by D.W. Lundberg

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


UPDATE: Checking around for Oscar results on the Internet this morning, it's great to see that Inception won so many technical awards last night, especially the award for Best Cinematography. Wally Pfister's been working with Christopher Nolan for a good long while now (since Memento), and he outdoes himself each time out.

If you have any thoughts on the telecast last night, please comment below - what you liked, disliked, what you think I missed out on, etc. (Because if there's one thing I love, it's living vicariously through others.) Oh, and the winners have been marked with a star for good behavior below.

Well, it's Oscar time again, folks - everybody's favorite night of the year. And on Sunday, February 27th, we'll all gather again, to see our favorite celebrities stroll down that red carpet, take their seats in Los Angeles' world-famous Kodak Theater, and enjoy an evening's worth of scintillating entertainment as they anxiously await those five magic words: "And the Oscar goes to..." It's almost too much to soak in. The glitz! The glamour! The pure intoxication of it all!

End of sarcasm. You already know how I feel about this, so there's no point in griping about it all over again. Instead (if you care), I thought I'd offer a few choice thoughts on the nominations this year. As always, feel free to voice your own opinion in the comments below.

That Independent Spirit

As with last year, the list of Best Picture nominees stands at an overcrowded ten: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone. Seen any of these? Do you have a personal favorite? I must admit, I'm a little behind on my movie watching, so I haven't been able to catch them all. Maybe that makes me a less qualified to comment on such things, I don't know.

Now, is it me, or does that list seem positively low key? Okay, so Inception and maybe Toy Story ramp up the spectacle a bit more than the rest, but each of these titles still share that independent spirit, telling small-scale, personal stories of triumph and tragedy writ large.

Each plot, in twenty words or less: A ballet dancer obsessed with landing the lead role in a production of Swan Lake. A lowly Boston-ite looking to score big in the boxing ring. A dream specialist who takes One Last Job to clear his name and reunite with his kids. A lesbian couple reunited with their kids' biological father. A king trying to master his stutter. A hiker pinned in a rocky crevasse with no hope for survival. A Harvard student who creates an Internet sensation but makes enemies on his way to the top. A close-knit group of toys looking for love and acceptance. A young girl chasing after her father's killer. A teenager desperately searching for her dead-beat dad.

See what I mean? Small scale. Movies that look inward, not outward, focused on introspection and self-worth, triumph and tragedy and all that, produced on smaller budgets (again, with the exception of Inception), but each searching for that Universal Truth, of the passions and purpose that drive us all. Avatar, take that.

On Inception

Speaking of Inception, is it odd to anyone else how a movie with such grand-scale ambition can be passed over for a Best Director nod? Yes, you're all aware that I'm a big Christopher Nolan fan, but Inception absolutely seems like a director's movie all the way. While it's nice to see Mr. Nolan receive a nomination for Best Original Screenplay (he'd been working on the script for ten years), you have to remember that concept and execution are two different things entirely. No other movie this year blew my mind as sufficiently as this one, juggling so many different levels of "reality" at once. And while I wouldn't call it Best Picture Material, per se (the movie's a lot heavier on craft than recognizable human emotion), it's a passion project that definitely earned a little extra respect from Academy voters.

On Toy Story 3

And speaking of Toy Story 3, the Pixar Hit Factory continues to thrill and surprise us. Does anyone dare disagree? No other movie I saw in all of 2010 rattled my emotions and put a lump in my throat like this one – and it was a second sequel to boot! That definitely qualifies as Best Picture Material. It won't win, though – not when it's guaranteed the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Also of note: Why is this nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay? Usually that term applies to the scripts adapted from plays or novels or memoirs or magazine articles, which isn't really the case here, is it? John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and director Lee Unkrich wrote the story treatment, and they hired Michael Arndt from Little Miss Sunshine to write the actual screenplay – does that count as "adaptation"? By comparison, Pixar's Up earned a nomination for Best Original Screenplay last year – screenplay by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, from a story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, and Tom McCarthy. The year before that, WALL-E was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay – script written by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon, from a story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter. Am I missing something here? I guess technically, since Michael Arndt didn't have an active role in TS3's initial scriptment process, that means he adapted someone else's work? Does that mean Lasseter, Stanton and Unkrich get an Oscar too? How is that fair? Did Margaret Mitchell get an award when Gone With The Wind won its Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay? (Answer: no.) I hope this is just a technicality, because otherwise it makes no sense.

On The Academy Of Arts And Sciences And Sex Appeal

All signs point to Natalie Portman taking home the statuette for Best Actress, and kudos to that. I remember her movie debut in Luc Besson's The Professional, and thinking she projected an intelligence well beyond her years. But li'l Natalie was only twelve years old at the time, and in my eyes she's stayed the same age ever since - I look at that perpetually pre-teen face of hers, and it's hard to see her as a sexual object. Maybe that's the appeal, I don't know. Maybe that's why Black Swan got me so uncomfortable: it's a psycho-sexual melodrama heavy on subtext and lesbian love scenes, between characters willing to give in to their basest desires to achieve their goals.

On Cinematography And True Grit

He's shot everything from Sid And Nancy to The Shawshank Redemption to No Country For Old Men - and rumor has it the great cinematographer Roger Deakins may finally be a shoe-in for an Oscar this year. Because if Academy voters love anything, it's giving the well-respected veteran an Oscar he's always deserved. Like Martin Scorsese winning Best Director for The Departed, or Al Pacino winning Best Actor for Scent Of A Woman, it's great to see our favorite Hollywood personalities finally rewarded after decades of quality servitude - even if the movies they win for hardly represent their best work.

Notice, too, how True Grit furthers that old Oscar tradition of nominating the protagonist for Best Supporting Actor/Actress while the more showcase supporting role gets a nod for Best Actor/Actress. 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld is clearly the driving force of the movie, her character has the "noble goal" while everyone else functions to help her attain said goal, but it's Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn who gets the spotlight. Other examples of this include Morgan Freeman's Best Supporting nomination for The Shawshank Redemption, or Dustin Hoffman nabbing the Best Actor Oscar for Rain Man.

Aaron Sorkin Can Make Even The World's Most Insufferable Douchebag Sound Like A Charmer

Aaron Sorkin's unparalleled knack for writing rich, witty dialogue exchanges has been apparent ever since his debut screenplay for A Few Good Men, a streak that's continued on through The American President, Charlie Wilson's War, and TV's The West Wing and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. For The Social Network (nominated, deservedly, for Best Adapted Screenplay), Sorkin managed to turn an entire roster of self-absorbed grating jerks into pleasant company for 160 pages. And the point is: he didn't have to do this. Characters we might have otherwise despised wind up being insanely likeable instead, at least when they're in their element. Witness the bite and snap of the following script snippet:


A pretty 20 year-old co-ed, AMY, pulls a curtain open and the darkened room immediately fills with un-welcomed sunlight. AMY's wearing nothing but a Stanford sweatshirt as a skinny 22 year-old guy who's lying on her futon wakes up. There's other evidence on the walls that we're at Stanford University. There are also pieces of AMY's clothing strewn about.

The young man on the futon is SEAN PARKER.
          I'm sorry, I'm late for Bio-Chem.
          You don't know my name, do you?

               (off the sweatshirt)
          Is it Stanford?

          How can you go to a party, meet--

          Amelia Ritter but you prefer Amy.
          You're from Orinda, your father's
          in commercial real estate and
          your mother's 10 years sober.
          What's my major?
          I remember something about a
          Tu fais l'amour à la jolie fille
          et la mets de côté.
          French! Your major is French.
          Oui. And yours?
          Mine? I don't have one.
          You haven't declared?
          I don't go to school.
          You're kidding?
          Where did you go to school?
          William Taft Elementary for a
          little while.
          Seriously, you're not like 15
          years old or anything are you?
          You're not like--
          No. So what do you do?
          I'm an entrepreneur.
          You're unemployed.
          I wouldn't say that.
          What would you say?
          That I'm an entrepreneur.
          What was your latest preneur?
          Well... I founded an internet
          company that let folks download
          and share music for free.
          Kind of like Napster?
          Exactly like Napster.
          What do you mean?
          I founded Napster.
          Sean Parker founded Napster.
          Nice to meet you.
          You're Sean Parker?
          Ah ha. The shoe's on the other...
          --table which has turned.
          You're a zillionaire.
          Not technically.
          What are you?
          Broke. There's not a lot of money
          in free music. Even less when
          you're being sued by everyone
          who's ever been to the Grammys.
          This is blowing my mind.
          I appreciate that.

In Their Corner (And Why They Probably Won't Win)

If I'm pulling for anybody to actually win this year, that'd be Christian Bale, nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Fighter. He's been a force to be reckoned with ever since Steven Spielberg's Empire Of The Sun in 1987, he's had iconic roles in American Psycho and Batman Begins both within the last decade, and he sacrificed his body for the sake of his art in The Machinist. Just give the guy an Oscar already. Bale's won most of the major awards thus far (including the Screen Actors Guild, a Golden Globe, and the National Board of Review) - which means he probably won't win come Sunday.

(I'm also a big Amy Adams fan - but, sadly, she's sharing the same Best Supporting Actress nomination with her Fighter co-star, Melissa Leo. That means voters will likely split the difference.)

On The Host And Hostess With The Mostest

And finally, what a thrill it is to see Catwoman and the Green Goblin co-hosting the awards ceremony this year! Comic book villains unite! It's not that I have issues with Anne Hathaway or James Franco personally, mind you; I just don't see how they fit into the pantheon of the All-Time Great Celebrity Oscar Hosts. Seriously, consider: Will Rogers, Frank Capra, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Jack Lemmon, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and now... James Franco and Anne Hathaway? Huh? Somebody, please, watch the telecast for me and let me know how they do. I can't muster the strength any more.


Oh, I almost forgot. And the nominees are:

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
* The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David O. Russell, The Fighter
* Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David Fincher, The Social Network
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, True Grit

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
* Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
* Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Best Supporting Actor
* Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
* Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Original Screenplay
Mike Leigh, Another Year
Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, The
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All
* David Seidler, The King's Speech

Best Adapted Screenplay
Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
* Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and
     Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, True Grit
Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini, Winter's Bone

Best Animated Feature
How To Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
* Toy Story 3

Best Foreign Language Film
Biutiful (Mexico)
Dogtooth (Greece)
* In A Better World (Denmark)
Incendies (Canada)
Outside The Law (Hors-la-loi) (Algeria)

Best Documentary Feature
Exit Through The Gift Shop
* Inside Job
Waste Land

Best Cinematography
Matthew Libatique, Black Swan
* Wally Pfister, Inception
Danny Cohen, The King's Speech
Jeff Cronenweth, The Social Network
Roger Deakins, True Grit

Best Film Editing
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
127 Hours
* The Social Network

Best Art Direction
* Alice In Wonderland
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1
The King's Speech
True Grit

Best Costume Design
* Alice In Wonderland
I Am Love
The King's Speech
The Tempest
True Grit

Best Makeup
Barney's Version
The Way Back
* The Wolfman

Best Original Score
John Powell, How To Train Your Dragon
Hans Zimmer, Inception
Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech
A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
* Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network

Best Original Song
"Coming Home" from Country Strong
"If I Rise" from 127 Hours
"I See the Light" from Tangled
* "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3

Best Sound Editing
* Inception
Toy Story 3
Tron: Legacy
True Grit

Best Sound Mixing
* Inception
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Best Visual Effects
Alice In Wonderland
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1
* Inception
Iron Man 2

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