case, happens to be the New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg. As Micky became the “Pride of Lowell,” Mark Wahlberg idolized the prize fighter and is now starring and producing the ultimate tribute to him. In an interview, Wahlberg said that the only difference between the two of them is that “Micky’s a fighter and I’m an entertainer.”
A nice little under-the-radar Oscar story of 2010 has been David O. Russell’s comeback directing “The Fighter,” which is in itself a comeback story. But it wasn’t always going to be that way. Remember seeing in the opening credits that Darren Aronofsky was an executive producer of the movie? Originally, he was going to direct the movie but eventually abandoned the movie to make “Black Swan.” That makes him connected to two Best Picture nominees this year. Also worth noting about the director’s chair – Martin Scorsese turned the project down, claiming that “Raging Bull” was enough boxing for him.
Aronofsky’s exit wasn’t the only major change that “The Fighter” underwent before production began. Matt Damon and Brad Pitt were both attached to play Dickie Eklund, the former fighter and older brother to Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward that is played in the movie by Christian Bale.
And what of the documentary HBO made about Eklund? Called “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell,” the movie is real, not just a plot device in “The Fighter.” Thanks to the beauty of the Internet, you don’t have to wait for it to hit the circuit on cable – you can watch it FOR FREE on SnagFilms. (In case you didn’t catch it, I embedded the link in that bolded statement.)
Mark Wahlberg did plenty of physical preparation for “The Fighter.” He claims that his last few movies have been carefully selected as training and preparing to play Micky Ward. He built a boxing ring in his own home and spent four years training with boxing coaches, even bringing them with him to his other movie sets. Wahlberg did all the fighting himself, refusing to use a fighting double. By the time all was said and done for Wahlberg’s training, he spent more preparing than he made.
Wahlberg wasn’t the only cast member altering their body for “The Fighter.” Christian Bale noticeably dropped 30 pounds to play Dickie, giving him the look of both an ex-fighter and a crack addict. But more under the radar, Amy Adams also did her part to inhabit the character of Charlene. To make her character look like she’d been in one too many bars, Adams gained about 10 pounds to get a bit of a beer gut.
How about that wild family in “The Fighter?” Director David O. Russell said these wildly over-the-top characters were actually toned down from their real-life counterparts. I find this hard to believe in the case of the seven sisters, which are played by a particularly interesting group of actresses. One sister is played by Conan O’Brien’s sister, Kate. Another actress, Jill Quigg, was recently arrested in Boston for robbery and is now in jail. (How’s that for some authenticity?)
Did the cinematography of the fights look a little bit different than the rest of the movie? That’s because David O. Russell brought in camera crews from HBO to shoot them in the same style they were televised in for the sake of authenticity. I found it to be an interesting touch that definitely set the fights apart from the rest of the movie. They also feel real because the real Micky Ward was heavily involved in their production.
Just how real is “The Fighter,” though? According to the real life Micky Ward in an interview with Sports Illustrated, he said, “It was pretty much right on. Christian Bale did an excellent job.” The movie’s historical accuracy was greatly aided by Wahlberg’s close relationship with the real Ward and Ecklund, who often stayed in his guest house for weeks at a time. The veracity was also undoubtedly aided by Mickey O’Keefe, Ward’s real-life trainer who played himself in the movie.
And the big question: since Dickie Ecklund is still alive, how did he react to the movie? Apparently he saw it for the first time without an audience and was not a fan. Understandable for anyone to react unfavorably to a shrinking down of their life’s struggles and mistakes into two hours. But then Wahlberg and Bale convinced him to see it a few more times with a crowd, and once he saw their reaction, Ecklund was proud of how his overcoming of crack addiction moved the audience. How’s that for a feel-good story?
Check back on February 4 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “Inception.”
In case you needed any reminder of why the movie in the top spot is comfortably perched there, look above.
“The Social Network” is way ahead in the lead, and I personally don’t think that anything is going to stop it. But “The King’s Speech” threw an interesting twist into the race with its PGA victory on Saturday night with the help of a preferential ballot, and more discussion about this will be appropriate once the slate is officially set for February 27.
At this point, I honestly think that “The Fighter” could be the only movie with a chance to knock it out of the top slot. It could easily take the SAG ensemble win, and it has popped up unexpectedly in many guilds. The movie has also positioned itself to win two acting awards after victories with the BFCA and HFPA. I just get a sinking sensation that this is the movie that has enough across-the-board love to pull an upset on a preferential ballot.
“Black Swan” has popped up on EVERY guild list this year, something that could make it the most nominated movie of the year. This is obviously huge for the movie, but now that it’s assured a nomination, I’m thinking about how likely a win would be. Given that the movie tends to polarize, the chances are small. And as I’ve said about “The King’s Speech” all year, it’s not the Academy’s type of movie anymore, so I still have a hard time seeing it win. ”Inception” is out of the running because it missed out on a SAG ensemble nod despite being star-studded, and you need the support of the actors to win.
Those are the five certainties, and I’d be awestruck if any of those five miss. I think “True Grit” and “Toy Story 3″ are locks for nominations as well. ”The Kids Are All Right” is in, but I still stand by my assertion earlier this year that it would not shock me to see it left off.
It’s down to three movies – “127 Hours,” “The Town,” and “Winter’s Bone” – to battle it out for the final two slots. There could, of course, be lurking surprises like “The Blind Side” last year, but no movie seems to have positioned its chips to make a big move on nominations day. Every critical darling is underseen, and all the box office smashes are poorly reviewed.
I think “127 Hours” is in because it has a passionate base of supporters that should be able to overcome the faction of the Academy that simply won’t watch the movie. It’s from Danny Boyle, who is clearly an Academy favorite after his “Slumdog Millionaire” orchestrated a sweep of the Oscars in 2008 that we only see once or twice a decade. This a powerful movie, and those who can sit through it walk out with an enhanced appreciation of life. I think they can easily power it to a nomination.
Previously, I had predicted “Winter’s Bone” to take that final slot. But ever since the PGA left it on the outside looking in, I’ve been more inclined to favor “The Town.” As I said on the LAMBcast, putting Ben Affleck’s movie in the field would make for a perfect 50-50 split between indies and blockbusters. It would give a nice sense of “something for everyone” to Best Picture, which is kind of what I think the idea was when they expanded the field.
But “Winter’s Bone” does have a few things going for it. While I don’t think many people LOVE “The Town,” I do think that there is a significant handful of people that do love “Winter’s Bone.” It’s nothing like any of the other Best Picture nominees this year; it’s understated, quiet, stars no-name actors, and is truly of an independent sensibility.
The other so-called “indies” in the race feature recognizable actors and have largely entered mainstream consciousness. I wouldn’t count out the desire to represent a part of the industry that isn’t manifest in the first 9 nominees, but my pick is still on “The Town.” For better or for worse.
In case you were really hankering for my no guts no glory pick for a Best Picture nominee, it would be “Shutter Island.” But I don’t think that’s likely.
David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” (3)
Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” (4)
Christopher Nolan, “Inception” (2)
David O. Russell, “The Fighter”
No real change in the field here. If there’s any surprise in this category, it will likely come at the expense of David O. Russell, a prickly figure in Hollywood. But since this would be his first nomination, and those likely to replace him have won in the past three years (Danny Boyle/The Coen Brothers), he seems like a good bet. I’d also say that Christopher Nolan isn’t as safe as most would like him to be; the DGA has shortlisted him twice and the Academy has yet to recognize him in this category. A snub would be shocking but not unforseeable.
For the win, it’s Fincher way out in front. Even if “The King’s Speech” or “The Fighter” makes headway in the Best Picture race, there is no doubt that this award will be going to “The Social Network” and its genius helmer. It would be foolish to place your money anywhere else.
It’s impossible to celebrate a year in film without mentioning the performances that riveted us. Without further ado or fanfare, here are the 10 actors who reminded me of the power of their craft with their work in 2010.
My original review: Adams, usually the delightfully effervescent charmer, plays gritty and unapologetic in “The Fighter” and pulls it off to Oscar-worthy standards. She’s able to pull off just about any sort of character she takes, and the tenacious Charlene is different than anything we’ve ever seen her do before. It’s exciting to see an actress nowadays who isn’t content with finding one adjective to act and then carve themselves a niche, and Adams is quickly proving herself one of the most versatile actresses of our day.
Reflection: Amy Adams has wowed me in a variety of different roles, from her unassuming nun in “Doubt” to the ditzy princess in “Enchanted.” Yet as Charlene, I think she may have hit the most beautiful note in her career so far with her heartfelt conversation with Bale’s Dickie on her front porch. As she reflects on her life and her good intentions, it’s such a wonderful moment filled with every ounce of sincerity that she has to give.
My original review:
The best of the supporting bunch [in "Black Swan"] is by far and away Hershey as the pushy and demanding stage mom. Such roles often become stock characters; however, Hershey takes the role in frightening and invigorating new directions.
Reflection: There wasn’t a more frightening performance this year than Hershey as Natalie Portman’s mother. There’s a whole lot of subtext that Hershey has to act, perhaps a whole hidden backstory as director Darren Aronofsky alluded to, and that’s usually a daunting task for actors to pull off. Hershey shows no dust from her long hiatus from acting, keeping us scared and entranced at the same time.
My original review:
It’s Julianne Moore who absolutely brings down the house [in "The Kids Are All Right"]. As the more flighty, free-spirited Jules, she wins our hearts from the get-go, even if her antics only illicit groans from her other half. The character is very complex as she begins reeling from Paul’s introduction, exploring sides of herself she didn’t know even existed. It’s glorious to watch Moore dig deeper and deeper into her character as the movie goes on. She’s responsible for some of the movie’s funniest moments but also for its most effective emotional scene. Academy, take note.
Reflection: Throughout the awards season, many pundits have thrown out that Annette Bening’s role in “The Kids Are All Right” is the character the audience is meant to sympathize with and thus makes her the better candidate for Best Actress. Without dragging politics into it, I found Julianne Moore’s Jules the more sympathetic character and, by the end, the only one I actually cared about. Moore has delivered so many fantastic performances, but what makes this one stand head and shoulders over the rest is her total emotional engagement in the role. We feel her torment, her frustration, and her confusion so profoundly because of how engrossed she is in the character. And what she puts in, we get out of the performance.
My original review:
The star of the show is Portman, and “Black Swan” is made all the more fascinating by how Nina’s development mirrors her performance. Much like Nina must lose herself in the role of the Swan Princess, Portman absolutely disappears into her character. It’s a shocking and startling transformation due to Portman’s dedication to learning the craft of ballet and her impeccable acting. The movie stands as a testament to the fact that she is one of the best emerging actresses of her generation, and her flawless showing here deserves to be minted in history alongside the greatest of all time. Portman gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance, and to miss it would be to deny yourself the chance to see as close to perfection as is cinematically possible.
Reflection: Perfect. It was perfect.
Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in “True Grit”
Reflection: I have yet to review “True Grit,” but when I do, expect the highest of praise for newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. There are very few actors that can spit out period dialogue at lightning speed with confidence, and there are probably even fewer that can do the same with the dialogue of the Coen Brothers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do both so well, a feat that would impress me from an Academy Award-winning actress but floors me when I consider that this is a debut performer. At such a young age, she has a complete and total mastery of her character’s deepest desires and feelings, and such a strong presence out in front of “True Grit” makes it a movie and a performance I won’t soon forget.
My original review:
The knockout punch of “The Fighter” is the performance of Christian Bale, a totally authentic portrayal of a drug addict, former boxer, jealous trainer – and all simultaneously. He doesn’t act or perform as the real life Dickie Ecklund so much as he becomes him and inhabits him. Every twitch, every word is meticulously planned by Bale, who slimmed down from his Batman physique to play the gaunt Dickie.
Reflection: “The Fighter” is Micky Ward’s story, but it’s Dickie Ecklund’s movie. Bale, completely lost in the character, brings together all of his strengths to deliver what could be the quintessential performance of his career. It shows his physical commitment, his uncompromising authenticity, and a strangely pervasive sense of heart that’s often a little rough around the edges.
My original review:
Eisenberg nails all the eccentricities of the fast-talking technological wiz, and the nuances in his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg will captivate for endless viewings.
Reflection: Who is Mark Zuckerberg? After “The Social Network” was released, millions of people were left trying to answer the question. Is he the savior of the Internet and the symbol of a new era, or is he the force that will inadvertently bring it down and destroy all the comforts of our former lives? What makes this screen version of Zuckerberg so captivating is that Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t attempt to answer this question. Eisenberg gets to the core of what he thinks is motivating Zuckerberg, going so deep that no bias or opinion can color his interpretation. Then, he lays it all out on the screen and leaves it up to the viewer to decide who Mark Zuckerberg is. With the magazine TIME naming the entrepreneur their person of the year, Eisenberg may have made Mark Zuckerberg the folk hero of the digital age.
My original review: It’s Firth’s show in the flashy role of King George, a character that must be inhabited, not just performed. Firth nails it, getting inside every thought and stammer of the king. He doesn’t just brush the surface as many actors playing historical figures do; he makes George vulnerable and sentimental. Firth’s poignant performance reminds us that what we should be looking for in movies like this is heart.
Reflections: The royal family of England always feels so distant on film, living a life filmmakers believe is so different that ours that they have to put them in an ivory tower. Yet Colin Firth, armed with a fantastically written human being by the name of King George VI, tears their mythological status down brick by brick until his royal figure is so down to earth that he feels like an old friend. The movie wouldn’t have been half as inspiring had Firth not brought such an enormously relatable pathos to the role.
My original review: There’s never a dull or wasted moment to be found in the movie thanks to Franco’s sublime and enlightened performance. While shooting on location, Boyle consistently had him act in character for 20 minutes straight and then relied on the editor to find 30 seconds to make it into the final cut. This total immersion into Ralston’s desperation makes Franco all the more raw and moving.
Reflection: The blasting score, fancy editing, and flashy cinematography of “127 Hours” can only go so far to make a static movie work. It requires a dynamic actor, both heartbreaking and heartwarming, that we can stick with until the bitter end. James Franco does just that and more as he makes pain and hope so tangible and so authentic that the movie never feels anything less than real. If anyone ever had a doubt that we need actors more than ever, Franco’s flawless work is all that’s needed to silence any critic.
My original review: Andrew Garfield as the upright Saverin is a force to be reckoned with, a true presence throughout the movie with his very likable charm. For just that reason, he makes it wrenching to watch the inevitable turn when Saverin gets cheated.
Reflection: While Zuckerberg’s prickly exterior prevents us from ever liking him too much, Andrew Garfield endows Eduardo Saverin with a sharp mind, firm beliefs, and a strong moral compass, making us fall head over heels for his character. He’s an irresistible force on the screen, the good angel resting on Zuckerberg’s right shoulder whispering in his ear to follow common wisdom. The movie’s emotional climax wouldn’t work if we weren’t rooting for Saverin the entire time, and when he explodes with anger, you’ll want to jump in the frame and punch the jerks who wronged him.
As Mena Suvari’s teenage temptress Angela Hayes told us in “American Beauty,” there’s nothing worse than being ordinary. In the ring of boxing movies, it’s all too easy to become ordinary. While the latest contender to take a punch at the reigning champions, David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” is a little too lightweight to compete, it’s got some nice heart. And as practically all movies about the sport have taught us, soul is all that really matters, right?
However, this isn’t really a boxing movie so much as a movie involving boxing. It’s mainly a story of brotherhood, family, and pride that’s made all the more fascinating because it’s true. As many cinematic boxers preceding him have, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) works a low-paying, labor-intensive job to make a living since his boxing career won’t exactly pay the bills. In his corner, he has his brother, former prize fighter Dickie Ecklund (Christian Bale) who became the pride of their hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts after triumphing over Sugar Ray Leonard. Now, he’s an unreliable mess so addicted to crack that HBO is doing a documentary on him.
Micky is in many ways inexorably tied to his family with Dickie as his trainer and his tenacious mother (Melissa Leo) as his manager. She performed the same role back when Dickie was in the ring and often still acts like his manager as opposed to Micky’s. She puts an emphasis on family unity, which is tough for Micky to swallow as his many trashy half-sisters are often very overbearing. Micky’s familial concerns lie with his young daughter being raised by his bitter ex-wife and her husband, neither of which want him to have any part in her life because of his lifestyle.
Well, folks, if you had any doubt that Oscar season was here before this week, you can’t now. Nearly every critics group chimed in with their best of the year, and we got two massively important nominations lists from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild. The puzzle is really starting to come together, and since there was so much going on, the format of the last two weeks just didn’t really work.
In place of the usual “here’s the group, here’s what they selected” rambling, I decided to issue a new set of predictions based on what we saw over the past week.
A few notes before I begin: there’s no poll this week, and I’m debating whether or not to include one at all from here on out because there has been so little participation. Also, please click the links! I spend a lot of time linking the titles of movies to other posts I’ve written that might be of interest. The first time I mention a movie, it links to the trailer on YouTube. The second mention goes to my Oscar Moment on the movie. The third mention goes to my review, if applicable.
No change in my top 10, but some big trends have emerged. It’s clear that “The Social Network” is the critics’ group darling of 2010. Do you want me to name all the cities and organizations who named it their Best Picture? I’m proud to say my own city of Houston named it theirs (updated on Saturday). Ok, here’s the list:
African-American Film Critics
Boston Society of Film Critics
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association
Detroit Film Critics Society
Houston Film Critics Society
Indiana Film Journalists Association
Las Vegas Film Critics Society
Los Angeles Film Critics Association
New York Film Critics Circle
New York Film Critics Online
San Francisco Film Critics Circle
Southeastern Film Critics Association
Toronto Film Critics Association
Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association
In addition, it picked up nominations from nods from critics in Chicago, St. Louis, and Phoenix who have yet to announce their winners. On top of the previous win from the National Board of Review, “The Social Network” clearly has a ton of heat heading into the home stretch. It received 6 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (Drama), 9 Critics Choice Award (BFCA) nominations including Best Picture, and 2 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award nominations including Best Ensemble, their version of Best Picture. Critics make a difference, but they don’t decide Best Picture. It helps, though, that it won top prize from the incredibly influential film centers of New York and Los Angeles.
However, “The King’s Speech” set itself up for a second-stage surge by scoring more nominations than “The Social Network” at all three of the major groups that announced this week. It received 7 Golden Globe nominations, the most of any movie in 2010, including Best Picture. It received 11 BFCA nominations including Best Picture. It received 4 SAG Award nominations, tied for the most of any movie in 2010, including Best Ensemble.
These voters are not necessarily like critics in their taste, and it would only take a win of one of these big awards to hoist Tom Hooper’s film to the top spot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win the Globe for Best Picture simply because they almost always choose the most nominated movie. Then again, that strategy didn’t work out in 2008 when “Slumdog Millionaire” with 4 nominations triumphed over the pack leader “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with 5 nominations. ”Slumdog” swept the critics awards that year, so there could be an interesting parallel forming.
But for me, one of the big stories of the week was the emergence of “The Fighter” as a serious contender. We had heard good things, but most called it somewhat predictable and formulaic. No one was jumping up and down with joy, yet we saw an unprecedented outpouring of support this week. It received 6 BFCA nominations including Best Picture, 4 SAG Award nominations, tied for the most of 2010, including Best Ensemble, and 6 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture. I got a chance to catch the movie this week, and it’s feel-good surface could make it a dark horse to watch out for in the race.
Then again, so could “Inception,” which picked up 4 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture, something Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” couldn’t do back in 2008. It has also been a staple on the critics circuit, although taking second fiddle to “The Social Network” of course. The summer blockbuster has been a part of every top 5 or 10, practically the only certainty outside of a movie not involving Facebook. With 10 BFCA nominations as well, it could make a play for Best Picture as well. It could easily wind up the most nominated film of 2010 at the Oscars given its impressive technical aspects.
“Black Swan” is also making strides in the race, scoring a record 12 nominations from the BFCA, 4 nominations from the Golden Globes including Best Picture, and 3 SAG Award nominations including Best Ensemble. The box office has helped too, and as it expands into more theaters, expect it to be the audience favorite art-house movie. I think it’s got to be a shoo-in for a nomination now, although the win will be tricky given the subject matter.
“The Kids Are All Right” goes up thanks to its great showing with the New York Film Critics Circle, winning more categories than “The Social Network,” and receiving 4 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) as well as 3 SAG Award nominations including Best Ensemble. It had a big miss with the BFCA, though, failing to score a Best Picture nomination. It should easily win the Globe for Best Picture, and the prospects are looking much better than they did last week. But I’m still not entirely certain that it’s going to get an Oscar nomination…
“Winter’s Bone” continues to stride nicely towards a Best Picture nomination, notable for being the only movie to win a Best Picture prize from a critics group other than “The Social Network” (kudos to San Diego for the originality). It missed with the Golden Globes, but they rarely delve THAT indie.
Slipping this week are “True Grit” and “127 Hours,” neither of which found much love from the Golden Globes. The former was completely shut out while the latter received three nominations but not for Best Picture or Director. The one-man show was unlikely to score a SAG nomination apart from Franco, but “True Grit” missed big by not receiving a Best Ensemble nomination given its star-studded cast. They did manage to score with the BFCA, both receiving a nomination for Best Picture. ”True Grit” received 11 total nominations from the group while “127 Hours” scored an impressive 8. Neither look very strong at this stage, and if there are going to be any surprises on nomination morning, it could come at the expense of these two movies.
Worth noting: all movies predicted (with the exception of “The King’s Speech” because it was ineligible) appeared on the American Film Institute’s Top 10 films of the year. Ben Affleck’s “The Town” was also included.
David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Christopher Nolan, “Inception” (4)
Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”
Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” (2)
David O. Russell, “The Fighter” (NR)
Dropping off: Danny Boyle
Barring some massive surge of appreciation for the boldness of Nolan or Aronofsky’s work this year, Fincher has this in the bag simply because he’s the only prior nominee with his eyes on the prize and he deserves it. (Nolan took home Best Director from the African-American Critics Association and the Indiana Film Journalists Association, and Aronofsky won with San Diego and San Francisco critics.)
Tom Hooper moves down because the actors are the star of the campaign, not him. Since so few people know of him and his other movies, there’s no rush to recognize him.
Boyle departs the list this week as love for “127 Hours” has grown soft, replaced with reservations by David O. Russell. Given that he’s not the most popular man in Hollywood, it’s going to be hard for him to score a nomination. But if the love for “The Fighter” continues, the goodwill could push him into the race.
Firth still stands steadfast at the top amidst all. He has made a decent showing with the critics, winning top marks from Detroit, San Francisco, Washington D.C., the Southeastern critics, and the incredibly important groups in New York and Los Angeles, both of which chose “The Social Network” as their Best Picture. If all else fails, he should be the one way the Academy knows they can reward “The King’s Speech.”
But the real story of the season so far is massive surge of love for Jesse Eisenberg, whose performance in “The Social Network” could easily have been overlooked due to his age. That has not been the case so far as Eisenberg has dominated the critics circuit, winning top prizes from Boston, Houston, and Toronto in addition to taking the first prize of the year from the National Board of Review. If the movie starts dominating everything in its path a la “Slumdog Millionaire,” Eisenberg could surprise and win.
Yet James Franco has won more awards on the critics circuit, taking the prize from Dallas-Fort Worth, Indiana, Las Vegas, and the New York Film Critics Online. This is the kind of performance that the critics really love, and its adulation from this corner doesn’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold. Apparently a lot of people simply won’t watch the movie because they are scared (which is a terrible reason), and the overall buzz for the movie has plummeted thanks to that and Fox Searchlight’s clumsy release strategy.
Firth, Eisenberg, and Franco are all locks at this moment, their status solidified by appearing on nearly every Best Actor shortlist including from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards. After that, there are essentially four actors vying for the final two slots – Jeff Bridges, Robert Duvall, Ryan Gosling, and Mark Wahlberg. The first two are the conservative picks; the last two are riskier.
Bridges and Duvall both received nominations from the SAG Awards and the BFCA but were overlooked by the Golden Globes. The SAG is usually a good indicator of the Academy’s ultimate selections, but they are also notorious for getting sentimental for older actors. Given the tepid support for “True Grit” and the absence of support for “Get Low,” I don’t know if the Academy can justify to itself the inclusion of two prior winners in movies they didn’t really like.
Mark Wahlberg, a prior nominee for 2006′s “The Departed,” only managed to score a nomination from the Golden Gloves and a win from the African-American Film Critics Association, but the surge for “The Fighter” bodes well for his chances despite missing nods from the BFCA and the SAG Awards. The leading actor usually gets swept along for the ride in scenarios like these, and that feels likely for Wahlberg. However, since the heart of the film is Christian Bale, not leading man Wahlberg, he could still be overlooked.
And then there’s Ryan Gosling, Best Actor nominee in 2006 for “Half Nelson,” whose raw performance I still keep in my top 5. There are two interesting trajectories Gosling has taken through awards season: in 2006, he was nominated by the BFCA but snubbed by the Golden Globes and SAG Awards on the way to an Oscar nomination. In 2007, his work in “Lars and the Real Girl” was recognized by all three organizations yet not nominated by the Academy. ”Blue Valentine” is an entirely different path, as Gosling was nominated by the BFCA and Golden Globes but not by the SAG Awards. I have faith … for now.
No change in my top 5 this week as the same four actresses – Portman, Bening, Lawrence, Kidman – seeming to dominate the circuit collected nominations from the BFCA, the SAG Awards, and the Golden Globes. Unfortunately, due to the conflicting genre of their movies, we won’t get a Bening/Portman face-off at the latter ceremony. (And as a note, Kidman is at #5 because I just don’t think she will win. I see her as the Helen Mirren in “The Last Station” of 2010, a prior winner collecting every nomination but never with a real shot to win.)
I’m still picking Portman as I feel her performance is too good to be denied, and the love for “Black Swan” is high. She has also established herself as a critical favorite, winning awards from groups in Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Indiana, Las Vegas, the Southeast, and the New York Film Critics Online. She has appeared on every shortlist for Best Actress, minor as a critics group or major as the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.
As I discussed last week, Portman has the performance but Bening has the respect. To win, she doesn’t need to be collecting all these awards, although it would help. She took home a very important Best Actress prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, a very influential group in the race. Until we see her go up against Portman, I see no reason to say she’s entitled to an Oscar victory for her career. She will need to win from the BFCA or the SAG Awards to assert her authority.
Jennifer Lawrence has also shown up on nearly every list made by critics, and she’s been winning her fair share of awards too, including from Detroit, San Diego, Toronto, and Washington D.C. She’s a critical darling in her own right, but I think she’s too young and too fresh a face to win.
There are several actresses vying for that last spot – Hilary Swank for “Conviction” who received a surprise SAG nomination, Halle Berry for “Frankie & Alice” who received a Golden Globe nomination, Julianne Moore for “The Kids Are All Right” who received a Golden Globe nomination, dark horse Swedish actress Noomi Rapace for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” who received a BFCA nomiation, and Lesley Manville for “Another Year” who won the National Board of Review’s prize for Best Actress.
But I still think that last spot will be filled by Michelle Williams for “Blue Valentine” who was recognized by the Golden Globes and the BFCA as one of the best actresses of the year. She’s been an Oscar nominee before, and I think she has what it takes to sneak in.
Christian Bale has become the closest thing to a lock we can get this season, winning nearly everything in sight. In addition to picking up Best Supporting Actor nominations from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and the SAG Awards, he won the award from Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Las Vegas, New York Film Critics Online, and Washington D.C. If nothing else, Oscar socialism could be at work here to give “The Fighter” a trophy.
Geoffrey Rush received the trifecta of nominations this week as well, although his only win on the critics circuit has come from the Southeastern Film Critics Association. He was the runner-up, though, for the Los Angeles critics, a very influential group. If Bale’s temper flares up soon, expect Rush to capitalize and take the trophy.
Rising this week is Jeremy Renner, last year’s Best Actor nominee for “The Hurt Locker,” who also received the three crucial nominations that Bale and Rush did. He’s a quick way to recognize the movie if they don’t want to give it a Best Picture nomination.
Andrew Garfield, while being recognized by the BFCA and Golden Globes, was snubbed by the SAG Awards. While I think the success of “The Social Network” will keep him afloat, I don’t think his nomination is any certainty. Worth noting – some much deserved love went the way of Armie Hammer, Garfield’s co-star who breathed life into the Winklevi, from the Toronto Film Critics for Best Supporting Actor. Two nominees from the same movie hasn’t happened in this category for almost 20 years, but perhaps if “The Social Network” hits big, it could happen.
Mark Ruffalo finally makes it into my shortlist after receiving the Best Supporting Actor prize from the influential New York Film Critics Association as well as nominations from the BFCA and SAG Awards. It’s still a little strange that he missed out on a Golden Globe nomination (at the inclusion of Michael Douglas in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” no less), but the surge of love for the movie looks to power him into the race over John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone,” who received a SAG Award nomination in addition to his prizes from San Francisco and San Diego.
I still have no idea what to make of this category. Melissa Leo seems to be an across-the-board favorite, so I’m inclined to favor her. She received nominations from all three major groups announcing this week and won the award from Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington D.C., the New York Film Critics Online, and most importantly the New York Film Critics Circle. In a year where there appears to be no clear favorite, she may be the consensus choice that everyone can agree on.
Amy Adams was also on board with Leo for the big three this week, also winning Detroit and Las Vegas’ prize. She could ultimately be Leo’s foil as vote-splitting becomes an issue. Of the six movies that received dual Best Supporting Actress nominations over the past decade, only one managed to win (Catherine Zeta-Jones over Queen Latifah in “Chicago”).
Mila Kunis stormed onto the scene this week, capturing nominations from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards. For a girl who this time last year was best known in cinema for her roles in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Max Payne,” this is a startling turnaround. The love shows that they love her performance, and I think the Oscars will reciprocate the love in a few weeks.
Helena Bonham Carter continues to ride on the coattails of the success of “The King’s Speech,” also popping up in all three major groups announcing their nominations this week. I see her much like Taraji P. Henson for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or Catherine Keener for “Capote” – great actresses turning in fairly good performances in beloved movies. Fairly good can’t win, but it’s sure going to get nominated.
The campaign for Jacki Weaver worked, so pat yourself on the back, Sony Pictures Classics. The “Animal Kingdom” actress was cited by the BFCA and Golden Globes as one of the five best supporting performances of the year, and she won the title outright from the Los Angeles critics, an extremely good sign that she’s headed for a nomination. The SAG snub hurt, and she still has to deal with lack of notoriety. But if it’s about the performance, she stands a good chance.
Dark horse Juliette Lewis won Boston’s prize for her work in “Conviction,” but I think it’s too small of a part to get nominated. Hailee Steinfeld took home top honors from Houston and Indiana for her work in “True Grit” and managed to net nominations rom the BFCA and SAG Awards. However, category confusion and lack of familiarity could keep her out. And for some strange reason, Dianne Weist has gone totally unnoticed this season save a meaningless Golden Satellite Award nomination. Bye, bye…
Another pick that’s pretty far out there, but I’m getting a feeling that “Inception” will win Best Original Screenplay. The critics are all over its originality, and everyone seems on board the train. If “The Social Network” takes Best Picture, how else to reward this movie other than a few technical awards? Best Original Screenplay, of course, as the movie redefined originality and creativity for millions of moviegoers. The BFCA and Golden Globe nominations don’t hurt either.
Hot on its heels is “The Kids Are All Right,” which was recognized for its screenplay by the same two organizations. It also won the prize from the New York Film Critics Association (over “The Social Network,” I might add). There was a two-year comedy streak from 2006-2007, and we just hit a two-year drama streak. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back…
While “The King’s Speech” also received the same two nominations, I just don’t feel like anyone is jumping up and down with love for the script. It’s an actor’s movie, not a writer’s movie, and the mentions feel more like courtesy than necessity. However, it did win the prize from the Southeastern critics and San Francisco and was a runner-up for Toronto, and Los Angeles’ prize, so maybe I’m wrong.
“Black Swan” is in because everyone likes the movie, and it got the nod from the BFCA. ”Another Year” stays in because the Academy loves Mike Leigh.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
127 Hours (NR)
Winter’s Bone (5)
True Grit (3)
Dropping off: Rabbit Hole
“The Social Network” is still in peak condition, winning nearly every Best Screenplay award there is. But I hesitate to call it a lock as “Precious” surprised the heavily favored “Up in the Air” last year. The heart is a factor in this category, and the heart belongs to “Toy Story 3.”
“127 Hours” soars to #3 thanks to its recognition by the BFCA and the Golden Globes in spite of my prior qualms that it wasn’t a movie that succeeded because of its writing. But if Danny Boyle can’t get a Best Director nomination, it sure looks like he will get one for Best Adapted Screenplay.
“Winter’s Bone” has been collecting plenty of screenplay nominations along the critics circuit, and it seems like a solid choice for a nomination.
“True Grit” slips to #5 and only stays in because the Academy loves the Coen Brothers’ writing. If “The Town” shows some might, it could easily replace the Western.
So, what do YOU think? Who do you think is cruising towards an Oscar nomination?
Little change in the “TSN”/”TKS” dialectic as I still believe their duel will be the story of the season and that David Fincher’s Facebook movie will win out. Other than that, the job of a prognosticator is to distinguish the dark horses from those just lucky to populate the top 10.
Noticeably different from the lineup a month ago is the position of “Black Swan,” which has received some massive praise in large amounts. I’m just really feeling the love for this movie right now, and while it may just be a movie for the critics groups, I think the emphasis on its artistic achievement will push it through.
As for other motions on the chart, “Inception” moves up as the DVD release gives it an uptick; how much the movie can run with it, though, is yet to be determined. “127 Hours” moves down because I just don’t feel the passion for it has been able to sustain.
“True Grit” falls as reviews make it out to be great but nothing to stop the presses like ‘The Social Network” did, and since the Coens have already directed a Best Picture winner, the movie stands in a big shadow. And I’ve never felt secure on “The Kids Are All Right” simply because it just seems too assumed, too “its a well-reviewed social commentary and comedy so it’s in” to be a safe bet. The public didn’t quite catch on, and its DVD release didn’t revive much passion.
“Winter’s Bone” charts for the first time as it seems to be the “anointed indie” of 2010 after its triumph at the Gotham Awards and it led the pack of Indie Spirit award nominations (more on Friday.)
David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”
Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” (4)
Christopher Nolan, “Inception” (3)
Danny Boyle, “127 Hours”
Not much going on here other than the flop in positions of Aronofsky and Nolan. For me, this is a stagnant category and not much will change unless the Coen Brothers knock out one of the bottom 3.
Although I don’t agree with the commonly held conception that “The King’s Speech” will be the big winner of 2010′s Oscar race, I do think it will have a nice trophy haul. The voters like this movie, and they want to give it some reward other than Best Picture. Thus, Colin Firth, the very likable and talented performer, gets Best Actor as a testament to the film’s power. I can see it playing out much like 2008 when “Milk” took home Best Actor for Sean Penn and Best Original Screenplay. James Franco may just be too young to win (and he gets to host the show.)
Eisenberg stays at position #3, a safe bet for now but could be dislodged if little support is thrown his way. Duvall reenters as Bridges/Wahlberg praise has been relatively muted amidst the raves for their movies. ”The Fighter” and “True Grit” will get their chance in the Supporting categories, both with a good shot at the win. There’s the sentimental Peter O’Toole in “Venus” vote going for him here, although it does hurt that he’s won before.
And I still stick with Gosling simply because I stand to my guns on this movie being rewarded for its raw acting. But I realize that the Academy could pull a “Revolutionary Road” on us and nominate neither he or Williams because the material is too depressing.
Little change here as well. I stil think this is Portman’s year, and she will run away with it. Perhaps certain organizations where sentimental votes really count will choose Bening, but I think the Academy knows an incredible, transformative performance when they see one. To quote my own review of “Black Swan” in a shameless plug, “Portman absolutely disappears into her character. It’s a shocking and startling transformation due to Portman’s dedication to learning the craft of ballet and her impeccable acting.”
Kidman stays stagnant, and Michelle Williams is forced down a rung by the force of Jennifer Lawrence, an actress whose chances I was very cynical about (as shown by her fall off the chart from September to November). But now I think I’m sure that she’s the real deal, although if “Winter’s Bone” falters in awards season, I may retract that statement. I was hesitant to place her in my top 5 because she is so young; if nominated, Lawrence will be the second-youngest nominee ever at 19 years of age. But she could easily be the Carey Mulligan of 2010, the breakout star no one can deny. I doubt she could topple Portman or Bening, but I wouldn’t rule her out as the year’s critical darling.
Since I last updated these predictions, people actually saw “The Fighter” and confirmed my suspicion that Christian Bale would steamroll his way through awards season. He has the respect to get there (despite his temper), and he is deserving. Paramount will easily be able to make the case that this is “his time.” Apologies to Geoffrey Rush, but your time was in 1996 when you won Best Actor.
Matt Damon makes his first appearance on the list as good word gets around about his performance in “True Grit,” replacing Sam Rockwell, who isn’t very good in the fairly pathetic “Conviction.”
My bad for the category fraud – I assumed Aaron Eckhart would be campaigned in Best Supporting Actor after reading a piece by Dave Karger. But according to the FYC ads, I’m wrong, and he will be rightfully campaigned in the leading category. With passion for Andrew Garfield’s performance seemingly slipping but nonetheless still present, who should fill that last slot? I still think the men problem of “The Kids Are All Right” will keep Mark Ruffalo out again (unfortunately).
My pick is Jeremy Renner. There’s a whole lot of good will for “The Town,” although I still dobut it has enough to crack the Best Picture shortlist. The good feelings for the movie could translate into a surprise acting nomination, much like Maggie Gyllenhaal found herself in the Best Supporting Actress race without any prior attention when “Crazy Heart” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. Jeremy Renner, a nominee for last year’s “The Hurt Locker,” is really emerging as a big star, and what better way to mint him as a mainstream actor than nominate him in consecutive years? This would prove him to be more than just a one-hit wonder, and it’s one way they could honor “The Town.”
Best Supporting Actress:
Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit” (3)
Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech” (5)
Melissa Leo, “The Fighter” (1)
Amy Adams, “The Fighter” (NR)
Dianne Weist, “Rabbit Hole” (4)
Dropping off: Miranda Richardson
I can’t wait for precursor season to start so we can GET SOME CLARITY ON THIS CATEGORY! We have been wandering in the wilderness for months upon months now with everyone offering guesses, not predictions. So my final guess is Hailee Steinfeld, the tenacious youngin of “True Grit.” If the Academy wants to reward the movie with a trophy, this could be the simplest place to do it. The socialism of the Oscars isn’t something dependable, but it happens enough to factor in to predictions.
With “The King’s Speech” taken care of in Best Actor, Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t pose much of a threat. Ditto for Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, who will cede the carrying of the torch for “The Fighter” to Christian Bale. I doubt Dianne Weist has a legitimate shot at winning since she has taken this category twice. Can you picture her next to Jack Nicholson as the premier Oscar-winning actors of a generation? I can’t.
Finally, some commentary on the screenplay race that you’ve been craving since September. Don’t lie, this is exciting to you.
While “Inception” and “The Kids Are All Right” are undoubtedly the most original of the bunch, this seems to be a category for “The King’s Speech” simply because of the broad acclaim the movie has received. If the Academy is looking for a place to reward the movie other than Best Picture, this is another easy way they can elevate its statue count above the winner of the Best Documentary Short. With a good shot at several technicals, “The King’s Speech” could walk away with three trophies while “The Social Network” takes the requisite four (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing).
“Black Swan” glides in on the movie’s success, although I don’t think the screenplay was particularly fantastic. It could easily be overlooked in favor of another independent selection. And “Another Year,” which seems to have fallen from grace since its Cannes premiere, hangs on in Best Original Screenplay because Mike Leigh movies always get nominated here.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
If “The Social Network” should be eclipsed by “The King’s Speech,” it should still take Best Adapted Screenplay without a hitch. Aaron Sorkin’s genius script will probably be the movie’s most appealing offering over the season, and this category seems to seal the deal for the Facebook flick to score at least one Oscar. Then again, we said the same thing about “Up in the Air,” and then “Precious” came out of nowhere to steal.
“Toy Story 3″ is probably the movie most likely to take down Sorkin, if that’s even possible. The minds at Pixar have been ever so close to a Screenplay win for 15 years; it may be too soon to give them Best Picture, but why not Best Adapted Screenplay? It’s a step in the right direction towards a time when a movie will not be discriminated against and excluded from the Best Picture race just for being animated, foreign, or a documentary.
The Coen Brothers always get nominated for their writing, and they’ve won twice. So chances that they get in for “True Grit” are very high. ”Rabbit Hole” slides in because the category seems to be trending towards theatrical adaptations. If “Doubt” can get in for a word-for-word adaptation, David Lindsey-Abaire’s cinematic reimagining shouldn’t have a problem garnering a nomination.
As for the final slot, I choose indie darling “Winter’s Bone” over “127 Hours” simply because it feels more literary. Danny Boyle’s movie isn’t very scripted; the magic comes from Franco.
What are your thoughts heading into the season? Am I right on “The Social Network?” Am I missing something?
“The Fighter” was supposed to be sight unseen until after Thanksgiving, a move that lends a certain amount of prestige and mystery to an Oscar contender. However, all assumptions are out the window after today’s announcement that it will be shown as a “secret screening” at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles tonight. So tomorrow, official speculation begins on one of the most buzzed movies of the season.
To begin the chatter, it’s best to start with how this staked out a spot on every pundits top 10 list without anybody laying eyes on it. ”The Fighter” is a prestige December release for Paramount (the studio bringing us “True Grit” in the same month) about the boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg. Boxing is a very Academy-friendly sport: “Million Dollar Baby” and “Rocky” won Best Picture, “Raging Bull” was nominated, and acting nominations have been bestowed upon “Cinderella Man,” “Ali,” and “The Hurricane.” Sasha Stone at Awards Daily attempted to figure out why the Academy is so in the ring for boxing and came up with a list of 10 reasons. Here are the most pertinent:
3. During the fight, it is required that the fighter retreat momentarily to get rubbed down, stitched up, and sponged. During this time, the fighter is warned to back off because “it’s not worth it.” And if that doesn’t work, “cut me.”
5. If the hero does lose, he or she must manage to look like the winner because he or she won at the important stuff: he or she was a good person and tried hard. No matter what, never smash a champion belt for the jewels. It’s worth more intact and in its original condition.
7. There has to be something else at stake besides just playing the game. Palpable desperation for financial gain, for instance, personal recognition, a chance to play like the big boys do: nobody likes a rich fighter doing it just for sport.
With those in mind, “The Fighter” seems to be a straight down the Academy checklist movie. Then again, I said the same thing about Clint Eastwood’s rugby flick “Invictus” last year, and it didn’t fare too well. So is it really just the subject matter that gives us faith in the movie? It’s certainly not because of David O. Russell, whose movies have hardly been a hit with the Academy in the past. To make matters worse, Anne Thompson puts Russell in a category with Mel Gibson for despised people in Hollywood. His quarrels with actors have been well-documented thanks to sites like YouTube, and Thompson says that the movie would have to be really good for people to get over the fact that he directed it.
I think the actors are the big selling point of the movie. Mark Wahlberg is four years removed from a much-deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination for ‘The Departed,” and he tried to get back in the race last year for “The Lovely Bones” (which stunk and accordingly flopped). The leading role of boxer Ward will offer up some meaty material for the actor to sink his teeth into, and as long as he does a good job, I don’t see what could keep someone like Wahlberg out of Best Actor. He’s a likable actor who has a great success story of his own. Besides, look at the boxing movies I listed that have found Oscar success. With the exception of “Cinderella Man,” the movie’s main boxer has been nominated. Swank and DeNiro won.
The movie also has three supporting performances that could each be big movers in the Oscar race this year, particularly given how volatile both fields are. Christian Bale took off all the Batman brawn and went skinny for his role as Dickie Eklund, Micky’s older brother and trainer. It’s really more of a co-lead from what I hear, and according to a nice chart laid out by Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience, one can learn that those were quite popular over the past decade.
Eklund also struggles with substance abuse, and addicts are another Academy favorite. This category saw nominees Benicio del Toro in “21 Grams” as a reformed alcoholic, Thomas Haden Church in “Sideways” as a promiscuous wine enthusiast, Eddie Murphy in “Dreamgirls” as a recreational cocaine user, and Josh Brolin in “Milk” as the man who can’t put down the Twinkies. Bale is playing a role that screams “OSCARS” from the rooftops; like Russell, he has a temper issue that people will have to forgive for him to go the extra mile.
Two-time nominee Amy Adams and one-time nominee Melissa Leo will both try to crack the Best Supporting Actress field, and given the year, both of them could make it provided that “The Fighter” is a big threat across the board. This is a category especially friendly to doubly nominated movies; in six out of the last ten years, one movie has received two Best Supporting Actress nominations. With “For Colored Girls” almost entirely out of the picture, this could be the only movie to swoop down and grab two spots.
But if there’s only one, I have a feeling it will go to Melissa Leo. She was a surprise nominee back in 2008 for “Frozen River,” and the Academy picked her up out of obscurity and put her on the map. That means they like her and want her to succeed. From early buzz, she has a showier role as the mother of Wahlberg and Bale than Adams has as Wahlberg’s love interest. Looking over the past decade of nominees, maternal figures, good or bad, show up a lot. (Just for fun, Mo’Nique was the last bad mom to win, Jennifer Connelly was the last good mom to win.)
The movie could also score nominations in technical categories like editing, cinematography, and makeup because boxing movies require a lot of orchestration with the camera to make the fights coherent. But the big question remains if this could be a Best Picture nominee. It’s been assumed for months now, but it can’t stay hidden any longer. Soon we will see the true colors.
We aren’t entirely dry on news about “The Fighter” as a whole; the movie showed at ShowEast for theater owners and won raves according to Steve Pond at The Wrap. These aren’t Oscar prognosticators, but Pond said the consensus was that it would be a “likely Best Picture nominee, with a pair of performances that will definitely figure into the Supporting Actor and Actress races.” We will know a lot more tomorrow, but until then, we sit back and predict. And wait.
BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Leo), Best Film Editing
OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Adams), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup
Folks, it’s time for a new set of predictions. A lot has changed in the last two months since I issued a set of predictions. Just a month away from the start of the horse race, I thought now would be a good time to step back and reevaluate.
(NOTE: I’m restructuring the change in position system from 2009. The symbols stay the same, but listed in parentheses to the right is the previous position.)
The Social Network
The King’s Speech (NR)
127 Hours (10)
True Grit (NR)
Toy Story 3 (3)
The Fighter (2)
The Kids Are All Right
Black Swan (5)
How Do You Know (NR)
Dropping off: Another Year, Never Let Me Go, Blue Valentine
I‘m still feeling confident forecasting a win for “The Social Network.” It has audiences and critics behind it; with enough precursor love, it could be an unstoppable force. ”True Grit” and “The Fighter” remain strong possibilities even unseen, although I’m sensing less excitement for the latter. ”Toy Story 3″ hasn’t dropped; two contenders have just risen above it. Given a push, it could still make a run for the money. And “How Do You Know” is still unseen, but I’m getting good vibes. Probably stupid to put it on my list instead of “Another Year,” but I’m going gutsy.
Right now, my biggest comment is that the race feels really stagnant. It’s too early for the race to boil down to “The Social Network” vs. “The King’s Speech.” The enthusiasm has kind of died for any movie, although that could easily change with this week’s release of “127 Hours.” It’s just kind of been a dead zone for Best Picture buzz recently … which is a huge bummer.
David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” (NR)
Christopher Nolan, “Inception”
Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” (5)
Danny Boyle, “127 Hours” (NR)
Dropping off: Mike Leigh, David O. Russell
Same story between “Network” and “Speech” with the two battling out for the top spot. I’m hesitant to say that two of the past three winners in this category could be nominated again this year, so I’ll pick Danny Boyle seeing as his movie is the safer bet at the moment.
I feel like this category will recognize visionaries this year. This is only a hunch, of course, but I feel like directors such as Nolan are Aronofsky will get their just reward for creating pieces of art that don’t mold to any sort of convention. Nolan has first priority of the two seeing as he was snubbed in 2008 and his movie will fare better with the Academy. ”Black Swan” is a risky movie and one that doesn’t align very well with Academy tastes. An Aronofsky nomination means true progress.
James Franco, “127 Hours” (3)
Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech” (NR)
Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network” (2)
Mark Wahlberg, “The Fighter” (1)
Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine”
Dropping off: Robert Duvall
I’m sensing the “127 Hours” reward will come in Best Actor for James Franco. At 32, he’d be among the youngest winners ever, and his status as an elite dramatic actor would be forever cemented. I see him as being the critics’ circle darling, putting him in prime position from the beginning of the season. However, there will be stiff competition from Colin Firth, who has the subjective “deserving” card in his hand after losing last year for his performance in “A Single Man.”
Eisenberg drops a slot because the choice youth performance is going to be from Franco, and Wahlberg plummets thanks to the buzz being squarely in the ring of Bale and Leo, his supporting cast. Nonetheless, I think the preparation he put into this role will pay off with a nomination. I think Ryan Gosling will be nominated for “Blue Valentine” over, say Robert Duvall for “Get Low” or Jeff Bridges for “True Grit,” because the NC-17 rated domestic drama may be too intense for Best Picture, but the actors will love it and reward it here.
Natalie Portman, “Black Swan” (2)
Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right” (1)
Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole” (NR)
Lesley Manville, “Another Year” (NR)
Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine” (4)
Dropping off: Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore
Focus needs to get their act together and figure out how to campaign Bening and Moore. Amidst the controversy, I think Portman has emerged all the stronger, and she is now my pick to win in the seemingly two-way battle for supremacy.
Nicole Kidman moves onto the list after her performance in “Rabbit Hole” garnered significant buzz, and Manville as well because I think “Another Year” has to have at least one acting nomination. And for the exact same reason I predicted Ryan Gosling to get a Best Actor nomination, I predict Michelle Williams to get a Best Actress nomination for “Blue Valentine” to reward the movie’s true grit. However, the tragic romance could go the way of “Revolutionary Road” and leave the leads out in the cold.
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, “The Fighter”
Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech” (NR)
Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network”
Aaron Eckhart, “Rabbit Hole” (NR)
Sam Rockwell, “Conviction” (2)
Dropping off: Vincent Cassel, Mark Ruffalo
Could there be anything more boring than the supporting categories this year? Yawn.
Sight unseen, I still think Bale is the man to beat in this category. Got any better suggestions? Rush has won before, yet he will still prove to be a big threat given he lights the movie on fire. Garfield is young and unknown, but he is incredible in the role. He could move up to the top if there turns out to be a tidal wave of support for “The Social Network.”
I get a good feeling about Aaron Eckhart for “Rabbit Hole.” He’s a great actor, and he works alongside Kidman who is a very good bet for a Best Actress nomination. There’s always that movie with a ton of acting nominations, and I get a feeling it could be “Rabbit Hole.” As for Sam Rockwell, I still feel a nomination is a good possibility, but a win seems pretty tough with the general lack of enthusiasm for “Conviction.”
Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo, “The Fighter” (2)
Miranda Richardson, “Made in Dagenham” (NR)
Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit” (4)
Dianne Wiest, “Rabbit Hole” (NR)
Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech” (NR)
Dropping off: Keira Knightley, Barbara Hershey, Marion Cotillard
Another win for “The Fighter” sight unseen, this time for 2008 Best Actress nominee Melissa Leo. You got any better ideas? This category is still wide open with a month left until the critics’ groups for the field for us, and that’s no fun.
Miranda Richardson’s spunky turn in “Made in Dagenham” seems to be getting a lot of buzz, thus it’s in at this point. ”True Grit” hasn’t been seen, but Hailee Steinfeld sure looks impressive from the trailer, so she’s in. Dianne Weist got the critics talking about her work in “Rabbit Hole,” and she’s won twice before, so she’s in. Helena Bonham Carter is in a strong Best Picture contender, so she’s in. See how flimsy my logic is? No one has a clue what to expect in this race.
I lied when I said there would be screenplays in this set of predictions. For the wins, I’d say “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” for original and adapted, respectively.
So, how do you feel? What Oscar nominations do YOU foresee?
After the modest critical and financial success with “The Prestige,” Nolan returned to the Batman franchise and released a movie that riskily omitted the name of the Caped Crusader – “The Dark Knight.”
Two years later, how do you review Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight?” What hasn’t been said? There’s no one left to convince to see the movie; if anyone hasn’t seen it, they aren’t worth the effort.
After watching and rewatching Nolan’s films prior to this, it only made me realize more that “The Dark Knight” is a perfect realization of all the themes he loves to explore. It’s about the extent of rules and limits, something he touched on in both “Following” and “The Prestige.” It’s about the blurriness of morality, a theme he examined in “Memento” and “Insomnia.” It’s about fear and what it can drive us to do and become, something that we saw a lot of in “Batman Begins.”
But there’s plenty unique to “The Dark Knight.” It’s a rumination on terrorism as the anarchistic Joker seeks to cause madness in the streets of Gotham. Batman, the only person with any hope of stopping him, has to consider how far he is willing to go to eliminate the Joker before he himself becomes the villain. As their fight escalates, Bruce Wayne becomes more and more uncertain that he is the hero in his own story. Some have read into this undertones of George W. Bush waging war on terrorism against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. That’s a rather extreme way to look at it, but it’s not too much of a stretch to say that this storyline did tap into the zeitgeist. We ourselves have wondered where to draw the line in our fight on terrorism as to aggression. How much counter-aggression does it take before we ourselves become the aggressors?
Of course, you can’t discuss the movie without heaping superlative after superlative on Heath Ledger’s The Joker. It’s a role that deserves to take its place among the most iconic characters in cinematic history, something Ledger’s unfortunate passing sealed. His complete immersion and stunning transformation overshadowed pretty much every other performance in the movie, which says a lot because there were some other fantastic turns. Forget the deep, raspy Batman voice and Christian Bale is flawless, delivering a subtle portrait of Bruce Wayne’s affliction and inner torment. Aaron Eckhart is compelling as Harvey Dent and Two-Face, as good at being the hero with a face as he is at being the villain with half a face. There’s solid foundational performances from veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, but the movie’s true unsung hero is Gary Oldman. As the only truly noble man in the movie, he’s a figure to be admired and respected, and there’s a good chance you won’t even notice it. But that doesn’t stop Oldman from putting any less sensitivity or emotion into it, nor does he try to overdo anything to make himself stand out more.
Still, it wasn’t Heath Ledger alone that drove the movie to extreme critical acclaim and some of the most enormous box office receipts in history. Nor was it the look of the film – which, by the way, was spectacular, particularly Wally Pfister’s breathtaking cinematography. It was Nolan’s script, full of intelligence and insight, that won audiences over. Such intellect was so unconventional for a movie of the genre, and we had generally allowed ourselves to think that action movies don’t require us to engage our brains. Yet Nolan challenged our assumption and delivered a movie that successfully blended smarts with action, and we loved the exciting and refreshing change of pace. Now, we want every action movie to be more like “The Dark Knight.”
So call it a masterpiece. Call it the most thematically rich and relevant movie in recent memory. Call it the first shot in a revolution for the comic book, superhero, and action genres. Call it the movie to define a decade not just of moviegoing but also of American life.
After great critical and commercial success with “Batman Begins,” Nolan went back to the familiar territory of complex storylines and plot twists with “The Prestige.”
Whoever said cinema was magic was clearly foreseeing “The Prestige.” Christopher Nolan uses his sorcery to conjure up a truly enchanting moviegoing experience, one that draws you in close at the beginning and keeps you gripped for the entire ride. And it just so happens that the movie is about magic, so the comparison is perfect.
It’s all about the competition as Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play rival magicians in early 1900s England, both of whom vie for the greatest success. But they soon realize that the only way to come out on top is to eliminate the other, so their rivalry becomes dangerous as they work to destroy each other. Stealing tricks as the only the beginning; they make decisions that affects life away from the stage as well, throwing friends and loved ones into the middle.
The beauty of the Nolans’ script (Christopher and brother Jonathan collaborated on the movie) is that it picks no favorite magician. There is no set hero or villain, and Bale’s Borden does as many despicable deeds as Jackman’s Angier. Thanks to their impartiality, we really just get to watch the events without worrying about the protagonist pulling through.
The movie’s slogan of “Are you watching closely?” is perfectly fitting as Nolan lures us in as if performing his own magic trick. And indeed he is, following the traditional setup of a magic trick as Michael Caine’s John Cutter says at the beginning of the film. The pledge, which in magic consists of showing us a normal object, is very much the film’s first act as we see the developing competition between the two magicians. And just like the turn in magic, which makes the normal abnormal, the tension escalates. We are looking for the reason, not wanting to be fooled by Nolan’s wizardry.
Sure enough, in the prestige, we get it. In typical Nolan fashion, there’s a twist, and what we’ve been watching turns out to be something entirely different. Yet we are willing to be fooled by a magician, and being fooled by Nolan’s “The Prestige” turns out to be quite thrilling in retrospect.
Nolan rose to a whole new level of notoriety by taking on the rebooting of the “Batman” franchise, taking the series in a new, exciting, and grittier direction.
Although I was alive in the 1990s, I wasn’t consciously aware of the rapid descent of the “Batman” franchise at the time. Trying to brush up on my knowledge of the series before the release of “Batman Begins” in 2005, I watched these movies that had audiences cringing. The Tim Burton/Michael Keaton collaborations had some sense of artistic vision, albeit in a fairly corny kind of way. The Joel Schumacher/Val Kilmer teaming was pretty dreadful, but it doesn’t get much worse than 1997′s “Batman and Robin.” George Clooney is a fantastic actor, but with his smug, pissy attitude, he was totally the wrong person to play the Caped Crusader. Plus, the Batsuit had nipples, just a horrific manifestation of how far the series had sunk.
Then along came Christopher Nolan, who was still all the rage from “Memento,” with a darker vision for Bruce Wayne and Batman. He based his approach to the movie on “humanity and realism” to make the rise of a hero all the more extraordinary. Rather than delve into exorbitant villains like Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, whose credibility rests on fantasy, he chose to have Batman fight the kind of men who might actually be on the streets striking terror into the hearts of citizens.
What Nolan delivered was nothing less than astounding. He built not only a hero but a man, the oft-neglected part of superhero movies. The priority with the movie was to develop the character of Bruce Wayne, to show what made him tick and why he would become a masked vigilante patrolling the streets of Gotham at night. Nolan, who also wrote the movie, develops a highly effective psychological profile of Wayne (Christian Bale), who decides to done the guise of Batman to overcome the fear that has come to define his life since the murder of his parents at a young age. He takes on the symbol of the bat, a fear of his since childhood, to share this fear with his enemies.
And it’s not just Wayne that Nolan goes to painstaking lengths to rebirth. He also gives Gotham a facelift or rather, makes it a whole lot less glamorous. I think that the city is one of the few things “Batman Begins” does better than its sequel. It’s a dirty, graffiti-filled environment that looks like the breeding ground for criminals that it is. The streets provide a great place for Batman to begin, taking down the mob and other organized crime. They don’t really spawn much of a villain so much as someone with a threatening voice, Tom Wilkinson as boss Carmine Falcone.
We all know how great “The Dark Knight” is, and it’s easy just to bask in the glory of that. But for Batman to start fighting a higher class of criminal, he had to learn to take care of the guys below. In “Batman Begins,” we see just that. Yet upon watching the movie post-”Dark Knight,” we realize that it has so much more to offer than just setting up a sequel and providing background. It’s a fantastic movie for both character development and action that’s smarter than your average blockbuster.
Everything was in place for “Public Enemies” to become a sensational achievement in film. It had great actors such as Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard (Oscar winner for “La Vie en Rose”), and Johnny Depp. It had a highly respected director, Michael Mann, who directed such memorable flicks as “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat,” and “The Insider.” It had unbelievable source material from Bryan Burrough’s fascinating volume of the 1933-34 War on Crime “Public Enemies.” However, even with all these things in place, the movie manages to underwhelm. My main quarrel with it was the script, which is less historically accurate than “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” It takes everything that made Burroughs’ book so engrossing and discards it completely. Even captivating performances by Depp and Cotillard cannot save the muddled mess of a movie.
John Dillinger (Depp) is the FBI’s Public Enemy #1. He was a bank robber, but he was also a celebrity. In the most difficult of times in America, Dillinger became a legend for stealing from the bankers who caused the crisis. He became popular for only stealing from the vaults, saying that he didn’t want to steal money from the hard-working American people. While avoiding his captors and holding up numerous banks, Dillinger falls in love with Billie Frechette (Cotillard). She knows the risk of being with Dillinger, but she is attracted to something about him and becomes part of the gang anyways. The movie also shows the story of Melvin Purvis (Bale), the man that FBI head honcho J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup, “Watchmen”) has chosen to hunt Dillinger down. But in the 1930’s, the FBI didn’t have the power that it has today. Purvis and his inexperienced agents are bumbling idiots, messing up even the most simple of tasks. Read the rest of this entry »