Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar Reactions

I said in my Oscar predictions post that I hadn’t paid as much attention to the Awards season this year, and given my prediction results, perhaps I should have. Excluding the three shorts, which I unfortunately didn’t see this year, I only got 15 out of 21 correct - not horrible, but not very good either. Luckily, my office didn’t have a pool this year, so I didn’t embarrass myself (I was in the top three from 2005-2007, winning in 2007, and haven’t placed since).

I cannot say I was shocked by too many of the awards that I got wrong. The biggest was best director, where I probably let my personal feelings that David Fincher made the best film of the year, and had the type of career that would lead him to beating Tom Hooper, even if his film, The King’s Speech, would win best picture. This was the one award that I disliked the most. The only other one that angered me was poor Roger Deakins losing the cinematography award for the ninth time - particularly because it meant that the Coens True Grit got completely shut out.

The one “surprise” that made me happy was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross winning the Score award for The Social Network. Reznor is a musical genius, and his work on The Social Network deserved to win - but I thought it was a little too strange and non-traditional to win the Oscar. I was happy to be wrong.

The other three I got wrong were not shocking. I knew that Foreign Language would be tight, and that In a Better World could easily win. The biggest surprises for me, was Alice in Wonderland winning Art Direction and Costume Design - I thought that didn’t like the film enough to give it two Oscars.

So overall, it was a split year at the Oscars. The King’s Speech (Picture, Director, Actor, Screenplay) and Inception (Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual effects) won four each, The Social Network (Adapted Screenplay, Score, Editing) won three, Toy Story 3 (Animated, Song), The Fighter (Supporting Actor, Support Actress), and Alice in Wonderland (Art Direction, Costume Design) won two each. The other winners were Black Swan (Actress), In a Better World (Foreign), Inside Job (Documentary), The Wolf Man (Makeup). I like split year more than sweeps (the most boring ceremonies I have ever seen were the years where Titanic and The Lord of the Rings swept, and after every win we had to hear about the genius of James Cameron and Peter Jackson).

I felt the same way about the ceremony as I did about most of the awards season - largely indifferent. Hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway were fine - they had a nice chemistry together, and there were some great moments, but largely I thought they were let down by the writing. They did what they could with it, but Franco in particular started to wear on me through the show - as they continued to make him act stupid. Hathaway was better I thought. If they hired better writers, these two could have been better. Still, I think if I am the producers, I think next year I go back to hiring a comedian, with better instincts to host. Back to back duo years, and neither time did I think they did better than Jon Stewart. Not sure who I’d hired, but that is where I go.

The speeches were for the most part rather bland - typical thanking the “genius” director, the cast, the wives, etc. The next day, the only ones I truly remember is Melissa Leo, because she dropped the f-bomb, and Colin Firth - because he was actually witty and funny and self depreciating like only the Brits can do. It was nice to see people I am a fan of - Natalie Portman, Melissa Leo, Christian Bale, Aaron Sorkin, Trent Reznor win, and they had nice moments in their speeches (although Leo trying to act modest after she took out an ad promoting herself felt disingenuous).

The biggest question for is not the ceremony itself, which no matter how good or bad, is something most of us will forget in a week. The question becomes where the winners of this years Oscar ranks among the previous winners. As any of my regular readers know, I was a Social Network supporter the whole season. But unlike many of many Social Network fan comrades, I do not think that The King’s Speech is an embarrassment to the Academy. Do I think we may look back in years to come and wonder why the Academy went with the King’s Speech over The Social Network, like we ask why they went with Ordinary People over Raging Bull or Dances with Wolves over GoodFellas or Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction or Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan or Crash over Brokeback Mountain? Yes, but just like all those other films that won, I don’t think The King’s Speech is an embarrassment - yes all of these films won over a film I think is clearly better, but all of those films catch a bad rap simply because they won. Ordinary People is a great film, as is Dances with Wolves. Forrest Gump and Shakespeare in Love are solid, audience pleasing films, as is The King’s Speech. In terms of Oscar history where does the King’s Speech lie? Right around the middle of the pack. The people who rank these winners as the worst ever should go back and watch Around the World in 80 Days or The Greatest Show on Earth or Gigi or Broadway Melody or Oliver or Cavalcade or Cimmarron or Chariots of Fire or Gladiator or The English Patient or Tom Jones or The Great Ziegfield or Going My Way or Mrs. Miniver or The Life of Emile Zola or Out of Africa or Hamlet or A Beautiful Mind. And that’s off the top of my head.

The King’s Speech for me ranks around the middle of the list - along with other really good but not quite great winners. Films like The Sting, Rain Man, Terms of Endearment, A Man for All Seasons, Driving Miss Daisy and Slumdog Millionaire. Yes, The Social Network would rank much higher, but what future generations of Oscar watchers like myself will see when they watch The King’s Speech is an expertly crafted, expertly written and expertly acted costume drama.

Oscar history will probably look at Tom Hooper’s winner for Best Director a little more harshly - especially if David Fincher doesn’t win an Oscar at some point in his career. Fincher is one of the most acclaimed directors of his time, a true auteur, and a filmmaker who I think his filmography will grow in stature over time. Hooper on the other hand is just kind of starting out. The only other films of his I have seen are the Apartheid drama Red Dust, and the soccer drama The Damned United - and neither are likely to be remembered by future generations. If Hooper becomes a great director, perhaps it doesn’t look so bad - but if he becomes the next John Madden - who directed Shakespeare in Love and has since fumbled and stumbled his was through his directing career, then it will look awful.

Out of the three major wins for The King’s Speech, history will look most kindly on Colin Firth’s win. He has the type of resume where an Oscar win makes sense. It is a performance full of heart, humor and humanity, and I think is every bit as good as Helen Mirren’s performance in The Queen. If I had my way, I think I would have preferred Firth win for his performance in A Single Man next year - which was an even better performance - and have Bridges win this year for True Grit, which may not be his best performance (that would be The Big Lebowski), but was better than Crazy Heart. But that’s just me.

The only acting win that I think ranks among the best ever was Natalie Portman’s performance in Black Swan - and I’m sure that many will disagree with me on that. A great performance by Portman, the best performance of her career, who has become a favorite of many. I do feel slightly bad for Annette Bening, who loses for the fourth time, but I don’t think The Kids Are All Right represents her best work. If she gets another nomination, I think she will a real threat to win. Michelle Williams time will come as well - and I do think Jennifer Lawrence could easily become the next Portman or Williams if she handles her career well.

For Christian Bale, his win is a solid win - the type of performance that always wins, and is a testament to his career. It’s not his best work - he was better in American Psycho, and his work in The Machinist was probably better as well - but he finally had an “Oscar” film, and he wins. Rush already had an Oscar at home, so its hard to feel bad for him. With his second nomination in two years, Jeremy Renner has become an Oscar favorite - and if he gets nominated again, he’ll be a threat to win. For Mark Ruffalo, this is the first of what I think will be many nominations. And finally character actor John Hawkes now has a real opportunity to take his career to the next level.

For Melissa Leo, despite her unseemly self promotion, you cannot help but feel good for her win. She is one of the best character actresses out there, and has built up a resume full of great work since her days on Homicide: Life on the Streets. Her work in Frozen River was her best film work, and although I think she may go over the top in The Fighter, it is a fine performance, and certainly not an embarrassment. You have to look at Amy Adams as a real threat to win next time she gets nominated - she’s young, she’s beautiful and she has three Oscar nominations in her last five years. Helena Bonham Carter is also a three time nominee, but she has not done great work in the recent past - she works with her husband Tim Burton and in the Harry Potter movies. If her career enters another phase, she could win as well. The breakout stars her - the young Hailee Steinfeld and the old Jacki Weaver, will now have a chance to prove their noms were not a fluke. And for Steinfeld, it was probably good she didn’t win so young - the expectations on Anna Paquin after her win for The Piano in 1993 were so high, she never really could live up to them, and it took her a long time to settle into her acting career.

So that’s how I see the Oscars for this year. It’s time to move and look at the films from 2011.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Best Films I've Never Seen Before: Voyage in Italy (1954)

Voyage in Italy (1954) ****
Directed by:
Roberto Rossellini.
Written by: Vitaliano Brancati & Roberto Rossellini.
Starring: Ingrid Bergman (Katherine Joyce), George Sanders (Alex Joyce), Maria Mauban (Marie), Anna Proclemer (La prostitute), Paul Müller (Paul Dupont), Anthony La Penna (Tony Burton), Natalia Ray (Natalie Burton), Jackie Frost (Betty).

Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage in Italy was reviled by critics upon it release in 1954. For people in Hollywood, it represented star Ingrid Bergman and Rossellini’ sins of adultery – that led Bergman to be blackballed in America for years. For fans of Rossellini, it was seen as another sellout from one of the founders of the neo-realist movement, who at the end of WWII, created some of Italy’s best films ever, by shooting on real locations, with non-professional actors. How much further away from films like Open City, Paisan and Germany Year Zero could Rossellini get than making a film with stars like Bergman and George Sanders? But like many America films which were scorned upon release, the cause of the film was taken up by the young critics (who would go on to form the French New Wave filmmakers) of Cahiers du Cinema – and now Voyage in Italy is looked upon as the masterpiece it really is.

We meet Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) and Alex (George Sanders), a childless, British married couple, late in their long car journey from London to Naples, where they are going to see the expansive villa that Uncle Homer has left them. We gather the journey has not gone well so far – as they already seem bitter and angry at each other. They are civil, and yet their every comment to each other seems to be aimed to cut into the other person. He is bitter that they didn’t fly to Naples – if they did, he could already be back in London attending to his business. She is bitter that he is not making an effort to make this into a nice vacation.

Things get worse in Naples, as the two become even more isolated from each other. She talks about a good friend who recently died – a poet, who once risked his life to see her – the reason being clear that he was once a lover of hers. He cruelly dismisses the poet as a fool, and then talks about a woman they ran into the night before that he knows “quite well”. They are using their past lovers – whether real or imagined to hurt each other. Things get even worse when he goes to Capri, to see his friends – and tries unsuccessfully to seduce a female friend, and then considers picking up a prostitute. Meanwhile, Bergman wanders around Naples, taking on tour guides to see all the historic sites. These journeys apart drive the wedge deeper in between them than ever before – a wedge they finally acknowledge when he returns and they agree to a divorce. But then the final scenes come, and they are driven close together again – and there is at least momentary hope for them.

Much of Voyage in Italy is about what is left unsaid between these two. Their early scenes together are all about what is buried in their conversation to each other – seemingly civil conversations designed to hurt. Katherine is not quite as good at this as Alex is – he is better in his ability to be cruel, and at his ability to cover up his hurt feelings, which is something she cannot do. Their journeys apart have the opposite effect on them – with Sanders going further in his attempts to hurt Bergman, although he finds he cannot go through with actually doing what he says. Meanwhile, she feels dwarfed by the history around her. When they reach Pompeii, and see the couple who died holding hands, it is finally too much for her.

Rossellini was a master filmmaker. I think here his major accomplishment is in the way he wrote the screenplay and directed Bergman and Sanders in how to play it. Here is an example where you need professional actors. The non-professionals used in the neo-realist films were excellent precisely because they were direct and playing themselves. Here, where everything is left unsaid, it has to be communicated another way – and you need actors like Bergman and Sanders to make it work. Both of these Actors had won Oscars at the time they made this film – and here they show why.

What does the last scene in the film really mean? To many, it represents hope, as the two come together in a crowd, and admit they still love each other, and don’t want a divorce. But how real is that? Bergman and Sanders do an excellent job at convincing us that at that moment, they both believe it. But based on what we have seen before, I am not so sure it is anything more than a fleeting moment. Perhaps there is hope for these two – but I wouldn’t count on it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Best Films I've Never Seen Before: Greed (1924)

Greed (1924) ****
Directed by:
Erich von Stroheim
Written By: Erich von Stroheim & June Mathis based on the novel McTeague by Frank Norris.
Starring: Gibson Gowland (McTeague), Zasu Pitts (Trina), Jean Hersholt (Marcus), Dale Fuller (Maria), Tempe Pigott (Mother McTeague), Sylvia Ashton ('Mommer' Sieppe), Chester Conklin ('Popper' Sieppe), Joan Standing (Selina), Cesare Gravina (Zwerkow - Junkman)

Erich von Stroheim’s Greed is one of the most famous and most celebrated films of the silent era. Its fame is due at least as much to the story behind the making of the film as the film itself. Director Erich von Stroheim spent a year, and the then huge sum of $750,000 shooting his epic adaptation of Frank Norris’ novel McTeague. He delivered his cut of the film – which ran roughly 9 ½ hours long, and as far as anyone knows screened only once for the studio and some friends. The only report we have from that screening was by one on von Stroheim’s friends, who felt that every individual aspect of the film worked wonderfully, but there was just too damned much of it. The studio, led by Louis Mayer, apparently agreed, took the film away from von Stroheim and edited it down to roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes. The rest of the film was apparently destroyed, because in those days, film required valuable silver nitrate. The argument over the film got so heated that apparently Mayer even punched von Stroheim. For years, this 140 minute version was all we had of von Stroheim’s film – and it was still ranked among the best films of all time in poll after poll. The missing 7 hours of footage has been considered the Holy Grail of lost films (although I would rather get the additional hour of Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons back myself). But in 1999, working off a treasure trove of production stills, and a version of the screenplay by von Stroheim himself, they restored as much as the film as possible – giving us a four hour version – with still photos filling in as many gaps as possible. This is undoubtedly as close to von Stroheim’s original version as we will ever see.

Now that we have gone over the history, let’s move on to the film itself – which is a masterpiece in its current form. The film is about McTeague (Gibson Gowland), a hulking man who is working at a mine when we first meet him. His mother has always wanted more for him though, and shortly before her death, convinces a quack dentist to take him on as an apprentice. Slowly he learns his trade, and then starts his own practice. He seems happy – saving up to buy his beloved birds, drinking with friends, and generally being a nice guy. He does have a temper however, and if someone questions his manhood, watch out.

It’s then he meets Trina (Zasu Pitts), who is the cousin and girlfriend of his friend Marcus (Jean Hersholt). He is immediately smitten with her, and when he finally breaks down and confesses this to his friend, Marcus graciously steps aside – warning him not to hurt his cousin. Their courtship is awkward however, with Trina confused in her feelings towards McTeague. Depending on how you read the intercard “Please, Oh Please” it either implies premarital sex or rape – both about as shocking in 1924. Pressured by her family, Trina reluctantly agrees to McTeague’s marriage proposal. And then she wins $5,000 in the lottery. Despite the fact that Marcus had willingly stepped aside, and the fact that McTeague was already engaged to Trina when she won the lottery, this angers Marcus to no end – he becomes bitter and accuses McTeague of screwing him out of the money that was rightfully his. Later Marcus will leave the picture, but not before he ruins McTeague’s career.

After their marriage, Trina becomes obsessed with money. She invests the entire $5,000 in her uncle’s company, and although it provides her with a nice income, she wants more. She begrudges McTeague spending 5 cents to catch a car on a day it rains, buys spoiled meat because the good stuff is too expensive, and after McTeague has lost his practices, forces them to move to a rundown shack, that has only become available because Zwerkow, the junk man, murdered his wife, and then killed himself in a story of greed that should act as a warning to Trina and McTeague – but doesn’t. When her mother tells her she needs $50, because they have fallen on tough times, she convinces McTeague to put up half the money, and says she’ll put up the other half – and then just pockets his cash. She shines her coins until the sparkle, and is always saving for a “rainy day” – but even when they do come, she won’t spend her money.

You can imagine how all of this leads to murder – and to McTeague trying to cross Death Valley, with $5,000 in coins, and a posse – including Marcus on his trail. These final scenes in Death Valley – that end in the confrontation between the two men, where one winds up dead, and the other one waiting for death – are among the most famous in cinema history. There is a tragedy to them that cannot really be matched by most modern movies. The money, the thing that both McTeague and Marcus have lusted after the whole movie, is right there in their grasp – but now they are trapped in the desert, and the money is useless. McTeague, perhaps trying to make up for everything he does, release his bird so that it can survive – but it merely flutters for a few seconds before dropping dead.

It is easy to see why Mayer didn’t think anyone would want to see Greed. You watch most of the early silent movies, and comedy seems to dominate – after all, physical comedy doesn’t really need sound to play at all. At 9 ½ hours, with such a downer of an ending, it must have seemed like no one would ever pay to see the movie. At less than half the length it was intended, Greed can be a tough movie to sit through – there is so little joy here (only the scenes between two elderly people who finally find love with each, which is in stark contrast to the main thrust of the plot) provide any.

And yet, watching Greed today, you can see why it is considered one of the best of all silent films. Von Stroheim’s film has a realism that is pretty much unmatched in silent film – there are a few moments where the actors devolve into the typical melodramatic style common in silent films, but not many – and none of them involve Gibson Gowland as McTeague, who kind of reminded me of Lee Marvin, both in terms of his looks and his temperament. Von Stroheim’s camera captures the smallest details – details of which he was obsessed with. In its story, we see the roots of everything from Citizen Kane to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to There Will Be Blood and perhaps even The Social Network. The film is daring and frank in its depiction of sex and violence. Even at four hours, with almost half of that being made up of still shots intercut with title cards – I was never once bored. I was drawn into the story, and watched as it wound down to its inevitable, tragic conclusion.

Erich Von Stroheim was an uncompromising filmmaker – one of the giants of silent cinema, who never got the chance to make a sound film. His 1922 film, Foolish Wives (which I will also watch for this series at some point) was also taken away from him and recut. He was fired from his 1923 film Merry-Go-Round, had his 1929 film Queen Kelly cancelled half way through shooting, and was fired from the only sound film he was hired to make – 1933’s Walking Down Broadway. After that, he made his living as an actor – most famously in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. where he played the butler to Gloria Swanson. That film showed clips of Queen Kelly, the film Stroheim made with Swanson, and the butler glumly recounts his days as one of the greatest silent film directors in history, now reduced to his current work. No wonder Stroheim received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for that film – he was essentially playing himself.

The filmography Stroheim left behind is full of holes, and incomplete films. I’m not sure there is one of his films that survives today exactly how he intended it to. And yet, he still stands as one of the giants of the film history – and Greed it the primary reason why.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oscars: Who Will Win, Who Should Win And Why

With the Oscars taking place this Sunday, I guess it is time for me to make my final Oscar predictions of this year. I have paid less attention to the whole race this year than in the past - but it's still way more than normal people do. Nevertheless, I look forward to this year's show - and seeing how James Franco and Anne Hathaway do as the hosts. I will be back with a recap on Monday.

As for what follows, it gives the odds for each nominee in each category except for the three short categories - I didn't get a chance to see them this year, so making predictions seemed kind of silly. I did see everything else nominated except for Foreign Nominees In a Better World and Outside the Law, which have not opened in my area as of yet (and in the case of Outside the Law, probably never will). It is a very long post, so if you just want a quick recap of what I think will and should win, scroll to the bottom.

Enjoy Oscar night!

Best Picture
Black Swan Odds – 10-1
For It:
The people who love Black Swan, really love and are likely to place it high on their preferential ballots. It goes for broke like few other films this year, and is on pace to win a major award.
Against It: Those who do not like it, really hate it, so it will be near the bottom on many ballots as well – meaning after the first round or two, support will be tough to get. Does the Academy ever reward a horror film?

The Fighter Odds 8-1
For It:
Old school, traditional inspiring sports movie that the Academy likes more than the critics do. Being a little by the numbers doesn’t hurt here, and of all sports, they like boxing the best. Will have wide spread support of the actors as it is one of only two films with three nominations. Everyone likes it, meaning as the preferential ballot system moves along, it will pick up more support.
Against It: Is the film really anyone’s favorite though? If it comes through and pulls off an upset, it will be because other films split their vote too much and The Fighter came right down the middle – which is not a good position for the film.

Inception Odds 15-1
For It:
It was the brainiest blockbuster of the year – making a ton of cash, despite it being complex, and has certainly entered into the pop culture consciousness like few films this year. It would make the geeks happy, who are still stinging from The Dark Knight’s snub two years ago, not to mention Avatar coming up short last year.
Against It: The lack of a best director nod, or any acting nods, really hurts the film. It will win some tech awards, but I really do not see a scenario where this film can actually pull out a victory.

The Kids Are All Right Odds -18-1
For It:
Smaller films have found some love from the Academy in the past few years. After last year’s dark, intense winner The Hurt Locker, perhaps they want to go lighter this year – and this is the one true comedy to support. With a lesbian couple at its center, Liberal Hollywood can pat themselves on the back for giving this the award.
Against It: It is perhaps a little too small. The acting branch clearly likes it a lot, as well as the writers, but it will be an uphill battle for it to winning any of the other awards it is nominated for – which makes winning Best Picture damn near impossible.

The King's Speech Odds – 2-1
For It:
The Academy is slightly older and more conservative than many film critics – and The King’s Speech definitely appeals to that demographic. It is about WWII and royalty, has great acting, writing and directing, and leads all films with 12 nominations. It is a film that everyone likes meaning that additional support after the first round will be easy to pick up.
Against It: It is my guess that the film will trail after the first round of preferential ballots are cast, meaning it has to come from behind. While everyone likes the film, I don’t quite feel the passionate support that some other films have.

127 Hours Odds 20-1
For It:
It is a life affirming true story, told by a director they love (Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire), that was gritty and tough, and features a great performance by James Franco. It has some passionate fans.
Against It: But also a hell of a lot of people who refused to watch the film at all because they didn’t want to see Franco cut off his own arm. The lack of a Best Director nomination hurts it, as does the fact that it will have a tough time in all the categories it was nominated in. I just don’t see it happening this year.

The Social Network Odds – 4-1
For It:
It is easily the year’s most talked about film, and is also the film that has completely dominated the awards season right up until the final stages, where The King’s Speech took over. It is a movie that speaks, more than any other film, to this moment in history. It is well on its way to wins for Director and Screenplay.
Against It: Perhaps it has been the frontrunner too long, which explains why heading down the stretch, it is The King’s Speech, and not it, winning the key awards.

Toy Story 3 Odds 12-1
For It:
Inarguably, one of the most loved films of the year – the one film here that everyone truly seems to love. Seriously, does anyone not think this a great film? The lack of a director nomination doesn’t matter as much for an animated film.
Against It: Yet, no animated film has ever won this award. Only two sequels have ever won this award. With the animated film category, the Academy can reward the makers of this film there, and look elsewhere for the win.

True Grit Odds 6-1
For It:
Got surprisingly strong support on nomination day – raking in 10 nominations, the second most of any film. It is a remake of an American classic, which by all responses, was better than the original. Voters who want a more old school winner – but American – could easily vote for this.
Against It: It has a very tough road ahead to win Director, Actor or Screenplay, meaning that it has to take the Chicago road to a win – supporting actress and a bunch of tech awards, and I don’t think the film has it in it to pull this off. It was only three years ago that the awarded the Coens after all.

Winter's Bone Odds 25-1
For It:
The little film that could. The Hurt Locker proved last year that you don’t have to make a lot of money to win this award, and Winter’s Bone has had a similar journey – a small film, directed by a woman, that held on all season to make it into the lineup.
Against It: But Winter’s Bone is even smaller than The Hurt Locker, and its female director did not get nominated. I really don’t see this pulling off another victory for its other three nominations, so the nomination will have to be enough for this film.

Who Will Win: The King’s Speech seems to be set to make a come from behind victory, as it seemingly took the most important precursors heading down the stretch.
Who Should Win: The Social Network will be the film remembered for 2010 – you can bet on that.
Least of the Nominees: I am pleasantly surprised that I at least liked all 10 nominees this year. Having said that, I think that 127 Hours, which is too hectic by half and The Kids Are All Right, which had the opposite problem, are a notch or two below the rest of the nominees.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan Odds – 6-1
For Him:
This film really was a directors tour de force, so I think he may pull some votes from people who vote for other films as Best Picture. With no preferential ballot here, his passionate supporters will have more sway.
Against Him: This is his first nomination, so there will be a feeling that there is no need to award him right now. The film had fewer nominations than expected, which means support may not be as widespread here as it was with the critics.

Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit Odds -8-1
For Them:
After a long time toiling without notice, this is the third time in four years that the Coens have had a film in the Best Picture race, and the second time they find themselves in the directors race. They are quite clearly loved by the Academy at this point.
Against Them: They won three Oscars a piece for No Country for Old Men just 3 years ago, not to mention the 1 they won for Fargo. The only nominees here with Oscars at home, mean they will most likely look elsewhere.

David Fincher, The Social Network Odds – 2-1
For Him:
Has become one of the most loved directors working in Hollywood today, and has a very impressive resume behind him. This is his second nomination (following his nod for Benjamin Button), so some will feel it’s his time to win. I can easily see a Picture/Director split happening.
Against Him: He isn’t the coziest of men, and rarely does interviews, so many won’t feel like they know him. His reputation for insisting on 100 takes of each scene may hurt him with the actors.

Tom Hooper, The King's Speech Odds – 3-1
For Him:
He has crafted a classical costume drama, that doesn’t feel stuffy, but natural, which is an accomplishment. Will clearly get some support from the actors, who loved the performances in his movie. If The King’s Speech is going to win, it would certainly help if he can win. He also won the DGA award, which normally translates to an Oscar.
Against Him: I think that even if The King’s Speech wins it can do it without Hooper winning. He is not as well known as the other directors, so they may want him to prove himself on his next film before they give him this award. Plus, despite the DGA award win, he couldn’t even beat Fincher on his home turf at the BAFTAs.

David O. Russell, The Fighter Odds 10-1
For Him:
He made a classic underdog sports story feel fresh and real, which is a challenge. The actors branch clearly loves the performances he got from his cast, so that could help. If The Fighter wants to upset, it really does need him to rise up here.
Against Him: But The Fighter will not upset. And no matter how much the actors loved the performances he got from this movie, they remember that infamous clip of him screaming at Lily Tomlin, which could hurt. He got the nomination, and that should be enough.

Who Will Win: I’m sticking with Fincher, who has the more solid resume than Hopper, even if the later did win the DGA prize.
Who Should Win: Not only did Fincher make the best film of the year, he has a better resume than anyone else nominated who has not already win. This win is long overdue.
Least of the Nominees: I quite like the work of all five of these men. I would probably put the work of Hooper and Russell a notch below the other three though.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful Odds: 20-1
For Him:
The Academy clearly loves him, as they nominated him for this award despite the fact that he got in almost nowhere else. He is quickly becoming THE actor of his generation, if he hasn’t already.
Against Him: His film is small, in Spanish, and has barely registered with the public. And its depressing as hell. He was probably lucky to be nominated.

Jeff Bridges, True Grit Odds: 10-1
For Him:
He is quite clearly loved by the Academy – registering his sixth nomination with this film. He took on an Oscar winning role made iconic by John Wayne, and completely transformed it to something different, and more complex.
Against Him: He won just last year, so his chances of repeating are slim to nil this time out. They are not going to pass over Colin Firth twice in two years to give an Oscar to Bridges.

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network Odds: 4-1
For Him:
His version of Mark Zuckerberg is inarguably the most iconic male character of the year. His effortless performance is made all the more impressive when you consider the ease in which he handled all that rapid fire dialogue.
Against Him: He is young, and doesn’t have the resume of his competitors. They will most likely make him wait until his next nomination before they seriously consider giving him an Oscar.

Colin Firth, The King's Speech Odds: Even
For Him:
Was nominated last year for A Single Man, and made the rounds despite knowing he was going to lose. He’s back a year later, in one of the best picture frontrunners, in a performance everyone seems to admire and love. It is a performance full of heart and humor, and he is certainly the most likable of all the characters up here.
Against Him: Very little. If he gets beat it will simply be because the Academy liked another performance more.

James Franco, 127 Hours Odds: 6-1
For Him:
It is a tremendously difficult task to carry a movie all by yourself, but that is what Franco does in this movie – making a film about a man literally caught between a rock and a hard place fascinating from start to finish.
Against Him: He isn’t Colin Firth, and this is his first nomination, meaning that they will most likely make him wait. As he is also the host this year, it won’t look good if he wins.

Who Will Win: Colin Firth has the lead here, and I don’t think anyone can catch him.
Who Should Win: Jesse Eisenberg impressed me the most out of this group.
Least of the Nominees: These are five very strong performances - but if I had to pick one, I would go with Franco, who was also in the weakest movie of the five.

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right Odds: 4-1
For Her:
She is well loved by the Academy, getting her fourth nomination this year, and yet she has never won – probably being the running up at least twice before. Her film is also well liked, and many think it’s her time.
Against Her: Once again, it appears like a younger star will come in and steal her thunder. While its very good work, is it really her best?

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole Odds: 20-1
For Her:
A great actress, who was made to wait a little while after her win back in 2002 before they nominated her again. She took a chance as a producer to bring this dark film to the screen, and some will admire that.
Against Her: Is the only nominee this year with an Oscar already at home, which is never a good sign that its your time to win again. As the lone nominee for her film, it appears they liked her more than they liked the movie.

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone Odds: 8-1
For Her:
This year’s breakout star, she did something that Oscar loves beautiful women to do – de-glam to fit into her surroundings. She carries her film, which is obviously very well liked.
Against Her: It is her first nomination, and she’s awful young to try and pull off a win. This serves as her introduction to the Academy – and hopefully she’ll get her win later on.

Natalie Portman, Black Swan Odds: 2-1
For Her:
Portman carries her film with a tour de force performance that even those who don’t necessarily love the film admire. She has a very impressive resume for someone her age – and as a previous nominee, it could be her time.
Against Her: Out of all the nominees, I think Black Swan has the most vocal detractors. The Academy is slightly more conservative than critics, and perhaps they’ll want to reward the veteran Bening.

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine Odds: 10-1
For Her:
She delivers a quietly devastating performance in Blue Valentine – never going over the top, but always spot on. It is a brilliant performance.
Against Her: The film only managed this nomination, so perhaps they don’t love it as much as I do. Oscar loves big acting moments, and while she is brilliant, it is an understated brilliance – which the Academy doesn’t vote for to win.

Who Will Win: I think Portman will hold off Bening, who once again will be the bridesmaid.
Who Should Win: I love Portman and Williams pretty much equally, so this is too close to call for me. If you push me, I’ll say Portman.
Least of the Nominees: Again, five strong nominees, but for my money, Bening is the weakest of the five – hell, I liked Julianne Moore more in The Kids Are All Right.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter Odds: 2-1
For Him:
Oscar loves it when actors lose weight and play drug addicts – especially drug addicts who are hyper, yet lovable. Bale’s performance here is truly one of the best of the year, and its in a movie they want to reward.
Against Him: Bale isn’t exactly Mr. Lovable, so if people don’t like him personally, perhaps they’ll vote for someone else. Some would say he overacts in The Fighter.

John Hawkes, Winter's Bone Odds: 15-1
For Him:
One of those great character actors who everyone recognizes, but no one truly remembers from where. His work in Winter’s Bone is quiet, yet brutally effective.
Against Him: When a character actor like Hawkes breaks through and gets a nomination, it’s usually reward enough – he needs to prove he can do it again, which believe me, he can.

Jeremy Renner, The Town Odds: 10-1
For Him:
He was last year’s breakout star for The Hurt Locker, getting him a nomination, but not a victory. This could make up for that. Plus, he’s the only true villain in contention this year – and the last three Oscars in this category went to bad guys.
Against Him: Compared to Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Ledger in The Dark Knight and Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, Renner is a pussy cat. This just doesn’t seem to be his year, but watch out next time he gets nominated.

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right Odds: 15-1
For Him:
One of those actors who has come close for about a decade finally breaks through and gets a nomination this year. His work in The Kids Are All Right is quietly understated, yet heartfelt and brilliant.
Against Him: The film is missing that one great scene that would truly push him into contention. He broke through this year, but will have to wait for another year to win.

Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech Odds: 4-1
For Him:
Oscar loves a ham, and no one does that quite so brilliantly as Geoffrey Rush. It’s been a while since he was in play – but its been a while since he had a good role. If The King’s Speech sweeps, he could win.
Against Him: He has an Oscar at home, and I think that is what ultimately dooms him to lose this time around.

Who Will Win: Bale has all the heat right now, so unless Rush can come from behind, I doubt this happens.
Who Should Win: My two favorites in this category were not nominated, which means I guess I pick Bale – although I wouldn’t mind Rush or Hawkes stealing this award either.
Least of the Nominees: I like Jeremy Renner well enough in The Town, but don’t truly feel his character had the complexity to really make this an Oscar worthy role.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter Odds: 5-1
For Her:
She has quickly become an Oscar favorite, raking up three nominations in since 2005. Oscar loves it when actors show range, and Adams previously known for being sweet and innocent got dirty in The Fighter – a film they love.
Against Her: She has strong internal competition, and for whatever reason, most people have been giving the award to Leo (I think Adams was better). She will undoubtedly win at some point – she’s just waiting for her moment.

Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech Odds: 6-1
For Her:
An actress with a long, varied, strong resume. It’s been a while since she was nominated (1997) but this is her third one, and its getting to a point where the Academy will feel she’s due. Being the only female in a Best Picture frontrunner helps.
Against Her: Even according to Carter herself, the movie belongs to the boys, and her role is one of mainly comic support, not real deep character work. The nomination will probably have to suffice.

Melissa Leo, The Fighter Odds: 3-1
For Her:
If you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that Leo has built up a quietly impressive resume ever since her work on Homicide: Life on the Street. Many loved her in Frozen River a few years back, but it was an awful small film to get a Best Actress win. Something she doesn’t have to contend with this time.
Against Her: She faces strong internal competition from Adams – and some will undoubtedly think that her role was one note and that perhaps she overdoes it a bit. Her personal ad campaign for herself seems a bit unseemly to many voters.

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit Odds: 4-1
For Her:
If there’s one category where a teenager can win an Oscar, it’s this one. Steinfeld is hugely impressive in what is the real lead of the film, holding her own against heavyweights.
Against Her: The fact is, she is going against three previous nominees who have never won. They may not want to give an Oscar to someone where it is unclear as whether they’ll ever be heard from again.

Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom Odds: 10-1
For Her:
This tiny Australian film pushed Weaver very hard all season, and it worked out as she pulled off the nomination. Her performance as the mother from hell is hugely impressive and chilling.
Against Her: The film is so small, and no one really knows who Weaver is. This is the type of nomination where it has to be enough to be nominated.

Who Will Win: This is the tightest of the four acting races, as it really is a four way showdown. I think Leo has the edge, but wouldn’t be surprised if someone else steals it from her.
Who Should Win: Despite the fact that I think it’s a lead role, not a supporting one, Hailee Steinfeld delivered the best performance nominated, so she gets my vote.
Least of the Nominees: I love Helena Bonham Carter, and think she is riot in The King’s Speech. But an Oscar for it? I don’t think so.

Adapted screenplay
127 Hours - Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy Odds: 10-1
For Them:
Boyle and Beaufoy found a way to make a film about one man stuck in a canyon be exciting and intense – and that isn’t easy.
Against Them: It also has much more to do with the acting, and even the directing by Boyle, then it does the writing.

The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin Odds: Even
For Him:
Wrote the most quoted film of the year – his rapid fire dialogue is masterful, and the arch of the film is tremendous as well – going from humor to pathos in a blink of an eye. A masterful writing job.
Against Him: Nothing really. He is well respected in the industry, so unless people don’t like his outspoken disdain for the WGA, I don’t see who he can lose.

Toy Story 3 - Michael Arndt Odds: 5-1
For Him:
The Little Miss Sunshine scribe breathed new life into characters that I thought were pretty much tapped out. No film made people cry more than this one.
Against Him: They have never given the Oscar to an Animated film before, and they will not start now.

True Grit - Joel Coen & Ethan Coen Odds: 6-1
For Them:
The Coens took a novel that had previously been turned into a B Western, and made something truly special out of it, by varying its tone and emphasis – and that started here.
Against Them: They have won so many Oscars before there is no need to give them one more. Plus, considering how much dialogue is lifted from the book, and the previous movie for that matter, the triumph of the Coens is in directing, is it not?

Winter's Bone - Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini Odds: 8-1
For Them:
A small film, took a small, dark minimalist novel and turned out one of the most loved films of the year – at least by those who have seen it.
Against Them: The film is easily the smallest of the bunch here, and as such, its one of those that has to be happy they were nominated.

Who Will Win: Nothing even comes close to Aaron Sorkin and The Social Network this year.
Who Should Win: Ditto.
Least of the Nominees: I liked 127 Hours well enough, but I don’t really see it as a triumph of writing – there were several much better examples this year than this film.

Original Screenplay
Another Year - Mike Leigh Odds: 25-1
For Him:
A seemingly perennial nominee in this category, Leigh has never actually won despite his plethora of nominations. Sooner or later, they may give him one.
Against Him: But not this year. His is the only film not nominated for Best Picture, so I find it very hard to believe that this film can pull this off.

The Fighter - Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson. Odds: 10-1
For Them:
Took a well worn genre – the underdog boxing flick – and breathed new film into it, making it one of the most loved films of the year.
Against Them: But it’s loved because of the acting, not the writing. This nomination was a surprise for me, and surprise nominees rarely win.

Inception - Christopher Nolan 5-1
For Him:
This must have been a Herculean screenwriting task, keeping everything clear in the screenplay to give everyone a sense that he knew what the hell he was doing.
Against Him: The dialogue is rather perfunctory and almost beside the point here. They like giving this award to a quotable film.

The Kids Are All Right - Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg Odds: 6-1
For Them:
The film is obviously very well liked, and I think that everything special about it started in the writing stage – the film so sharply defines its characters, and is so funny, that those who support the film, will vote for it.
Against Them: In another year perhaps this could pull it off – but the competition is too strong this year for The Kids to really make a real push.

The King's Speech - David Seidler Odds: Even
For Him:
Took a chapter out of history that was barely known, and constructed one of the most loved films of the year out it. The film is funny and heartfelt – a deadly combination for the Academy.
Against Him: They are starting the smear campaign against the film for historical inaccuracy, and if that gets bad enough, it could hurt it.

Who Will Win: The King’s Speech should easily take this prize.
Who Should Win: With my favorite, Blue Valentine, not making the cut, I’d go with Inception, which clearly is the most ambitious.
Least of the Nominees: The Fighter. Sorry, I really liked the film, but the screenplay could have easily be turned into schlock – it was only with the director and cast the movie had that it became something special.

Best Animated Film
How to Train Your Dragon Odds: 5-1
The Illusionist Odds: 25-1
Toy Story 3 Odds: Even

Analysis: This race probably isn’t very close. Analysts always like to take shots at Pixar and claim that the more adult film (The Illusionist) can take it down, or that How to Train Your Dragon is more fun, but the reality is they always pull it off in the end.
Who Will Win: Toy Story 3 wins this one in a cakewalk.
Who Should Win: Toy Story 3 is clearly the best.
Least of the Nominees: They actually picked my top 3, so no complaints from me – but How to Train Your Dragon is perhaps a little bit not as good as The Illusionist.

Best Documentary
Exit through the Gift Shop Odds: 3-1
Gasland Odds: 25-1
Inside Job Odds: 2-1
Restrepo Odds: 10-1
Waste Land Odds: 5-1

Analysis: The Academy has been known to make some fairly out there choices in this category, so I am never 100% of anything here. I think you can count out the Do It Yourself Gasland, which is too sloppy, both in technique and facts, to win and Restrepo, about the war in Afghanistan, while great, probably has a been there, rewarded that feel to it. The other three have legitimate chances though – Waste Land because it is a genuine, feel good doc, Exit Through the Gift Shop because it is quite clearly the most original doc in years and Inside Job because it was by a past nominee, who hasn’t won and it undeniably the most important film in play.
Who Will Win: I think this one is a real close race, but I think in the end, they’ll give it to Inside Job.
Who Should Win: Inside Job was the best doc of the year – as it made the financial crisis easy to understand. Yet I almost want to see Exit Through the Gift Shop win, because it is great, and I would love to see what Banksy has up his sleeve.
Least of the Nominees: Gasland is a little too amateur for me to say its worthy of an Oscar – and Waste Land is a little too sickly sweet. Both are fine films, but didn’t deserve Oscar noms.

Best Foreign Language Film
Biutiful - Mexico Odds: 4-1
Dogtooth - Greece Odds: 20-1
In a Better World- Denmark Odds – 3-1
Incendies - Canada Odds: 2-1
Outside the Law - Algeria Odds: 10-1

Analysis: This is always a tough one to call for many reasons – one, we never get to see all the nominees before the ceremony (I missed In a Better World and Outside the Law), and two, the Academy clearly makes boneheaded decisions quite often. I think it’s a tight three way race between Biutiful, Incendies and In a Better World – because Outside the Law seems too divisive and Dogtooth too damn weird.
Who Will Win: Really a tough call, but in the end, I’ll go with Incendies, which is the type of film no one sees winning until it does.
Who Should Win: A tough call again, but I do think Incendies was the best of the ones I saw. I do admire the hell out of Dogtooth as well though.
Least of the Nominees: I’ve only had a chance to see three - and quite liked all three - the wonderful Incendies and the weird Dogtooth, but I would say that perhaps Biutiful is the most flawed of the three I’ve seen.

Black Swan - Matthew Libatique Odds – 4-1
Inception - Wally Pfister Odds 5-1
The King's Speech - Danny Cohen Odds 10-1
The Social Network - Jeff Cronenweth Odds 15-1
True Grit - Roger Deakins Odds – 2-1

Analysis: Roger Deakins is one of the best DP’s in history, and this is his ninth nomination, and he has yet to win. Matthew Libatique has been an “up and comer” for a decade now, and he has finally broken through with his first nomination. The cinematography branch loves Pfister’s work with Christopher Nolan – Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and now Inception all led to nominations. I really think it comes down between those three – because as good as the work in The King’s Speech and especially The Social Network is, it really is not the type of thing that usually gets the award here.
Who Will Win: Deakins, a true legend, finally gets his award here for True Grit – it is exactly the type of film they normally go for.
Who Should Win: For me, a very tough call between Deakins and Libatique, but Deakins gets my not.
Least of the Nominees: The work by Danny Cohen on The King’s Speech is good and all – but Oscar worthy? Why? The fog in that one scene?

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland Odds: 15-1
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Odds: 20-1
Inception Odds: 4-1
The King's Speech Odds: 3-1
True Grit Odds: 5-1

Analysis: Considering the best “new” art direction achievement of the 7th Harry Potter film was a damned tent, I don’t think the movie has a chance – nor do I think that they actually like Alice in Wonderland enough to want to give it an Oscar. It’s down to the other three. Inception is great work, but normally, they do like period films. True Grit is period, but there is a lot of outdoors work. The King’s Speech seems right up their alley here.
Who Will Win: I think unless the Academy is more daring than I think, The King’s Speech wins this.
Who Should Win: Inception is truly remarkable on this level.
Least of the Nominees: Again, I love the work on the Harry Potter series, and could seriously see them getting a “thank you” win for the last film next year. But still – the only new thing they did this time out was a damned tent! And not even an elaborate tent!

Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland Odds: 15-1
I Am Love Odds: 20-1
The King's Speech Odds: 3-1
The Tempest Odds: 25-1
True Grit Odds: 4-1

Analysis: I’m don’t think enough Academy members have seen the wonderful work on display in I Am Love or The Tempest to get it this award, and Alice in Wonderland just isn’t well liked enough. It comes down to the royal threads of The King’s Speech vs. the pile of dirty laundry look of True Grit.
Who Will Win: Alwayss bet on royalty in this category – The King’s Speech takes it.
Who Should Win: It’s too bad more people haven’t seen I Am Love, because of the nominees, it is the best.
Least of the Nominees: You can make a case that all of these films had great work – but I think that I have seen better work in Tim Burton films other than Alice in Wonderland.

Film Editing
Black Swan Odds:8-1
The Fighter Odds:15-1
The King's Speech Odds: 4-1
127 Hours Odds:7-1
The Social Network Odds:3-1

Analysis: Usually, this category matches up pretty well with the Best Picture winner – unless some non-contending action movie really impresses. So watch for this one to be a close sign as to what will win Best picture.
Who Will Win: A really close race, but I’m sticking with my gut and saying The Social Network.
Who Should Win: The Social Network’s editing truly is quite impressive – although so is Black Swans.
Least of the Nominees: I am getting kind of tired of non-stop, rapid fire editing, so 127 Hours gets my vote here.

Barney’s Version Odds: 5-1
The Way Back Odds: 10-1
The Wolfman Odds: 4-1

Analysis: An odd category this year, since all three nominees are the sole one their film received. They have three distinct choices – horror/fantasy of The Wolf Man, aging of Barney’s Version or dirty/emanicipated of The Way Back.
Who Will Win: Usually, the winners here can be of truly horrible movies – so The Wolf Man I think wins it.
Who Should Win: The aging work on Barney’s Version is some of the best of its kind I’ve seen.
Least of the Nominees: I really don’t see what was so special about the work done in the The Way Back.

Original Score
How to Train Your Dragon - John Powell Odds: 10-1
Inception - Hans Zimmer Odds: 6-1
The King's Speech - Alexandre Desplat Odds: 3-1
127 Hours - A.R. Rahman Odds: 20-1
The Social Network - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Odds: 5-1

Analysis: Usually, you have to be nominated a few times before you’ll win, unless you do something really special. Since A.R. Rahman just won two Oscars for Slumdog, I don’t think he’s in play here. After years of solid work, John Powell finally broke through – but will have to wait until another year to win. Hans Zimmer is really well liked, and its been a number of years since he won, so perhaps his great work in Inception can get him another. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are the exceptional type of newcomers who can win – but will they? Desplat has quickly become a favorite – getting nominated four times in the last five years, so perhaps its his time.
Who Will Win: Typically this award doesn’t go to an outside the box thinker – which means I think Desplat wins over Reznor and Ross.
Who Should Win: Did anyone do anything close to the brilliantly original work on The Social Network.
Least of the Nominees: Not every movie needs the same pulsating score of Slumdog Millionire, so 127 Hours get my vote here.

Original Song
Country Strong - Coming Home Odds: 6-1
127 Hours - If I Rise Odds 10-1
Tangled - I See the Light Odds: 5-1
Toy Story 3 - We Belong Together Odds: 3-1

Analysis: This is a very weak year for this category – only one of these songs, Coming Home, is at all memorable, and that movie wasn’t very good. They do love animated fare Disney fare though, so I think Tangled and Toy Story 3 are your frontrunners.
Who Will Win: I think Randy Newman wins another award for his work with Pixar – a tribute to their long collaboration, which was what finally won him an Oscar years ago. Go with Toy Story 3.
Who Should Win: Coming Home was a great song in a fairly lousy movie.
Least of the Nominees: I cannot remember the song from 127 Hours at all – can you?

Sound Editing
Inception Odds: 2-1
Toy Story 3 Odds: 10-1
Tron: Legacy Odds: 15-1
True Grit Odds: 5-1
Unstoppable Odds: 8-1

Analysis: Normally, they like to give these awards to loud action movies – and they have a few different choices here – and three Best Picture nominees means they can reward a film that won’t win the big prize.
Who Will Win: Inception, since it doesn’t look like its going to win any major prize.
Who Should Win: Happily, Inception is the best work here.
Least of the Nominees: I honestly don’t know – the work in all of these films is pretty strong.

Sound Mixing
Inception Odds: 2-1
The King's Speech Odds: 6-1
Salt Odds: 10-1
The Social Network Odds: 5-1
True Grit Odds: 4-1

Analysis: Again, they like to give this one to loud action movies – so despite the presence of the two Best Picture frontrunners, I think this is the rare case that neither wins.
Who Will Win: Inception.
Who Should Win: Inception.
Least of the Nominees: Salt? Really?

Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland Odds: 9-1
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Odds: 4-1
Hereafter Odds: 10-1
Inception Odds: Even
Iron Man 2 Odds 15-1

Analysis: The most impressive effects of the year happen to be in Best Picture nominee – great when it works out like that.
Who Will Win: Inception
Who Should Win: Inception
Least of the Nominees: I suppose that tsunami that started the film was pretty good in Hereafter – but enough for an Oscar?

Will Win - Recap
Best Picture: The King’s Speech
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christain Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Original Screenplay: The King’s Speech
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Best Animated Film: Toy Story 3
Best Documentary: Inside Job
Best Foreign Language Film: Incendies
Best Cinematography: True Grit
Best Art Direction: The King’s Speech
Best Costume Design: The King’s Speech
Best Editing: The Social Network
Best Make-Up: The Wolf Man
Best Original Score: The King’s Speech
Best Original Song: Toy Story 3 – We Belong Together
Best Sound Editing: Inception
Best Sound Mixing: Inception
Best Visual Effects: Inception

Should Win - Recap
Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christain Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Best Original Screenplay: Inception
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Best Animated Film: Toy Story 3
Best Documentary: Inside Job
Best Foreign Language Film: Incendies
Best Cinematography: True Grit
Best Art Direction: Inception
Best Costume Design: I Am Love
Best Editing: The Social Network
Best Make-Up: Barney’s Version
Best Original Score: The Social Network
Best Original Song: Country Strong – Coming Home
Best Sound Editing: Inception
Best Sound Mixing: Inception
Best Visual Effects: Inception

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Movie Review: Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids ***
Directed by:
Miguel Arteta.
Written by: Phil Johnston.
Starring: Ed Helms (Tim Lippe), John C. Reilly (Dean Ziegler), Anne Heche (Joan Ostrowski-Fox), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Ronald Wilkes), Stephen Root (Bill Krogstad), Kurtwood Smith (Orin Helgesson), Alia Shawkat (Bree), Rob Corddry (Gary), Mike O'Malley (Mike Pyle), Sigourney Weaver (Macy Vanderhei).

I learned a few years ago not to simply saying that I am an accountant when I meet someone for the first time. Saying you’re an accountant is a good way to make someone eyes glaze over, and scan the room for someone else to talk to. I assume it is the same for insurance salesman. Everyone needs insurance, just like everyone at one point or another, needs an accountant, but you don’t really want to hang out with them. That helps to explain why Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is so meek and shy in this movie. He is helpful and nice, but he sells insurance and is for the most part alone. He has starting sleeping with his old sixth grade teacher Macy (Sigourney Weaver), and has made the relationship into more than it actually is. But overall, Tim seems like a nice guy – the kind of guy you want selling you insurance, but you don’t want to hang out with.

But then Tim gets an assignment that he never expected – he is to go the Cedar Rapids to attend the weekend seminar of ASMI – what ASMI stands for I don’t remember, but it is for Mid-West Insurance salesmen. The top dog at his small outfit in Wisconsin has just died of auto-erotic asphyxiation, and they need Tim to go there, and win the prestigious Two Diamonds award.

You may expect that a conference for Insurance Salesmen, especially for insurance salesmen from the Midwest, would be dull and boring. But perhaps because Insurance Salesmen are always seen as dull and boring by everyone they meet, and now they finally get to be with a huge group of other people who are actually interested in insurance, the ASMI conference is anything but dull.

Cedar Rapids, directed by Miguel Arteta who is a veteran of directing episodes of The Office, has the same sort of feel as that TV series. The comedy in the film comes from situations that would be painfully awkward in real life, but that you cannot help but laugh at in the movies. A lot of it comes from Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) – a salesman from Minnesota, who insists on being called “Deansy”, drinks way too much, hits on everything that moves, without every actually doing anything about it, and is generally one of those guys who you initially hate, but gradually he wins you over. A lot of it also comes from Helms himself – so great on The Office and in The Hangover – who excels at playing characters who are trying so hard to stay positive, even when everything is falling down around them. The support cast is excellent – including Isaiah Whitlock Jr., who is the buttoned down Ron, a mild mannered African American salesman, who does an excellent Omar from the HBO series The Wire and Anne Heche, a married mother of two, who plays the hot girl every year at this convention. The rest of the cast – Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawcat, Mike O’Malley and Stephen Root included – play their small roles quite well, and help to round out the cast.

I highly doubt that even the wildest insurance conventions end up being as wild as this one does for Tim. Yet, I don’t doubt that for men and women who spend their year being the responsible insurance salesmen that their clients expect, that they would cut loose to a certain degree like the characters in this movie do. No one is really who they pretend to be at this convention – not even Deansy. For Tim, the weekend is a liberating experience – he decides that he will not be trampled over any longer, and that he has respect for himself, and for his profession, and gosh darn it, he’s going to stand up for that. How he gets there – through an alcohol, sex and at one point even crack filled weekend – makes Cedar Rapids one of the funniest comedies I have seen in a while.

Movie Review: I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four **
Directed by:
D.J. Caruso.
Written by: Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and Marti Noxon based on the book by Pittacus Lore.
Starring: Alex Pettyfer (John), Timothy Olyphant (Henri), Dianna Agron (Sarah), Teresa Palmer (Number 6), Callan McAuliffe (Sam), Kevin Durand (Mogadorian Commander), Jake Abel (Mark), Jeff Hochendoner (Sherriff James), Patrick Sebes (Kevin).

The Twilight books and movies have become a phenomenon, so it should come as little surprise that others have tried to copy it. The latest copycat is I Am Number Four, which is kind of like Superman crossed with Twilight. I suppose the writers of the book, and now the filmmakers of the adaptation, got what they wanted out of it – because I felt pretty much the same way about this movie as I do about the Twilight films – that they are way too sappy and cheesy, and yet contain at least some entertainment value. Not much mind you, but a little.

We are told at the beginning of I Am Number Four that 10 children from a planet that was destroyed were sent to earth. Their parents were all special, and had power the rest of the people from their planet did not. They were sent to earth, each with their own guardian, and are being raised so that one day they can strike back against the other alien race that destroyed their planet. This other race, the Mogadorian, has followed them to earth and is tracking them down one by one and eliminating them. The Mogadorians can only kill these kids – now teenagers – in order, and have already tracked down and killed the first three. The hero of the movie is John (Alex Pettyfer), who of course, is number four and next to be targeted for elimination. John longs to be a normal teenager, and is tired of being moved from place to place by his protective guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant). Their latest location is Paradise, Indiana, where Henri reluctantly allows John to enroll in high school – but warns him to fly under the radar. But since John is good looking, a gifted athlete and immediately falls for Sarah (Dianna Agron), the ex-girlfriend of the star quarterback, and befriends Sam (Callan McAuliffe), the school nerd, that becomes impossible. It becomes even more impossible when his powers start to develop – and he cannot control them.

For the most part, I Am Number Four, follows the Twilight set-up pretty thoroughly. There is the threat of the Mogadorian’s coming to kill John hanging over the movie – and we know that eventually there will be a showdown – but for the most part, this is a high school romance between John and Sarah – with John’s uncontrollable superpowers standing in for the changes his body is going through in puberty. John is mysterious, so of course, just like Edward in Twilight, the girls are attracted to him. He is the bad boy in this situation.

The movie spends a lot of time setting everything up – and I did appreciate that unlike the Twilight books and movies, the long awaited battle royale to end the movie actually takes place this time around (in the Twilight series, it always seems like they spend the entire movie setting up a final battle that never really comes). The battle this time does come, and it is actually fairly exciting – although I had flashbacks to the G.I. Joe cartoons I watched as a child, as the movie helpfully has the Mogadarians firing red lasers from their space guns, wheras John along with Number 6 (who of course is a hot blonde, who tracks him down to help) firing blue lasers – but they don’t needs guns for that, as they produce the laser themselves.

Overall, I Am Number Four isn’t a bad movie, really. I can see why teenage girls will really like it – and most likely make Alex Pettyfer, who to me was rather bland, into their latest sex symbol. The movie also had enough action in it though, that I can imagine really liking it if I was a young teenage boy. But to me, I Am Number Four felt like a pilot of a TV show more than an actual movie. Like all superhero franchises, it is stuck in the first movie being essentially an origin story. It spends so much time explaining everything that it never really settles into being a story in its own right. I hope the sequel – and if this movie does well, there will be a sequel – will be past that and can settle into its groove a little more. Because I Am Number Four ends at just the point where you feel the story is about to start.

Movie Review: Unknown

Unknown **
Directed by:
Jaume Collet-Serra.
Written By: Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell based on the novel Out of My Head by
Didier Van Cauwelaert.
Starring: Liam Neeson (Dr. Martin Harris), Diane Kruger (Gina), January Jones (Elizabeth Harris), Aidan Quinn (Martin B.), Bruno Ganz (Ernst Jürgen), Frank Langella (Rodney Cole), Sebastian Koch (Professor Bressler).

Alfred Hitchcock casts a large shadow over the thriller genre – one that is pretty much impossible to overcome. He was, without a doubt, one of the most influential filmmakers in history. And yet, what is odd about his films is that the work great – perhaps even better – when you know the secrets of the movie. I think I got more out of Notorious, Vertigo, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window and the rest of his masterpieces the second time through then the first time. That is precisely why most thrillers today cannot measure up to the ones made by Hitchcock. They are all plot driven – they all try so damned hard to pull the rug out from under you with its twists and turns that none of them really create any real suspense, and none of them really make us care what happens to its characters. They are merely pawns in the director’s game.

Take the new thriller Unknown for example – a film that if you have read anything from the filmmakers or the cast, you will have heard Hitchcock’s name come up repeatedly. They are really trying very hard to emulate the master here. The problem is that the movie spends more time misdirecting us from its surprises than it does setting up its characters. The characters in Hitchcock movies were driven by some sort of deep psychological need or deviance – the characters in Unknown are simply driven by an overwritten screenplay.

The basic plot concerns Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) who travels to Berlin with his beautiful, much younger wife Elizabeth (January Jones). They arrive at the hotel, only to have Harris realize he left his briefcase at the airport. He gets into a cab driven by Gina (Diane Kruger) to go back – but gets into a traffic accident, and wakes up in the hospital four days later. What’s odd is that his wife never bothered to look for him – and when he returns to the hotel, and finds her at a party, she says she doesn’t know him – and introduces another man (Aidan Quinn) as her husband – Dr. Martin Harris. The “real” Harris tries to piece everything together, bringing Gina back into the fold to help him unravel what happened (why she agrees is a mystery the movie never bothers to explain), as well as an old Stasi officer named Jurgen (Bruno Ganz). He doesn’t like what he uncovers.

Neeson doesn’t have the right feel to him in this role. Hitchcock always cast actors he knew the audience would immediately like – Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, etc – so he wouldn’t have to make them likable. But Neeson isn’t one of those actors, and his hero is rather bland. Even worse is January Jones, who tries very hard to be the icy blonde that Hitchcock loved, but turns out just to be boring. Diane Kruger fares better – essentially taking on the Eva Marie Saint role from North by Northwest, but Saint had a reason to help Cary Grant, something this movie never supplies Kruger, so it leaves a hole in her character that she cannot file. The other truly great performance in the movie belongs to Bruno Ganz – that great German actor, who fills his role as the form Stasi agent to perfection. His scene with Frank Langella, another aging spy, is truly great, and belongs in another movie – one that deserves these two great talents, not this one.

It may seem unfair of me to spend so much time comparing this film to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. After all, Hitchcock was a master filmmaker – one of the best in history, and the director of this film, Jaume Collet-Serra is just starting out (although his last film, Orphan, truly was a wonderful Hitchcockian thriller about an evil little girl). But when a movie tries as hard as unknown does to be a Hitchcock thriller – and comes up so short, I don’t know how else to review the film. The filmmakers made the comparison first – and I’m just pointing out just how short of their aims this movie falls.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Movie Review: Poetry

Poetry ****
Directed by:
Chang-dong Lee.
Written By: Chang-dong Lee.
Starring: Jeong-hee Yoon (Mija), Nae-sang Ahn (Kibum's father), Da-wit Lee (Jongwook), Hira Kim (M. Kang).

Lee Chang-dong is one of the best filmmakers in the world, who unfortunately outside of film festivals, isn’t very well known in North America. His last film, Secret Sunshine, was a masterpiece – one of the best films I have ever seen at the Toronto Film Festival – and yet for some reason it never got released over here – not even on DVD (Note: Since I wrote this review after TIFF last year, Secret Sunshine did get a small release late in 2010, so it should come to DVD soon). Luckily, his follow-up film – which is nearly as good – Poetry is getting a small release this year. Hopefully, this means that this master filmmaker can reach new audiences.

Poetry stars Jeong-hee Yoon, in one of the very best performances of the year, as Mija, a grandmother who is raising her grandson all by herself, following her daughter’s divorce and move to another town. She exists on government assistance and what little money she brings in from caring for an elderly stroke patient. Two things happen at almost the same time that change her life. One, she is diagnosed with early alzheimers. The second is that her grandson, Wook (Da-wit Lee) has admitted his role in gang raping a fellow student, repeatedly over the span of several months – something that only stopped when the girl threw herself off a bridge and killed herself. The school wants to keep things quiet, and suggests that the parents of the six boys involved offer the parents of the dead girl a cash settlement. Everyone quickly agrees – but Mija, has no idea where she is going to get the money from.

For most movies, this would be the setup of a melodrama – one with lots of screaming, dark secrets coming out, and confessions and acts of remorse. But Poetry almost completely avoids these clichés. Mija entirely internalizes everything – never brings up the rape to her grandson, who never mentions it to her either, and doesn’t tell anyone that she’s sick either. She continues to make Wook food, and even at times treats him like a baby (“What makes grandma happy?” “Food down Wookie’s throat”). The only thing she seems to feel passionate for is the poetry class she has recently starting attending. She wants to know how to write a poem and how to find “poetic inspiration”. It’s as if her impending loose of her mind – her language – has made her value it more – she wants to be able to express herself before it is too late.

Expressing herself is one thing Mija is incapable of doing – at least to other people. The various meetings she has with the fathers of the other boys – seemingly uncaring men who don’t talk about what their sons did, but rather how to get them off the hook – are chilling in their nonchalance – and Mija cannot take them. She doesn’t say anything, but often leaves them sitting in the restaurant and goes strolling around outside. She is brought back into the fold every time by the seemingly nicest of the fathers – but there is a patronizing way that he talks to her – as if she is a child. When it is suggested that she goes to see the girl’s mother herself – she makes the trip out to the farm alone on the bus, but when coming face to face with the woman, she cannot even bring herself to admit who she is, let alone talk to her about anything important. This is one of the best scenes in the movie – and speaks to Lee Chang-don’s brilliance and restraint. In most movies, this scene would be the centerpiece – an emotionally cathartic experience – but in this movie, while it remains the centerpiece, it’s for another reason – because of everything that goes unsaid. Mija cannot bring herself to tell her daughter that she is sick, or what her son has done. They share a chipper conversation on the phone, where the daughter seems completely oblivious to everything.

It’s only at the end of the film that Mija is finally able to express herself – the sorrow she feels, the guilt, the shame – and even then it is only through her poem that her teacher reads (and of course, Mija has simply left it there and left – having her thoughts verbalized still remains too painful for her). Mija feels more deeply than anyone else in the film – they are all concerned with themselves and how to get away with something – where her pain is all too real.

Poetry is a subtle film. It doesn’t take the path we expect it to take, but rather moves slowly into terrain that films very rarely even attempt to show. It is a masterful film – brilliant written and directed by Lee Chang-dong – and features one of the best performances you are likely to see by an actress. Chang-dong convinced Jeong-hoo Yoon to come out retirement to take this role – and the opportunity must have been too great for her to pass up. Rarely do films provide this type of role to anyone – and if you are a risk taking actor, it has to be satisfying to play. Lee Chang-dong is one of the best filmmakers in the world – and it’s about time that people in North American knew that.

New Series: The Best Films I Had Never Seen Before

Readers who were with me throughout 2010 know that I spent a significant amount of time going over the movies of the past – creating a top 10 list for every year dating back to 1927, which I used as my starting point because that is when the Oscars started. To do this, I went back and re-watched some of my favorite films from the past, as well as films I had never seen before. The project ended up taking longer than I anticipated, but I loved it. Readers will also remember that I included a segment for each top 10 list entitled: Significant Movies I Missed. And this is where this new series comes in. I plan to rectify that.

How I came to include what films got included on that list is simple – if it was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, or an Oscar winner for Director or an Acting Category, it was also included. But most of the films came from the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They? Top 1,000 films of all time ( As far as I can tell, this is the most extensive list of the greatest films I can find. I don’t know how they come up with the top 1,000, but they update it every year. At this point I have ONLY seen 622 of the 1,000 films. Now, I want to see the other 378. So the plan is that I will watch 1 or 2 or perhaps even 3 or 4 depending on time restraints, of these films a week, and review them – just like I review the new releases. I don’t plan on getting this series done this year that would require me to see more than one film per day, and I do have a day job. Also, it must be said that as far as I can tell 139 of the 378 films remaining are not easily available on DVD. I’ll start with the other 239 films, and go from there. Hopefully some of these other titles will make their way out by then.

Typically, I plan to start at the top and work my way down the list. I have seen all but two of the top 100 films - #69 Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1925) and #87 Voyage in Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954) – so I’ll start there. The basic plan after that is to work my way down the list. Of course, this is just a rough plan, and subject to my whims – I may move down the list to see a film I really want to, or may pick a film not on the list at all, but on another list – like Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies series.

As I said, I want to do at least one of these a week, but that may not be possible. For example Kieslowski’s The Decalogue is actually a series of 10 hour long films, Shoah is a 9 and a half hour long Holocaust documentary and Berlin Alexandarplatz clocks in at a brisk 15 ½ hours. So in cases like that, where I will have to break up the viewing, it may not be possible. The running time of these movies has put me off in the past. But free of any real deadline to get this series done I have decided I have all the time in the world.

I don’t expect I’ll love or even like every film on the list – there are far too many Godard films that made the cut for that to be possible (14 in total, which ties him for third with Bunuel, behind only Ford and Lang) – but I do promise that I will give my honest opinion on each and every one.

So tune in next week for the first installment.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

2010: The Best Movies of the Year: Personal Oscar Ballot

Best Picture
1. The Social Network
2. Blue Valentine
3. Black Swan
4. Carlos
5. Shutter Island
6. Toy Story 3
7. Inception
8. True Grit
9. Animal Kingdom
10. Another Year

Why? I have already explained why, so I won’t go into many more details here. What I will say is that while I think this is as strong of a list as I have had in recent years, I do wish there was a little more variety to the films – no real comedies made it this year, and only three films were made outside of America. I do think there is a nice mixture of genres here though.

1. David Fincher, The Social Network
2. Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
3. Olivier Assayas, Carlos
4. Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island
5. Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine

Why? I am usually quite boring when it comes to my director nominees – picking the filmmakers behind the 5 best films of the year, and this year is no exception. David Fincher deserves to win the Oscar for several reason – his career for one thing – but mainly because he did make the best film of the year, and found the perfect visual strategy for the film. It may not be his most impressive visual accomplishment, but I think good director is about finding the perfect style that suits the material – and Fincher does that here. In case you’re wondering why I moved Derek Cianfrance to the number 5 spot, when his film is at number 2, it’s simple – I feel like Black Swan, Carlos and Shutter Island are more “director” accomplishments, whereas Blue Valentine is a triumph of writing and acting – although Cianfrance deserves a lot of credit for directing as well.

Best Actor
1. Jessie Eisenberg, The Social Network
2. Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
3. Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island
4. Edgar Ramriez, Carlos
5. Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Best Actress
1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan
2. Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
3. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
4. Kim Hye-ja, Mother
5. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

Best Supporting Actor
1. Matt Damon in True Grit
2. Ben Mendohlson, Animal Kingdom
3. Christian Bale, The Fighter
4. Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
5. Justin Timberlake, The Social Network

Best Supporting Actress
1. Lesley Manville, Another Year
2. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
3. Michelle Williams, Shutter Island
4. Mila Kunis, Black Swan
5. Amy Adams, The Fighter

Why? I commented individually on the performances already, so I won’t say much here. 9 of the 20 performances that I listed got nominated for Oscars with a high of three for supporting actress (that’s including Hailee Steinfeld who they nominated in the wrong category) and a low of 1 for supporting actor. I do wish the Academy had noticed the great work by Manville, Damon and Gosling in particular, because they were from films that were nominated elsewhere, but for whatever reason they didn’t. Oh well.

Best Original Screenplay
1. Blue Valentine - Derek Cianfrance & Joey Curtis & Cami Delavigne
2. Inception - Christopher Nolan
3. Black Swan - Mark Heyman & Andres Heinz & John McLaughlin.
4. Animal Kingdom - David Michod
5. Another Year - Mike Leigh

Why? Blue Valentine gets my vote for the best of the year, because really it all began at the writing stage for this emotionally devastating film – yes Gosling and Williams bring it to life, but Cianfrance and company delivered a great, detailed script. Inception is my number 2, even though the dialogue is a little rote in places, because of the sheer ambition and complexity to it. Black Swan is number three – the screenwriters do a great job at detailing Sayers breakdown, but the film is more of a triumph for Portman and Aronofsky – this screenplay easily could have flown off the rails. The work for Animal Kingdom and Another Year does an excellent job at keeping large casts filtering through wonderfully well.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin
2. Toy Story 3 - Michael Arndt
3. Shutter Island - Laeta Kalogridis
4. True Grit - Joel & Ethan Coen
5. Incendies - Denis Villeneuve

Why? Was there a more quotable movie than The Social Network this year? A more complex one or one that defined its area and its character so well? I don’t think so. The work on Toy Story 3 expanded the characters in ways I didn’t think possible for a movie about talking toys. The work on Shutter Island is act on deception. True Grit may use a lot of the dialogue for Portis’ novel, but finds the perfect tone for it. And finally, Incendies should be the model for all future play adaptations - making the story so cinematic that if you didn’t know it was a play before, you’d never have a clue.

Best Documentary
1. Inside Job
2. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
3. Exit Through the Giftshop
4. Public Speaking
5. The Tillman Story

Why? Again, I’ve detailed why already for each of these five films – but if you insist I remove Public Speaking because it’s a TV film, then add in Last Train Home. And if you only want films that made the Oscar shortlist of 15 films, put in Restrepo.

Best Animated Film
1. Toy Story 3
2. The Illusionist
3. How to Train Your Dragon

Why? Once again, Pixar shows the rest of the world how to make a truly great animated film - it isn’t just the care they show with the visuals, which are the most remarkable of the year, but the time they put into writing the movie as well. Toy Story 3 is a masterpiece of storytelling. Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist is a pure joy - a visual experience in the style of the great Jacques Tati - it is a joy to see a traditionally animated film in a world where that has all but been abandoned. Finally, How to Train Your Dragon maybe the best of the Dreamworks animated film - a thrilling, funny, visually rich film that works on all levels. All in all, this was an excellent year for animated film.

Best Foreign Language Film
1. Incendies - Canada
2. Mother - Korea
3. I Am Love - Italy
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Sweden
5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Thailand

Why? Call be biased if you want, but the best films not in English I saw this year was from Canada - Incendies is simply brilliant. Korea continues to be one of the best film industries in the world right now with the wonderful Mother. Italy’s I Am Love is a film that ties together its cinematic and political past, with its future. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the best of the Millennium trilogy, which stands as one of the best thrillers of the year. And finally, you cannot argue with the great Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, with its great, art film quality.

Best Cinematography
1. True Grit - Roger Deakins
2. Black Swan - Matthew Libatique
3. Shutter Island - Robert Richardson
4. Inception - Wally Pfister
5. The Social Network – Jeff Cronenweth

Why? Any of my top three would be a fine choice for a victor this year. I am going with Deakins, because his work on True Grit was breathtaking and gorgeous, and yet still managed to capture the gritty, dark, bloody, violence of the film – give this legendary DP an Oscar already! Matthew Libatique’s work on Black Swan is pretty much Deakins equal – dark and sensual, the camera moves along effortlessly. I love Robert Richardson’s work on Shutter Island as well, capturing the unreality of the island, the mental hospital and the grounds with ease, and helping to establish the dark tone of the film. As for the other two, Wally Pfister does amazing work for Christopher Nolan – always has – and in Inception his work is more complex than ever before, if perhaps a little less striking than it was in The Dark Knight, Batman Begins or The Prestige. And while Jeff Cronenweth’s work on The Social Network is far from flashy, he accomplishes an amazing feat – moving his camera effortlessly, and making The Social Network a visually complex film, even though it takes place almost entirely in small, cramped rooms.

1. Shutter Island – Thelma Schoonmaker
2. The Social Network – Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall
3. Black Swan – Andrew Weisblum
4. Carlos – Luc Barnier & Marion Monnier
5. Blue Valentine – Jim Helton & Ron Pantane

Why? To me, Thelma Schoonmaker, who already has three Oscars at home for her work with Martin Scorsese, did the best editing job of the year with Shutter Island – creating that ominous atmosphere, and that sense of unease through the entire film. It’s great work. The Social Network also had a near perfect editing job, matching the tone and at times the speed of Sorkin’s screenplay. Black Swan’s work is quite extraordinary as well. The work on Carlos is all important, because it helps to keep the film, even at five and half hours, moving. And finally, cutting back and forth between the two storylines in Blue Valentine needed excellent work – and the editors delivered. Cannot believe I had no room for Inception or True Grit – it just shows how great the work was this year.

1. The Social Network - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
2. Never Let Me Go - Rachel Portman
3. Inception - Hans Zimmer
4. The Ghost Writer - Alexandre Desplat
5. I Am Love - John Adams

Why? The work done by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network truly is the most original, brilliant and memorable of any film music this year. The mournful score to Never Let Me Go, is the best work of Rachel Portman’s career and it somewhat saddens me that her tremendous work is mainly being ignored this season. Hans Zimmer does big action scores as well as anyone right now, and his work on Inception rivals his best work. Alexandre Desplat was nominated for The King’s Speech, but it is his work on The Ghost Writer, which helps to up the paranoid feel to the film, that I really admired. And finally, I think John Adams, soaring, sweeping, romantic score for the epic love story I Am Love is brilliant, and deserves more attention.

1. Country Strong - Coming Home
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - Threshold
3. Life During Wartime – Life During Wartime
4. Despicable Me – Despicable Me
5. Toy Story 3 - We Belong Together

Why? This is a fairly useless category – always really has been. This year, I went through the list of potential nominees, and nothing jumped out at me like last year’s The Weary Kind from Crazy Heart or The Wrestler from The Wrestler the year before that. The song Coming Home is I think the best of the bunch from Country Strong – a subpar Crazy Heart lite if you will, and is perhaps the most memorable song of the year. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World had many good songs, but Threshold, written by Beck was the best of the bunch. Todd Solondz wrote the title song from his movie himself, and while it is not quite as catchy as his song for Happiness, it still better than most of the other songs this year. The final three come from a trio of animated films – with the catchy, funky Despicable Me being the best of the lot. We Belong Together from Toy Story 3 sounds much like all of Randy Newman’s songs, but it is effective. Overall, I can’t say I really care that much about this category ever – and even less this year.

Art Direction
1. Inception
2. Shutter Island
3. Black Swan
4. I Am Love
5. True Grit

Why? The work on Inception truly is phenomenal, and what’s more extremely varied, since they have to create separate environments for each dream level they go to, so it easily gets my vote here. The work on Shutter Island, creating that dark and dreary mental hospital is great as well. Black Swan has very specific work – both as sets for the ballet itself, as well as “the real world”. I Am Love has the most elaborate, and brilliant, old school art direction of the year. And finally, the Coen brothers once again helped to create masterful visual environments for all their films.

Costume Design
1. Black Swan
2. I Am Love
3. The Tempest
4. Shutter Island
5. True Grit

Why? The costume design for Black Swan truly is the best of the year – and not just because of the great ballet costume that become prevalent in the last act – but because of smart costume choices for the entire movie. The work on I Am Love is sumptuous and beautiful throughout. The very smart work on Julie Taymor’s underrated The Tempest is also great – and truly reflects the characters, and is not just work for its own sake. The period detail on display in Shutter Island is superb. And finally, the work on True Grit is wonderful as well – from Steinfeld’s modest teenage garb, to Damon’s impeccably dressed man to Bridges pile of dirty laundry look.

1. Barney’s Version
2. Black Swan
3. Shutter Island

Why? I tend to shy away from the movies that will be nominated in this category, which typically reward MOST make-up work, rather than work that is more subtle, yet suitable to the movie at hand. In this case, I think that the work done on Barney’s Version truly does deserve this Oscar - I have seen so many bad aging make-up effects that when I see it done right, it is cause to celebrate. After that I think the work on Black Swan is truly exceptional and inspired, and that the work on Shutter Island, making everyone dirty, grimy and in some cases downright insane works wonders.

Sound Mixing
1. Black Swan
2. Shutter Island
3. Inception
4. Carlos
5. The Social Network

Why? The overall sound design work on Black Swan is truly wonderful – and Shutter Island’s as well – both with the same purpose – increasing the intense creepiness of the entire movie. Inception is more of a typical nominee in this category – loud – but it really is quite a technical feat. The work on could not have been harder, as there are a lot of distinct elements at play in each scene. And finally The Social Network’s work is subtlety brilliant – bringing to mind something I heard once about this category – the best work are the ones you don’t notice. But listen to The Social Network, and you’ll understand why it’s here.

Sound Effects Editing
1. Inception
2. Shutter Island
3. Black Swan
4. Toy Story 3
5. True Grit

Why? The work on Inception truly is extraordinary – coming up with interesting, complex sounds all throughout its running time. Again, Shutter Island and Black Swan do similar things to help up the suspense and creepiness. The geniuses behind the sound at Pixar pretty much always deserve a nomination. And finally, True Grit’s work is inspured.

Visual Effects
1. Inception
2. Tron: Legacy
3. Monsters
4. Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part I
5. Enter the Void

Why? I picked Inception here, because its mixture of practical visual effects and CGI made for the most seamless blend of unreality there was this year. TRON: Legacy’s work is more in your face in every scene, but it is the only live action movie this year where the 3-D actually worked, so it gets major props for that. The work on Monsters was done by one man on his computer for under $25,000 – and they could not be more appropriate for the film itself. Harry Potter’s visual are always top notch. And finally, let’s give some props to Gaspar Noe for his strange, visual effects work on Enter the Void – a film I’m still not sure if I loved or hated, but had to admit the visual are trippy in the best sense of the word.