Live Blogging the 2010 Oscars!

27 02 2011

4:50 P.M. Live blogging the Oscars is on again!  I just got back from a rehearsal which was originally scheduled to extend an hour into the actual show … but I got out at 4:15, so I even made it home for the Red Carpet!  Needless to say, I’m ecstatic!  I came home to find our kitchen table decorated with plastic film reels in celebration of what my mom calls “my Super Bowl” – the biggest night of the year in Hollywood.  We are having homemade sausage pizza, chocolate-covered strawberries, and chocolate chip cookies.  My will/could/should picks and predictions are coming up (just a little bit late, I know.)

5:02 P.M. Alright, here are my picks for the tech categories:

5:20 P.M. Red carpet update: Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis look SMOKING hot.  Hailee Steinfeld’s tutu is a little unfortunate.  Onto some of the other non-major categories, most of which don’t even get more than a winner pick.

  • Best Animated Film – honestly, why bother to nominate a movie other than “Toy Story 3?”
  • Best Foreign Film – conventional wisdom says not to pick the Golden Globe winner or the one you might have heard of, so I’m going with Canada’s “Incendies.”
  • Best Documentary – they could be hipster and go with “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” but my money is on “Inside Job” for a much deserved win.
  • Best Short Film (Animated) – No idea how to predict the shorts.  My guess is on “Day and Night” because everyone saw it.
  • Best Short Film (Live Action) – “God of Love” sounds like a winner.
  • Best Short Film (Documentary) – “Poster Girl” sounds good.

5:27 P.M. Amy Adams and Michelle Williams, usually good looking, fell flat.  Bummer.  Here are some more major picks.

I think given the overwhelming momentum for “The King’s Speech” and the story of its screenwriter, David Seidler, this is a pretty easy victory to call.  “Inception” after winning the WGA probably comes in a close second.

As close to a no-brainer as 2010 can give us.  Aaron Sorkin will almost certainly walk away with an Oscar for the best script in recent memory and provide at least one statue for “The Social Network.”

Given the overwhelming Bale love throughout the season, he should be able to overcome Rush in a sweep scenario.  It also helps that Bale has no Oscar and Rush does.  I’ll still be biting my nails for this, but I feel confident with this pick.

  • Best Supporting Actress

The category, as it often does, provides as much suspense as the show can give us.  Honestly, anyone but Jacki Weaver could win.  Carter could ride the coattails of “The King’s Speech” to victory, and Adams could win for being the best.  Smart money is probably on Leo, who has won most of the big precursors leading up to Oscar night.  But with 10 nominations for “True Grit,” the Academy clearly has to give something to the movie.  This is an easy way for them to do that, and the Academy did this with Tilda Swinton in 2007 for “Michael Clayton.”

5:42 P.M. Here comes leading acting categories…

Firth seems like a lock.  Eisenberg could take it in an Adrien Brody/”The Pianist” scenario, but that’s a long shot at best.

If Natalie Portman doesn’t win, the Academy is going to have to work BIG TIME in the next few years to regain my respect.  This is the performance of a lifetime, and if they don’t reward it, I’m going to be furious.  Annette Bening could win on the conservative theme of the year, but I’m still confident in Natalie Portman.  I think they realize that Bening wasn’t THAT good…

6:45 P.M. Just dined and then changed into my “The Social Network” T-shirt.  For reference, I was wearing my “I Kept My Eyes Open for 127 Hours” T-shirt beforehand.  Here’s my pick for Best Director:

Another shaky category.  Sure, Tom Hooper won the DGA, but that membership is made up of mainly TV directors.  Of course they want to reward Hooper, one of their own.  The Oscars embraced Roman Polanski, a prickly director indeed, in 2002 over DGA winner Rob Marshall, whose “Chicago” went on to win Best Picture.  It doesn’t seem wise to predict a split as most Academy voters don’t think that the Best Picture directs itself.  But I have a feeling that the voters took a step back and asked what the best directed movie of the year was, and they probably knew the name of the director that undertook the job.

Then again, Hooper and Fincher could split votes, making the way for Aronofsky to win, much like in 2000 when Soderbergh eked out a victory over Ang Lee and Ridley Scott for “Traffic.”  But I’m counting on Fincher riding to victory, making “The Social Network” the third movie to win Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and Best Director without Best Picture.

6:50 P.M. Sandra Bullock has had some MAJOR work done to her face.  No other big red carpet arrivals to blow me away with the exception of Penelope Cruz.  Jennifer Lawrence is still tops.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Best Picture:

This is what it all comes down to.  The past vs. the present, the critics vs. the guilds, the heart vs. the head.  You’ve heard it analyzed and overanalyzed if you pay any attention the race.  But know this: 2010 marks a watershed decision for the Oscars.  These two movies have come to represent two entirely different camps of moviemaking and moviegoers, and the critics unanimously chose “The Social Network” as their Best Picture of the year.  But then the guilds fired back with their pick for Best Picture being almost unanimously “The King’s Speech.”  It’s never smart to bet against the guilds, so I have to pick “The King’s Speech” since it has their support and clearly has the momentum.  It is the most nominated movie tonight, which is also a help.  I have a hard time calling a split, but I will.  I simply can’t predict “The Social Network” to win even though I so desperately want it to prevail.

That being said, how happy would it make you if “Toy Story 3” came out of nowhere and won?  Talk about something that would simultaneously silence and please everyone.

7:00 P.M. Time to switch from E! to ABC.  Just saw Natalie Portman … all is good.

(graphic perfectly provided by Awards Daily)

7:03 P.M. Natalie Portman still looks perfect.  Even when she’s pregnant.

7:22 P.M. AHHHH 8 MINUTES!!! I’ve been where they had the red carpet and I’ve been on that stage, by the way.  It’s not a big deal.

7:37 P.M. This opening sequence is so funny I can’t even handle it.  “YOU JUST GOT INCEPTION’D.”  And the Morgan Freeman cameo is golden.

7:43 P.M. These meta-Oscars are too much for me to handle.  I feel like they are setting up a sweep for “The King’s Speech” and trying to justify their pick by comparing it to history.

7:47 P.M. There goes the momentum for “The King’s Speech!”  That art direction win for “Alice in Wonderland” was quite a shock.  But HOORAY FOR THE “INCEPTION” BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY WIN!  That makes me so happy!  And here’s to a future win for “The Dark Knight Rises!”  Ballot is 1/2 at the moment.

7:57 P.M. And the winner of Best Supporting Actress is … after much delay, sweet Kirk Douglas … Melissa Leo!  Well, there could be worse.  Called that one wrong!

8:00 P.M. Melissa Leo dropped the F-bomb!  She’ll never live that down … awkward moment for an awkward speech with a silent crowd.  And that whole moment with Kirk Douglas felt kinda staged.

8:20 P.M. Sorry for the massive delay, I had to restart my computer.  Much expected wins for “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” followed by incredibly charming and winning speeches by David Seidler and Aaron Sorkin.  The two juggernauts are tied at one apiece.  (And the Melissa Leo F-bomb makes for a nice recurring theme.  Better than Justin Timberlake wishing he was Banksy.  Millions of viewers at home are scratching their heads.)

8:25 P.M. Props to Anne Hathaway for whipping out the “Les Miserables.”  She just won my total approval.

8:33 P.M. And the Oscar goes to … CHRISTIAN BALE!!!  Good choice, Academy!  And a very nice speech to follow – although I think he forgot his wife’s name!  (Take that, “The King’s Speech!”  1/5!)

8:36 P.M. Side note: the trailer for “Super 8” makes me REALLY excited for 2011!  Is it too early to call a Best Picture nominee for next year?  I’ll be incredibly proud if I can look back next year and see that I got this right.

8:41 P.M. The THX sound brings back SO many bad memories from my childhood!  Ahhh, I was so scared of that thing!

8:44 P.M. Best Original Score, another category I love!  The winner is … “THE SOCIAL NETWORK!”  I’m ecstatic, that really was the best score of the year!  Ok, now I think that “The Social Network” might win Best Picture!!!!!!!  Hooray!  That deserves…

8:47 P.M. Best Sound Mixing and Editing?  “Inception” as expected!  Hooray!  That makes 3 for “Inception,” 2 for “The Fighter,” 2 for “The Social Network,” and 1 for “The King’s Speech.”

8:56 P.M. The meta-Oscars need to go for next year.

8:57 P.M. Cate Blanchett had it right when she said “that’s gross.”  The fact that we can say “the Academy Award-winning film The Wolfman” is sad.

8:59 P.M. DIE I AM LOVE!  But no “The King’s Speech” again!?!?!  That’s a shocker.  “Alice in Wonderland” has also momentarily eclipsed “The King’s Speech” in Oscar wins.

9:02 P.M. Observation only relevant for tonight: “The King’s Speech” is 1/8 so far.  That means at best, it will have 5 wins.  Most likely only 4.  Possibly only 3.  So much for Sasha Stone on Awards Daily saying that you had to predict the movie to win 6 statues.  I’m really thinking “The Social Network” will win Best Picture now.

9:04 P.M. Ok, the song from “Toy Story 3” is officially the most adorable thing in the world.  I’ll be upset now if it doesn’t win.

9:10 P.M. Wait, are the Oscars actually going to finish … on time?  Stay tuned for this exciting development.

9:14 P.M. Aaaaaand more meta-Oscars!  STOP!

9:16 P.M. “God of Love” for the win!  That’s one of my three short film guesses that panned out!

9:18 P.M. “The Social Network: The Musical” is catchy.  Can’t wait to see Justin Timberlake headline the original broadway cast!

9:22 P.M. HOORAY FOR CHARLES FERGUSON AND “INSIDE JOB!!!”  The best documentary I have ever seen just won a very deserved Academy Award!  Hopefully the politics of the speech don’t hurt him later… (And did anyone else see the Coen Brothers looking insanely bored!?)

9:28 P.M. I miss Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars!  He is so my childhood watching the Oscars!  And also, I’d like him to make a comeback in movies.

9:34 P.M. LOL to the top reference.  That makes it FOUR for “Inception!”

9:35 P.M. “The Social Network” wins AGAIN!  That’s three!  Hooray, things are looking up for team Facebook!!!

9:45 P.M. Woah, Gwyneth Paltrow is REALLY flat!  Yikes…

9:47 P.M. “Toy Story 3” wins!  That makes two and a very big smile on my face!!!  I heart Randy Newman.

9:51 P.M. I can dig the “Modern Family” Oscar charades commercial becoming an annual tradition.  “Eat Pray Chest!”

9:52 P.M. And having Celine Dion sing during the In Memoriam sequence just ruined it.  Way to go, Academy…

10:02 P.M. Entering the last half hour … with Best Director?!?  Before acting?

10:03 P.M. Booo!!!  David Fincher (or at least Darren Aronofsky) deserved it!  This awards ceremony is eerily reminiscent of the trajectory of the awards season.  Total buzzkill for “The Social Network.”

10:06 P.M. Seeing Annette Bening makes me really worried … if Natalie doesn’t win …

10:09 P.M. They can’t do this with Best Director again.  It makes the pit in my stomach last for 20 minutes as opposed to 5 minutes.  Not OK.

10:10 P.M. And there had better be some MASSIVE tribute to the Best Picture nominees coming up!  Because otherwise they got gypped!

10:16 P.M. ^^^ THIS GIRL JUST WON AN OSCAR!!!! I’M OBSESSED WITH NATALIE PORTMAN!!!!!! HOORAY FOR MAKING ONE GOOD PICK TONIGHT!

10:17 P.M. OH MY GOSH YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I LOVE “BLACK SWAN!”

10:19 P.M. Who cares if her speech wasn’t that good, I’m so happy!!!!! Academy Award winner Natalie Portman!

10:25 P.M. And what we’ve been predicting for five months delivers.  Way to go, Colin Firth!

10:28 P.M. Only one award left…AHHH!!!

10:36 P.M. And the Academy’s Best Picture of the Year is … “The King’s Speech.”  They’ll regret this one later.  Way to send the message, “Yes!  You can make a movie that tailors to every single one of our needs!  We will give it four Oscars!”

10:38 P.M. Four for “Inception” and “The King’s Speech,” three for “The Social Network,” two for “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Fighter,” and “Toy Story 3.”

10:40 P.M. Cool group photo?  Weird ending…

11:03 P.M. Just saw some of the arrivals to the after-parties on E! while unloading the dishwasher.  Not entertaining enough to keep me from doing my homework/studying … until next awards season, my friends!





Know Your Nominees: “The King’s Speech”

10 02 2011

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, our next stop on the tour is “The King’s Speech.”

“The King’s Speech” should feel like a very personal movie for a number of reasons, but probably chief among them is screenwriter David Seidler.  As a boy growing up in England in the 1930s and ’40s, Seidler was a stammerer and idolized King George VI for his ability to overcome his problem.  He had to wait many years to secure the rights to write a movie about his hero, mainly due to being asked personally by the Queen Mother (played by Helena Bonham Carter in the film) to pass away.  Seidler then wrote it as a play, which director Tom Hooper saw and decided to make into a movie.

The director then added his own personal touch to the movie as well.  Hooper stated in an interview that “The King’s Speech” is really a movie about his family.  For example, the opening scene of the movie showing the preparations for the radio broadcast is an homage to his sister, a presenter for Radio 4.  But mainly the connection comes from the relationship between the British Bertie and Australian Logue as Hooper has an Australian mother and an English father. He talked greatly in interviews about the interesting relationship between the two countries and how he conveyed it in the movie.

Lionel Logue, King George’s speech therapist played in the movie by Geoffrey Rush, kept a detailed set of diaries chronicling his work (although they don’t start until the coronation of the king).  However, the diaries were not made available to the filmmakers until nine weeks before the shoot.  Hooper has said that the only changes they made were for the sake of accuracy, and nothing was drastically altered.  He also stated in an interview that some of the best lines in the movie were taken directly from the diary.  For example, after the climactic speech, Logue jokingly says, “You still stammered on the w,” to which King George replies, “Well, I had to throw in a few so they knew that it was me.”

Colin Firth looks like a sure-fire winner for Best Actor, but this easily could have been someone else.  Firth was actually the third choice to play King George VI and only received the role after first Paul Bettany and then Hugh Grant passed.  Neither have Oscars at home on their mantle, so I’m pretty sure that both are regretting this decision.

So how did Firth nail down that stammer, which he executes so immaculately in “The King’s Speech?”  What might be surprising is that Firth did not work with a speech therapist.  He did, however, use a dialogue coach who helped him make the stammer come from a very personal place while also not affecting the pacing of the movie (imagine how dreadful the movie would be if it took him 20 minutes to utter each word).  A speech therapist did come to some of the rehearsals for the movie, and Firth’s sister is also a vocal therapist, which he claims was very helpful for consulting purposes.  He also talked a lot with screenwriter David Seidler, who compared stuttering to being “underwater.”

Does stammering come with side effects?  For Colin Firth, it did.  During the shoot, he claims to have suffered from some headaches and neck tension.  But the more debilitating toll was on his arm, which became numb, went to sleep and thus hard to use.  He went to the set doctor who had little to offer due to the lack of precedent.

Helena Bonham Carter received her second Academy Award nomination for her work in “The King’s Speech,” but just as the case was with many of this year’s nominees, she almost missed the chance.  Due to her commitment on the “Harry Potter” movies, Carter turned down the role numerous times despite director Tom Hooper’s insistence.  Yet she did star in “The King’s Speech” by making what she calls an “illegal” maneuver – shooting BOTH at the same time.  Carter would go off on the weekends and shoot her scenes for Tom Hooper while never being truly “released” from the “Harry Potter” sets.

How do you get a good actor – an Academy Award winning actor, for that matter – to play a convincing mediocre actor?  Tom Hooper got Geoffrey Rush to do some unconvincing Shakespeare by shooting the scene on the first day with English actors in the room who knew that Rush had some experience with Shakespeare. To quote Rush, “I was nervous and I was bad, and he just shot it.”

What of the royal reaction to the film? Queen Elizabeth II, George’s daughter portrayed in the movie as a young girl, gave “The King’s Speech” her seal of approval.  Cynics might ask how much Harvey Weinstein paid for it; others are probably just thrilled to see the royal family showing interest in popular culture.

Cynics might also say that “The King’s Speech” is a stuffy British royal family costume drama that’s totally designed to win over the Academy.  The last part seems to be somewhat true, but it’s hardly stuffy like most other movies about royal life.  Director Tom Hooper is largely responsible for that.  He stated in an interview that he purposefully set up the opening and closing shots of Bertie/George VI so that the movie would stand apart from others in the genre.  We first meet Bertie in normal clothes, not looking all snazzy in his royal get-up.  The movie closes reaffirming King George and Lionel Logue’s friendship, not with him cured of his stammer as if by magic or medicine.

Check back on February 13 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “127 Hours.”





Know Your Nominees: “The Kids Are All Right”

7 02 2011

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, our next stop on the tour is “The Kids Are All Right.”

“The Kids Are All Right” is set in Los Angeles, fairly obviously although not entirely prominently.  But according to writer/director Lisa Choldenko, the movie was originally set in New York.  The availability of Annette Bening, however, was contingent on moving production to Los Angeles.  Cholodenko decided to rewrite the script with the setting changing coasts, and she claims that it helped bring the characters more to life.

Cholodenko also claims that the movie is slightly autobiographical, mainly at the beginning as she and her partner in real life were looking to be impregnated by a sperm donor.  In walks co-writer Stuart Blumberg, who was a sperm donor himself.  He wondered what children he brought into the world, and the two of them came up with what we now know as “The Kids Are All Right.”  In 2006, the movie was nearly greenlit for production – but Cholodenko became pregnant and shelved the project for family matters.

The revision process was also grueling.  The initial draft took a month to write, and as we know, nothing is perfect the first time.  So Cholodenko and Blumberg re-wrote every character, scene, and line at least 10 times.

Who was the first actor onto the project?  Several years before production began on “The Kids Are All Right,” Julianne Moore met Cholodenko and expressed her admiration for the director’s work.  The two kept in touch, and Cholodenko sent Moore the script for her next movie around 2004, which the high-profile actress was attached to for many years.

When Annette Bening came aboard the project later, Cholodenko has stated the she retouched the script to make the character fit Bening better.  The character Nic that we see in the movie better serves a vessel for her voice.

Mark Ruffalo received his first Academy Award nomination for his role in “The Kids Are All Right,” but it might interest you to know that he intially turned down the role.  He was cast sequentially after Moore and Bening, and he was approved from a list that Cholodenko had made for potential actors to play the character.  After his initial refusal, Moore used her personal relationship with Ruffalo, who she starred with in “Blindness,” to reel the actor in, even texting his wife.

How did the kids come aboard?  Cholodenko chose Mia Wasikowska after seeing her work in HBO’s “In Treatment.” On the other hand, her on-screen sibling didn’t have it quite so easy.  Josh Hutcherson received got the script and auditioned for the role.  I guess “Zathura” wasn’t quite convincing enough…

Indie movies are, by their nature, independently financed.  But for the quality of filmmaking you get from “The Kids Are All Right,” you’d be surprised how rushed the schedule was.  The entire movie was filmed in 23 days. And as for the budget, the movie was made on $5 million; according to Ruffalo, the stars made almost no money just like virtually any indie movie.  Oh, and they only had five days to rehearse.

Unlike “The Social Network,” which was shot word-for-word for Aaron Sorkin’s script, “The Kids Are All Right” underwent some metamorphosis during the filming process.  Two scenes were added during the shoot, and the last line of the movie that appears in the final version wasn’t written until pre-production.

Ok, and what about the movie’s politics?  Lisa Cholodenko acknowledges that the political climate in which “The Kids Are All Right” is being released in makes most people believe that it has an agenda.  But in numerous interviews, she has stated that she did not see this as a gay movie.  What she wanted to get at with the movie was something more universal.  It’s a movie about family in any way, shape, or form.  All the stars said they didn’t need to do any research on same-sex parenting because they approached it like any family movie.

Check back on February 10 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The King’s Speech.”





Know Your Nominees: “Inception”

4 02 2011

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, our next stop on the tour is “Inception.”

So what was the inception of “Inception?”  According to director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan, the movie began as a heist film mainly as a way to provide entertainment and exposition for the complicated dream structure.  But concerned with the cold emotional detachment to the characters in a heist film, he began to add the hero’s story to get the audience to connect with the movie.

What’s real and what isn’t was a big talking point about “Inception,” but it may interest you to know what was shot on location (real) and what was shot on a soundstage or studio lot (not real).  The snow fortress was a built set, as was Saito’s castle. With a few other exceptions, most scenes were shot on location in Tokyo, Paris, Mombasa, Los Angeles, and a small town in Nolan’s home country, England.

How about that spectacular anti-gravity fight scene in the hotel hallway.  According to Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt did all his own stunts for the scene, only using a double out of necessity for one scene.  The scene was done by creating a spinning set, not through CG.

Another fantastically well-executed scene of mind-blowing visual proportions was the scene at the Parisian café where the city implodes.  How did they shoot that?  According to cinematographer Wally Pfister, they used a camera that captures 1,500 frames per second (in contrast to the average camera which captures 24) to create the slow-motion effect.  In post-production, the visuals team added effects to make the objects look like they were floating.  (Everything was shot out of air cannons for the explosion effect.)

Throughout the second half of the movie, we saw plenty of the van falling off the bridge.  But what you might not know about this scene is that it took months to film and entire days were dedicated to the shot.  But it gets better: the van was shot out of an air cannon and when the van hit the water, the actors actually had to stay underwater for four to five minutes holding their breath and taking air from a tank.  How’s that for dedication?

The ensemble cast turned out perfectly, but it wasn’t always what it was.  Before shooting, Evan Rachel Wood was slated to play Ariadne but dropped out and the role went to Ellen Page.  Another big casting shift was the exit of James Franco, who was originally cast to play Arthur, due to scheduling issues; the role ultimately went to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Fans of Marion Cotillard got a chuckle when they heard “Non, je ne regrette rien,” the closing song of the film “La Vie En Rose” which won her an Oscar for Best Actress.  The title means “No, I regret nothing” when translated literally into English.  Was it a clever nod to her previous role?  Actually, no.  Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer chose the song before Cotillard became attached to the project because of its booming rhythmic qualities, not because of its association with the actress.

Many people have seen “Inception” as a metaphor for filmmaking, and Nolan has said that these musings aren’t entirely off-base.  But the craft he was most interested in exploring was architecture.  In an interview with WiReD, he stated, “I’m very interested in the similarities or analogies between the way in which we experience a three–dimensional space that an architect has created and the way in which an audience experiences a cinematic narrative that constructs a three–dimensional -reality from a two-dimensional medium—assembled shot by shot. I think there’s a narrative component to architecture that’s kind of fascinating.”

NEWS FLASH: The kids at the end of the movie are not the same as the ones before! Adjust your explanations of “Inception” as necessary.

Don’t worry, no top theories here.  Only some insight on where the idea came from – not exactly inception.  Nolan gave a top as a gift to his wife and then rediscovered it, incorporating it into “Inception.”  The one used in the movie was symbolically designed by the prop department to represent Cobb’s universe.

Check back on February 7 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The Kids Are All Right.”





Know Your Nominees: “The Fighter”

1 02 2011

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.”





Know Your Nominees: “Black Swan”

29 01 2011

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 logical starting place is “Black Swan.”

For all the acclaim “Black Swan” is receiving now, it seems silly that anyone WOULDN’T want to pour money into making the movie.  Yet according to director Darren Aronfosky, the movie was a surprisingly hard sell to production companies even with Natalie Portman and the rest of the cast all lined up.  When financing finally lined up, Aronofsky was forced to make the movie on $15 million, which was $10 million less than what he had hoped to have.  This meant a streamlined shooting schedule; for example, each act of the “Swan Lake” ballet shown at the end of the movie was shot in one day.

Maybe you’ve heard the mutterings that “Black Swan” was once the same movie as “The Wrestler.”  They are true. Director Darren Aronofsky brought it up once, and ever since, he’s been carefully clarifying exactly what he meant by that.  The movies originated out of the same idea: two performers whose craft drives them to physical and emotional extremes.  The end results are entirely different, but the two work together nicely as companion pieces.

A lot has been made of Nina’s sanity in the movie.  Is she ever sane?  When does she lose her mind?  Darren Aronofsky, in an interview with Cinema Blend said that “the only time she’s normal is right at the beginning of the film when she’s dancing before the demon shows up. That very first shot, she’s clear.”

We’ve all heard about Natalie Portman’s year of training to get ready for the role of Nina Sayers.  You’ve probably heard that she worked five hours a day doing swimming and ballet for eleven months and then a shocking eight hours a day in the final month.  She lost over 20 pounds practically starving herself to slim down.  But ballerinas have a long, lanky physique that’s hard to simply tone into.  So how did Portman overcome this challenge?  She had people pull on her arms and legs every day to stretch her out!

There was more to Natalie Portman’s physical commitment to “Black Swan” than her training.  While filming the movie, Portman broke a rib during a lift.  The film’s tight budget meant no on-screen doctor to help her, and the tight filming schedule didn’t exactly allow for much recovery time.  So how did they work around it?  They simply readjusted the lift.

And there’s even more commitment on Natalie Portman’s part than just physically embodying a ballerina.  She has been attached to “Black Swan” since 2000 when she met Darren Aronofsky in Times Square and said she wanted in on the project.   She claims Aronofsky had most of the movie laid out then.  Many other members of the crew have been committed to the movie for multiple years as well.

Did you see Winona Ryder in “Black Swan” and go “Woah, haven’t seen her in a while!”  According to Darren Aronofsky, Ryder was cast in the role of Beth because it echoes her career.  The “metacasting,” as he calls it, was crucial because the audience would likely feel more impacted by Beth if someone largely at the same point in their artistic life was playing her.

The movie could have been impossible to make as the acting qualifications were just as vital to the movie as the ability to dance ballet were.  Luckily, Natalie Portman took ballet from age 4 to 13, ultimately stopping to pursue only her acting career.  Thus, when she was needed to tap back into her ballet skills to prepare for “Black Swan,” the groundwork was already laid.

What was the hardest part of the movie to get right?  According to the choreographer, it was Natalie Portman’s undulating arms at the end of the movie that gave them such a hard time.

In case you haven’t heard, Portman is pregnant and engaged to Benjamin Millepied.  He was the film’s choreographer, and the two met on set.  Millepied also had a role in the film as pretty much the only male other than Vincent Cassel to speak in the movie – the lead dancer that drops Portman on opening night.  Portman referenced an ironic line he’s asked in the movie – “Would you f*** that girl?”

Check back on February 1 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The Fighter.”





Oscar Moment: The 2010 Academy Award Nominations!

25 01 2011

Well, folks, the Academy just chimed in with their best of 2010 in cinema.  It’s an exciting day for all who love to celebrate the craft that captivates countless people worldwide.

I’ll delve into my opinion after the cut, but before I go any further, let me post the nominees!

Best Picture

Best Director

Best Actor

Best Actress

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actress

Best Original Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay

Read on for more.

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Oscar Moment: FINAL 2010 Predictions!

24 01 2011

Best Picture

  1. The Social Network 
  2. The King’s Speech 
  3. The Fighter 
  4. Black Swan  (5)
  5. Inception  (4)
  6. True Grit  (9)
  7. Toy Story 3  (6)
  8. The Kids Are All Right  (7)
  9. 127 Hours  (10)
  10. The Town  (NR)

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.

Best Director

  1. David Fincher, “The Social Network” 
  2. Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”  (3)
  3. Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”  (4)
  4. Christopher Nolan, “Inception”  (2)
  5. 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.

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Oscar Moment: January 14, 2011 Awards Round-Up

14 01 2011

It’s been a relatively uneventful week in the Oscar world, although it’s about to get hectic with the BFCA announcing their favorites of 2010 at the Critic’s Choice Awards tonight and the HFPA doing the same at the Golden Globes on Sunday.  (This will probably require a new set of predictions.)

So, before I get started laying out what happened, let me present to you the beginning of my campaign for the LAMMY for Best Awards Season Coverage.  Last weekend, I led the LAMBcast in a discussion of the major categories of the Oscars this year.  Hopefully you can hear the knowledge that I impart through writing with this column.  So click on the picture below to download the podcast, or you could also check it out over at the LAMB or at Blog Cabins.  (A big thanks to Tom, James, Nick, and Dylan for being such great participants!)

We have our five. If were back in ancient times (think 2008), we would have a pretty good guess at what the five Best Picture nominees would be.  The Directors Guild and the American Cinema Editors, two incredibly reliable prognosticators of the field, have aligned perfectly.  They also happen to match the Golden Globes drama category as well.  In case you need those movies repeated (or can’t decode them from the convenient graphic above), here they are:

It was a little surprising to see David O. Russell get a nod from the Directors Guild as he has a pretty bad reputation thanks to his temper.  But his story runs parallel to the second chance aspect of “The Fighter,” and the Academy could be won over by that connection.  Or, they could give him the cold shoulder and include an old winner like Joel & Ethan Coen for “True Grit” or Danny Boyle for “127 Hours.”  Unfortunately, you can’t discount Nolan for a snub either as he has been recognized twice by the DGA but never before by the Academy.

As for the editing guild, it was probably most surprising to see “The King’s Speech” (or perhaps “The Fighter”) in the field over a really flashily edited movie like “True Grit,” “127 Hours,” or “Shutter Island,” the latter of which was directed by a hallowed industry veteran.  But since they sprung for both of the Best Picture frontrunners, it just makes things all the more clear for who to look at for the win.

ASC announces. The American Society of Cinematographers, on the other hand, did not adhere to the five.  It replaced “The Fighter” with “True Grit,” which is considered by many to be the frontrunner as Roger Deakins’ photography is stunning.  He’s won twice from the society but has never been rewarded by the Academy despite an astounding EIGHT nominations.  Forget Annette Bening, here’s a deserving candidate for a lifetime achievement Oscar.

It was also quite surprising to see “The King’s Speech,” which did not have a very flashy visual style, take a nomination over “127 Hours.”  Danny Boyle’s movie had two directors of photography, one of which has won an Oscar and ASC award for his work.  But it shows a surprising amount of technical admiration for “The King’s Speech,” which seems to be an across-the-board favorite.  The only problem is that “The Social Network” and “Black Swan” have pretty much matched it step by step.  Look for “The King’s Speech” to take the most nominations simply because it will have three actors going for the gold,  but all three movies could have 10 nominations.

“The Social Network” piles it on. The movie continued its domination of the critics circuit by taking home top honors from the National Society of Film Critics.  Aside from the usual holy Best Picture/Director/Screenplay triumvirate, Jesse Eisenberg won Best Actor.  I’d still say that he could pull an Adrien Brody come Oscar night, the young actor taking down some more established contenders.

It also took Best Picture honors from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and the Toronto Critics, although “Inception” did take the North Texas Film Critics, who have an ENORMOUS say on the state of the Oscar race as we know it.

Fincher chimes in with his take on the race. Interestingly enough, the man considered the frontrunner for Best Director doesn’t engage in hyperbolizing his movie.  Here’s what he had to say about “The Social Network” and awards season.

“I hate the awards part of the moviemaking process…And besides, on ‘[The] Social Network,’ I didn’t really agree with the critics’ praise. It interested me that ‘[The] Social Network’ was about friendships that dissolved through this thing that promised friendships, but I didn’t think we were ripping the lid off anything. The movie is true to a time and a kind of person, but I was never trying to turn a mirror on a generation…Let’s hope we strove to get at something interesting, but Social Network is not earth-shattering.”

I think his honesty will ultimately go a long way as some people have been overdoing and exaggerating the praise for the movie from dramatic effect.

Ditto Helena Bonham Carter. I was not a big fan of Carter in “The King’s Speech,” not because I don’t like the actress but because I thought she just showed up.  I didn’t really see much of a performance.  Apparently, she thinks similarly:

“I thought it was a boys’ film … Sometimes you get nominated for the wrong things. I’m not knocking it, because I want the good roles, so if it helps me get another really good part, that’s great.  For that moment, when you’re nominated, you get offered parts you wouldn’t otherwise be offered.  After ‘Wings of a Dove’ [sic], I got ‘Fight Club.’ When you are up for awards, they remember you’re still alive.”

She will still get nominated, but it’s interesting that she’s even willing to admit the misplaced politics of the Oscar season.

“Black Swan” and “True Grit” roll. Oscar season can turn independently-spirited movies into box office smashes, and this year has two beneficiaries of this phenomenon.  “True Grit,” after three weeks, has shot to the #1 slot and has exceeded almost every expectation set out for it.  The movie will soon become one of the highest-grossing westerns ever.

And “Black Swan” has only been gaining more steam with time.  Last weekend, it only dropped 6% in the standings and entered the top 5.  With curiosity about the movie building (due somewhat in part to its high-profile parody on “SNL“), Fox Searchlight has added about 700 theaters this weekend, expanding “Black Swan” into nearly 2,500 theaters nationwide.  For such a small indie, this is huge.  It has about $65 million in its coffers now and should cruise to $100 million with more buzz coming with inevitable high-profile wins for Portman and loads of Oscar nominations.

If you told me at the beginning of the year that a movie about “Swan Lake” would make more money than a movie about Facebook, I wouldn’t have believed you.  But “Black Swan” is becoming a big audience favorite and has entered pop culture consciousness in a way that no one could have expected.  Obviously it’s a nominee, but it could be a dark horse to win the prize.

“Toy Story 3” stands resolute. The underdog everyone’s secretly rooting for, “Toy Story 3” is the one movie outside the five worth taking seriously for the win.  Thanks to the preferential voting system now in place, it could be the greatest common denominator for Academy members as there’s really no one who didn’t like the movie.  The ad campaign for the movie has been aggressive yet never hitting a sour note.  It’s the highest grossing and best reviewed movie of the year.  If it weren’t animated, it would be a lock for Best Picture.

We talk about it being “time” for a lot of things; last year, it was a woman winning Best Director.  It’s been a muted theme throughout the year, but maybe it’s time for an animated movie to win Best Picture.  It’s the most deserving candidate from the genre in a long time, perhaps ever.  It would be a well-earned salute to Pixar, which has served to redefine the boundaries and scope of animation as we know it.  The “Toy Story” series is what started it all, and its touching farewell may be the best chance ever for an animated movie to win Hollywood’s biggest honor.

It popped up as a BFCA and PGA nominee for Best Picture, but since it’s animated, it can’t pick up much steam with the guilds.  It has to glide on heart, something that is unfortunately immeasurable in the awards season.  A “Toy Story 3” win isn’t out of sight, but it’s impossible to predict.  Some jaws would drop on Oscar night, but out of those mouths would come cheers.

Golden Globe Predictions

I mean, why not?  There’s not much else to talk about this week.

Best Picture (Drama): Smart money is on “The King’s Speech,” but I’m going to stick by “The Social Network” even with less nominations and being less of a Globes film.  I think the movie is going to steamroll through the season much like “Slumdog Millionaire” did in 2008, but if it loses, then we have a fun race.  I wouldn’t count out “The Fighter” here.

Best Picture (Musical/Comedy): “The Kids Are All Right” in a landslide.  Next?

Best Director: David Fincher has won pretty much every award so far, this should be no exception.

Best Actor (Drama): Firth all the way.  Perhaps an Eisenberg upset could be at works here, which would make this an interesting race.  But at the moment, we have a clear frontrunner and an apparently clear winner.

Best Actor (Musical/Comedy): This category has been slim pickings for many years, and they bounce between choosing fluffier movies (Downey for “Sherlock Holmes“) and artistic movies (Farrell for “In Bruges”).  There are two low-brow performances here (Johnny Depp and Johnny Depp) and two high-brow, little-seen performances (Kevin Spacey and Paul Giamatti).  Big money says Depp for “Alice in Wonderland,” high art says Giamatti for “Barney’s Version.”  I’m saying they’ll meet at a middle ground and reward Jake Gyllenhaal for his great and very agreeable performance in “Love & Other Drugs.”

Best Actress (Drama): No contest for Natalie Portman, if not for it being the performance, then at least because she’s the only actress in a Best Picture candidate.  The Globes do love Nicole Kidman and could shock us by giving her a fourth trophy, but it seems doubtful at best.

Best Actress (Musical/Comedy): Annette Bening had better be practicing her acceptance speech because she’s the biggest lock of the night.  However, I’d sure love to see Julianne Moore take her down.

Best Supporting Actor: Bale takes it to cement his status as a lock to win.  Perhaps Rush if they really like “The King’s Speech.”

Best Supporting Actress: The Globes aren’t the greatest mirror of the Oscar race with their winner.  They usually skew younger, so I’m inclined to discount Melissa Leo, who wasn’t recognized here in 2008 for her Oscar-nominated turn in “Frozen River,” and Jacki Weaver on those grounds.  I’m probably out of my mind declaring this a race between Adams and Kunis, but I’m getting a sinking sensation that Mila Kunis will win here.  They gave this statue to Natalie Portman for “Closer” back in 2004 at a younger age, so I don’t think it’s all that crazy to predict her as the victor.

Best Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin’s script for “The Social Network” should continue its domination here, although since it does face some original scripts, it could lose to “The King’s Speech.”

What are your thoughts on the Oscars at the moment?  On the Golden Globes?  Does “Toy Story 3” have a chance?  Sound off below in the COMMENTS!





Oscar Moment: January 7, 2011 Awards Round-Up

7 01 2011

It’s been 3 weeks since I last ran this column (thanks to Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and a general lack of events in the awards sphere), and I sure have missed writing.  In a ways, a lot of things have happened since then.  Yet, at the same time, not a whole lot has happened.

So, without further ado, here are some developments in the Oscar race worth nothing:

The Producers Guild nominates. A group representing the interests of Hollywood producers, the Producers Guild is generally a pretty good indicator of how the Academy will ultimately shape their field.  They ultimately solidified that we have eight almost sure-fire nominees, leaving the two remaining spots up for grabs by a few movies.  In case you don’t know which eight movies I’m referring to, here they are in a convenient bulleted list (in alphabetical order):

Some might argue that “The Kids Are All Right” isn’t a lock since it missed a BFCA nomination and wasn’t a big audience favorite; others might say that “True Grit” isn’t certain because it was totally snubbed at the Golden Globes.  I think that both will ultimately get nominated, but “True Grit” is safer because of its robust box office numbers.

But for their last two nominees, they chose Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” and Ben Affleck’s “The Town.”  Both were BFCA nominees for Best Picture that missed Golden Globe nominations for the same award.  Neither were big hits with the SAG, only garnering one nomination.

The big story is that Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” was left out in the cold after garnering a BFCA nod for Best Picture and two SAG nominations.  It’s been basically narrowed down to “Winter’s Bone,” “127 Hours,” and “The Town” to fight for those last two spots, and missing out on the PGA nomination really hurt here.  It’s not a big movie for producers being the tiny budget indie that it is.

I’d also say that the indie portion of Best Picture has been covered without “Winter’s Bone.” Three nominees for the Best Independent Film at the Independent Spirit Awards, “127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” and “Black Swan,” will likely be represented in the Academy’s field.  These three movies had better box office than “Winter’s Bone,” which only made $6 million this summer.  So, in other words, “The Town” has leap-frogged “Winter’s Bone” in my predictions.

For historical reference, the PGA chose 8 of the Academy’s 10 selections, choosing “Invictus” and “Star Trek” over “The Blind Side” and “A Serious Man.”

The Writers Guild nominates. Before listing the nominees, it’s worth noting that there were many high profile ineligibilities this year.  In original screenplay, “Another Year,” “Blue Valentine,” and “The King’s Speech” were among the most notable; in adapted screenplay, they excluded “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone.”

In original screenplay, the surprise nominee was “Please Give,” which will compete against probable Best Picture nominees “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” and “The Kids Are All Right.”  I envision this race as a battle between the latter two movies; the winner will then have to go head-to-head with “The King’s Speech” at the Oscars.  (All three were nominated at the Golden Globes but will probably lose to “The Social Network.”)  As for “The Fighter,” it will probably be fighting “Another Year” for the final slot in the category – and will most likely be snubbed due to the Academy’s worshipping of Mike Leigh.

In adapted screenplay, they threw a total curveball by throwing “I Love You Phillip Morris” into a field that included “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “The Town,” and “True Grit.”  Aaron Sorkin is going to run away with this category, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see “The Town” and “True Grit” make way for “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone” at the Oscars.

The USC Scripter finalists announced. An award for film adaptations of literature, the USC Scripter award is a nice award for screenwriters to pick up on the way to Best Adapted Screenplay.  (In case you couldn’t deduce it, “Toy Story 3” was ineligible.)

The surprise nominee was “The Ghost Writer” among potential Oscar nominees “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “True Grit,” and “Winter’s Bone.”  It’s a nice boost for Roman Polanski’s movie, and it certainly gives it a blip on the awards radar.  But given how unofficial the award is, it’s probably unwise to look to much into it.

Besides, as I already said, it’s the year of Aaron Sorkin.  However, many people believe it to be practically an original screenplay as Sorkin finished his screenplay before Ben Mezrich finished his book, “The Accidental Billionaires.”  Mezrich sent Sorkin his notes and research while he was writing the book, and “The Social Network” is based on those – NOT the final book.  So perhaps as an adaptation, it’s not the kind of movie that could win this.

BAFTA longlists announced. The real nominations for the BAFTAs (the British version of the Oscars) aren’t announced until January 18, but for some strange reason, they choose to announce a field of 15 in each category that they will ultimately select their nominees from.

The result is ultimately a bunch of clutter not worth looking too much into.  “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan” led the long list with 15 mentions each.  Obviously the former, being such a prominent British title, stands a pretty good chance of taking the most nominations when the real ones are announced.

They did star the top five vote-getters in the preliminary rounds which do provide some interesting insight into their ultimate nominees.  So with that in mind, here are some highlights from the list so you don’t have to look at it yourself:

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” made their Best Picture longlist.  (They didn’t star any nominees in the category.)
  • Danny Boyle was one of the starred directors.  This is a good sign for Boyle, who seems to be slipping with his movie in the Best Director race.  If the British contingent is behind him, he could outmuscle the Coen Brothers for the final slot.
  • Aaron Eckhart was longlisted for “Rabbit Hole” (personal favorite, sorry) as were both Leonardo DiCaprio performancesi in 2010.  Starred were the usual suspects Eisenberg, Firth, and Franco as well as Jeff Bridges and surprisingly Javier Bardem, who could use a boost right now other than an endorsement of “Biutiful” by Julia Roberts.
  • Among likely Best Actress nominees Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, and Michelle Williams, starred selections included Carey Mulligan for “Never Let Me Go” and Julianne Moore for “The Kids Are All Right.”  This is big for the latter, who seems to be bullied out of the Best Actress category by her co-star Bening.
  • Justin Timberlake was longlisted for “The Social Network,” but co-star Andrew Garfield was starred, along with favorites Bale, Rush, and Ruffalo.  Also starred was Bob Hoskins in the British movie “Made in Dagenham.”
  • All three of the supporting females in “Black Swan” were on the longlist, including Winona Ryder.  Surprisingly, it was Barbara Hershey and not Mila Kunis who was starred.  (Fingers crossed Hershey could score an Oscar nod!)
  • Melissa Leo, the apparent frontrunner in Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Fighter,” was not starred.  Her co-star Amy Adams was starred, as was Miranda Richardson was starred for “Made in Dagenham.”
  • Category fraud was seemingly corrected by placing Hailee Steinfeld in leading actress for “True Grit” and Lesley Manville in supporting actress for “Another Year.”
  • Don’t trust them too much – “Alice in Wonderland” was listed as a potential Best Director and Best Actor nominee.

See the full longlists HERE at In Contention.

Technical guilds chime in. The Cinema Audio Society announced its five picks for Best Sound Mixing, which included “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “Shutter Island,” “The Social Network,” and “True Grit.”  Perhaps the most surprising nominee is “The Social Network,” which isn’t perceived as a big technical movie.  Yet if it continues to pick up nominations, it will prove how widely appealing the movie is – and make it that much more likely to win Best Picture.  The more nominations it can pick up, the better.

The Art Directors Guild recognized excellence in three categories as follows:

Period Film
Get Low
“The King’s Speech”
Robin Hood
Shutter Island
“True Grit”

Fantasy Film
Alice in Wonderland
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
“Inception”
TRON Legacy

Contemporary Film
“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“The Town”

Again, it’s good for “The Social Network” that it picked up a mention.  But perhaps the movie most in need of technical guild support is “Inception,” which came up blank at the SAG Awards.  To take home Best Picture, it’s going to need to make a strong showing with these guilds.

“Shutter Island” showed up on both guild lists, setting it up as a dark horse Best Picture nominee.  I doubt it happens, but now it can’t be totally unforeseen.

Critics groups all but wrap up. In case you didn’t hear, “The Social Network” swept pretty much all of the critics groups in 2010.  It earned its status as “critical darling,” taking home Best Picture from just about everyone.  Here are those that dared to be different:

  • Austin – “Black Swan”
  • Central Ohio – “Inception”
  • Dublin – “A Prophet”
  • Phoenix – “The King’s Speech”
  • San Diego – “Winter’s Bone”
  • Utah – “127 Hours” (tied with “The Social Network”)

So as you can see, there was no clear second place movie for critics to “The Social Network.”  But someone with the time to calculate the results wrote that “Black Swan” took the second-most honors from critics groups.

The first phase of the Oscar race in 2010 is over, and “The Social Network” has clearly won.  But can it keep the lead?  Or will another movie come and steal awards from the BFCA, Golden Globes, or SAG?  Check back next week as phase two begins.





Oscar Moment: “Easy A”

21 12 2010

In honor of “Easy A” hitting video today, I’m writing this Oscar Moment specifically in regards to Emma Stone’s performance.  As Olive Penderghast, the 2010 model of Hester Prynne from “The Scarlet Letter,” she got some very deserved attention for her breakout role.  Here’s what I wrote back in September:

“Emma Stone is hardly a new sight for anyone that’s been seeing good movies recently; she has been scene-stealing as the heartbreaking Jules in ‘Superbad’ and the zombie-killing Wichita in ‘Zombieland.’  This, however, is the movie that will bring her into the mainstream consciousness.  ‘Easy A’ gives her all the material for a breakout role, and Stone seizes every moment to create a character that will shoot her into stardom.”

The movie was very well received by critics upon release (an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) yet still somehow managed to miss a Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) nomination from the Golden Globes.  In its place: “Alice in Wonderland.”  Big mistake.  Huge.  However, Stone did get her recognition in the form of a Best Actress nomination.  There’s hardly a chance for a win against the two “The Kids Are All Right” actresses and an even further shot at an Oscar nomination thanks to an impressive dramatic faction headlined by Natalie Portman.  But what’s with our bias against comedic actresses?  Why does the Academy only feel the need to honor actors dealing strictly in serious fare, perhaps dabbling in comedy but keeping their heart in drama?

A lot of Stone’s fans have raised this concern for months now.  Why not Emma Stone?  She’s as deserving as most of the actresses in the predicted five at the moment.  While she may not have an illustrious career under her belt or have undergone a massive physical transformation, Stone goes above and beyond what a movie like “Easy A” requires from its leading lady.

Castor over at Anomalous Material elaborated on Guy Lodge’s article at In Contention making a case for Stone, listing five reasons he came up with that might be the reason why comedy is so constantly overlooked by the Academy.

  1. Western audiences are conditioned to enjoy flashy and bombastic dramatic performances, such as Daniel Day Lewis’ in There Will Be Blood, over more subtle or seemingly “effortless” portrayals.
  2. Giving a good performance in a great movie is harder and hence more deserving of recognition than shining in a mediocre/good movie.
  3. Comedic actors are generally less talented than dramatic actors.
  4. Comedies are generally not as good, serious and important as dramas.
  5. Drama is harder than comedy.

As an actor myself, I’ll argue that comedy is every bit as hard as drama – there are just those for whom comedy comes naturally.  You can’t fake comedy because it takes total commitment.  Drama can be passably done with half a heart, and a well-liked actor can often do this to great acclaim.

For my money, Emma Stone gave one of the best performances of the year.  But according to Academy standards, her Golden Globe nomination is her highest reward.  Is this right?  Should comedic actresses get their due?  Is a performance like Stone’s deserving to stand next to Natalie Portman’s come Oscar night?

BEST BET FOR NOMINATION: Best Actress





Oscar Moment: December 17, 2010 Awards Round-Up / New Predictions

17 12 2010

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.

Past predictions: Early December 2010November 2010September 2010.

Best Picture:

  1. The Social Network
  2. The King’s Speech
  3. The Fighter (7)
  4. Inception
  5. Black Swan (3)
  6. Toy Story 3 (5)
  7. The Kids Are All Right (10)
  8. Winter’s Bone
  9. True Grit
  10. 127 Hours (6)

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.

Best Director:

  1. David Fincher, “The Social Network” 
  2. Christopher Nolan, “Inception”  (4)
  3. Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” 
  4. Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”  (2)
  5. 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.

Best Actor:

  1. Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech” 
  2. Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”  (3)
  3. James Franco, “127 Hours”  (2)
  4. Mark Wahlberg, “The Fighter”  (NR)
  5. Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine” 

Dropping off: Robert Duvall

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.

Best Actress:

  1. Natalie Portman, “Black Swan” 
  2. Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right” 
  3. Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”  (4)
  4. Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine”  (5)
  5. Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”  (3)

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.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Christian Bale, “The Fighter” 
  2. Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech” 
  3. Jeremy Renner, “The Town”  (5)
  4. Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network” 
  5. Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”  (NR)

Dropping off: Matt Damon

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.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”  (3)
  2. Mila Kunis, “Black Swan”  (NR)
  3. Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”  (2)
  4. Amy Adams, “The Fighter” 
  5. Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”  (NR)

Dropping off: Hailee Steinfeld, Dianne Weist

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…

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Inception  (3)
  2. The Kids Are All Right 
  3. The King’s Speech  (1)
  4. Black Swan  (5)
  5. Another Year (4)

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:

  1. The Social Network 
  2. Toy Story 3 
  3. 127 Hours  (NR)
  4. Winter’s Bone  (5)
  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?





Oscar Moment: “Animal Kingdom”

11 12 2010

Who is Jacki Weaver?  The Oscars could force you to know who she is on February 27 by awarding her Best Supporting Actress.

Sony Pictures Classics saw a performance in Weaver in “Animal Kingdom” that they thought was awards-worthy but knew it would never be considered unless they campaigned the heck out of her.  The movie is a little-known specialty release straight from Australia with Guy Pearce as its only faintly recognizable name.  It received a small release in the United States after winning a big prize at Sundance but garnered little buzz except for the raves it drew for Weaver as a crazy mother.

Trying to capitalize on this goodwill, SPC started campaigning her early seeing how wide-open the Best Supporting Actress category was (and to a large extent, still is).  They sent out “Animal Kingdom” screeners on September 30, remarkably early and the first of the year’s to arrive.  To Oscar bloggers, they sent out T-shirts with Weaver’s face plastered on the front.  They also put up FYC advertisements on major pundits’ sites starting in September, noticeably before any other movie this year.

Sure enough, their work hasn’t gone unnoticed: in the first week of awards precursors, she has won Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review, the first big group to announce their year-end favorites.  She was nominated by the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics in the same category but lost to Melissa Leo for “The Fighter,” and she was also recognized by the Golden Satellite Awards.  Back in her native Australia, she won Best Actress in an across-the-board “Animal Kingdom” sweep.

So clearly the goodwill for Weaver is there, but the question still remains: can an unknown foreigner win, or receive a nomination, for an Oscar?

Marion Cotillard went all the way for “La Vie en Rose” back in 2007; few knew her name then.  The same year, Amy Ryan dominated the critics circuit, winning almost every group’s Best Supporting Actress prize for her work as a negligent mother in Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone.”  She was hardly on the map, but thanks to Miramax’s campaigning and her widespread support, she entered the field at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Oscars.  The NBR’s pick for Best Supporting Actress has gone on to receive an Oscar nomination 6 out of the last 10 years, although only once did they manage to pick the winner (Penelope Cruz in 2008).

I think in order to get past the issues with name recognition, Weaver is going to need a strong showing from the critics groups in the weeks to come.  If they like her, then nominations from the Golden Globes and SAG Awards should ensue, making an Oscar nomination highly likely.  All signs point towards this trajectory now, but the momentum could easily shift away from Weaver.  One thing’s for certain: she makes a dull Best Supporting Actress category in 2010 a little bit more exciting.

BEST BET FOR NOMINATION: Best Supporting Actress





Oscar Moment: December 10, 2010 Awards Round-Up

10 12 2010

Welcome back to another exciting awards round-up post!  It’s been a whole week since I’ve said anything about the Oscars, which is the longest I’ve gone since September!  It’s a good thing this week has been pretty stagnant aside from a few minor critics groups and some top 10 lists out in the mix.

Please remember to take the poll at the end of the discussion!  It will help to make these posts more community-driven – it’s fun just reading it and writing about it, but I sure do enjoy it more when I get your feedback!  You don’t have to live and breath Oscars like I do to take part!

As for last week’s poll, you all think that “The Social Network” will beat “The King’s Speech” for Best Picture.  And by you all, I mean all one voter that took the poll.  So let’s shoot for higher this week!

(And another reminder: I spent a lot of time linking the titles of movies in this post to their respective Oscar Moments/reviews if you want to know more about them.  So don’t hesitate to click!)

Awards

Washington, D.C. Film Critics announce. Generally not a very exciting bunch; Kris Tapley of In Contention said their picks are usually just guessing what the Oscars will nominated in about 7 weeks.  Like myself and several others, they think “The Social Network” is going to be the cup that the Academy sips from when picking their awards.

Their Best Picture line-up was absolutely stellar though: “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” and “Toy Story 3.”  If those were Oscar’s five (way back when they only nominated that many movies for Best Picture), I would be a very happy man.  Since many are already boiling the race down to a horserace, it’s curious not to see “The King’s Speech,” but it got plenty of love, including a win for Best Actor for Colin Firth and Best Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Original Screenplay nominations.

Jennifer Lawrence took Best Actress for “Winter’s Bone,” which definitely showed some strength from the win as well as nominations for Supporting Actor (John Hawkes) and Adapted Screenplay.  I think we could definitely be looking at a critical favorite in Lawrence, although this is a very similar trajectory to Carey Mulligan last year who wound up not taking home any major prizes.

Predictable wins for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in “The Fighter” in the supporting categories, with the former looking more and more like a lock with each passing day.  “The Social Network” also won Best Director and Adapted Screenplay, neither of which was surprising given the group’s love for the film.

Interestingly, “Inception” won Best Original Screenplay over the field of “The King’s Speech,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Another Year,” and “Black Swan.”  This category has played out interestingly at the Oscars over the past two years.  2009 brought us “The Hurt Locker” ultimately triumphing over “Inglourious Basterds” with “Up” as a dark horse looming in the background.  2008 was the horse race between two totally different types of movies, “Milk” and the almost non-verbal “Wall-E.”  Given what’s been going on recently, “Inception” makes a fascinating wild card.  “The King’s Speech” is like past winner “Milk,” and “The Kids Are All Right” gives off “Juno” vibes.  There hasn’t been a movie like “Inception” in the race in a long time (unless you want to compare it to the mind maze of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”).

For a historical reference point, last year the group picked “Up in the Air” as their Best Picture.  Aside from the slam dunk supporting categories, the only Oscar winner they selected was Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director for “The Hurt Locker.”  Since 2002, they haven’t been a very reliable predictor at all of the ultimate selections of the Oscars.

For a full list of nominees, see the official press release from the WAFCA.

The British Independent Film Awards. Predictably, “The King’s Speech” cleaned house at the British Independent Film Awards, the equivalent of the Independent Spirit Awards across the pond.  The very British story of King George VI took home Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay.  Curiously, director Tom Hooper lost Best Director to Gareth Edwards for his work on the ultra-low budget “Monsters.”  Mike Leigh was also nominated for “Another Year” in this category.

These awards don’t really show us much other than that the British are firmly allied over their love of this movie.  Last year, “Moon” triumphed over eventual Best Picture nominee “An Education,” the movie considered to have the “British vote” going into the Oscars.  This faction will be crucial to “The King’s Speech” if it is to prevail in the Best Picture category, and this is a very reassuring ceremony for the movie.

Also worth noting: “Never Let Me Go” may be almost entirely forgotten, but apparently Carey Mulligan isn’t.  She won Best Actress for her performance, and I still wouldn’t count her out as a dark horse Oscar nominee.  I don’t think a Golden Globe nomination is entirely out of the question (a la Tobey Maguire in last year’s “Brothers“).

The European Film Awards. Not much to report here as the only awards contender really in play was “The Ghost Writer,” and it capitalized on its seven nominations by winning a stunning six categories.  Lesley Manville was in contention for “Another Year” but lost Best European Actress to an actress I’ve never heard of in a movie I’ve never heard of.

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Oscar Moment: December 3, 2010 Awards Round-Up

3 12 2010

Welcome to the first ever Awards Round-Up post!  With the Oscar season officially kicked off, there’s just not enough time for me to cover every event and every development in real time, so I’ve devised this Friday post to cover everything that happens until the curtain rises at the Kodak Theater on February 27.  (Take a look at this awards season calendar, conveniently compiled by the folks at Entertainment Weekly.)

I’m attaching a poll to the end of this post, and I ask you to please vote.  My goal is to post the results on next week’s round-up and keep the cycle going.  The poll will relate to the “discussion” at the end of the post.

So … let’s begin.

Awards

National Board of Review announces. Yesterday, the historic kick-off of the season took place with the announcement of the year’s best from the National Board of Review, a “selective group of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, academics, film professionals, and students” in New York that reflect a wide range of interests.

In 2010, they clearly liked “The Social Network,” awarding in four major prizes, including Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, three categories it is considered a frontrunner for at the Oscars.  However, they gave a massive boost to the campaign of Jesse Eisenberg for Best Actor, who has a likely nominee but by no means certain due to his age.  The NBR is usually a good indicator of Academy tastes in this category; their winner went on to be nominated 70% of the past decade and won 40%.

Another big winner was Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” making the group’s top 10 list as well as picking up a Best Actress win for Lesley Manville.  The movie’s support, initially through the roof, has grown tepid over the past few months, and these awards could indicate we are looking at a critical darling.  Leigh’s movies often rack up these critics groups awards, and Manville could gain some thunder in the next month.

More on Sony Pictures Classics’ push to get Jacki Weaver’s performance in “Animal Kingdom” into contention later, but it appears to have paid off with a Best Supporting Actress win here.  This category matched up with the Academy 6 out of the last 10 years, so things look good for Weaver.  The NBR got the ball rolling for Amy Ryan, an unknown who marched into an Oscar nomination on virtually unanimous support; we could be looking at a similar storyline here.

Their top 10 list was nothing too out of left field as long as you know the NBR is obsessed with Clint Eastwood and lavishes excessive awards on his movies, so don’t look much into the inclusion of “Hereafter.”  The list was mostly expected contenders with the encouraging inclusion of “Shutter Island” and “The Town,” two commercial powerhouses which may prove to be a threat to the established order.

As for exclusions, “The Kids Are All Right,” “Black Swan,” “Rabbit Hole,” “Blue Valentine,” and “127 Hours” were nowhere to be found.  The exclusion of the latter is the most shocking since Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” won Best Picture from the NBR back in 2008.  With the exception of Lisa Cholodenko’s comedy, all the other movies were fairly dark and gritty, which is not always well-received by the NBR.

This is a group notorious for high-profile exclusions, some indicative of where the race is going and others completely misguided.  “Precious,” “The Reader,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “The Queen” are some of the recent Best Picture nominees to be overlooked; the last winner to be snubbed was “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”  Then again, they’ve sent some messages by passing up heavily favored front-runners which ultimately fell short like “Nine” and and “Dreamgirls.”

Here is the abridged winners’ list:

Best Film: “The Social Network”

Best Director: David Fincher, “The Social Network”

Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”

Best Actress: Lesley Manville, “Another Year”

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”

Best Supporting Actress: Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”

Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, “The Social Network”

Best Original Screenplay: Chris Sparling, “Buried”

Best Foreign Language Film: “Of Gods and Men”

Best Documentary: “Waiting for Superman”

Best Animated Feature: “Toy Story 3″

Best Ensemble Cast: “The Town”

Breakthrough Performance: Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”

Ten Best Films
“Another Year”
“The Fighter”
“Hereafter”
“Inception”
“The King’s Speech”
“Shutter Island”
“The Town”
“Toy Story 3″
“True Grit”
“Winter’s Bone”

The Gotham Awards.  A pretty minor awards ceremony with little relevance to the Oscars, the Gotham Awards have never been a very good predictor of Oscar tastes simply because it strictly limits itself to American independent film.  But their awards were more significant than usual.

Their 2010 pick for Best Feature was “Winter’s Bone,” the gritty Sundance favorite.  It’s a significant victory because of the competition that it beat out.  This category included heavyweights like “Black Swan,” “Blue Valentine,” and “The Kids Are All Right,” all of which have been in the thick of Best Picture discussion for quite some time.  This could really mark the rise of “Winter’s Bone” to a strong Best Picture contender; last year’s winner was “The Hurt Locker,” and we all know how that turned out.  (And for the record, it also beat out “The Kids Are All Right” for Best Ensemble Performance.)

Sight and Sound.  “The Social Network” took home Best Picture of 2010 from the British publication Sight and Sound, a very respected film magazine.  This might not be so significant if their past selections weren’t so incredibly artistic that 99% of the American population hasn’t heard of them.  “Brokeback Mountain,” the 2005 indie darling that almost took Best Picture, was the last American movie to top their top 10 list.  I think this victory means that “The Social Network” has incredible crossover appeal between the art-house theater and the multiplex that can’t be underestimated, which is what makes it such an appealing choice for the Academy’s Best Picture.

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