Saturday, January 12, 2013

Best Original Song Nominees

Are you excited for the beginning of the Oscar season, but a little intimidated by the list of 29 movies (38 if you could documentary and foreign films) that you need to see in the next 43 days? Well I'm here to help you cross at least one category off your list: Best Original Song! Two of the films nominated this year for Best Song (Chasing Ice and Ted) don't have any other nominations, so you'll be able to skip those films entirely!

Here are YouTube videos for all five nominees:

"Before My Time" from Chasing Ice — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph:


"Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from Ted — Music by Walter Murphy; Lyric by Seth MacFarlane:


"Pi's Lullaby" from Life of Pi — Music by Mychael Danna; Lyric by Bombay Jayashri:


"Skyfall" from Skyfall — Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth:


"Suddenly" from Les Misérables — Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil:


Or if you'd prefer to download the nominees, they are all available for purchase at Amazon.com:
"Before My Time" from Chasing Ice
"Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from Ted
"Pi's Lullaby" from Life of Pi
"Skyfall" from Skyfall
"Suddenly" from Les Misérables

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Watch the Oscar Nominations Announcement Live

Join us this morning at 5:30 AM PST (8:30 AM EST) for the official announcement of the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards.

Here's the livestream:


Also, follow us on Twitter for live updates and commentary (or if you're pretending to work and can't pull up the livestream).

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Nomination Predictions for the 85th Academy Awards

I've always felt way more comfortable predicting the eventual winners of Oscars as opposed to making Oscar nominations predictions, but seeing as I did pretty well last year (7 out of 9 Best Picture nominees, 4/5 for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor nominees, 5/5 for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress), I thought I'd give it another go!

Best Picture

As you probably recall from last year, the Best Picture category can include anywhere from 5–10 nominees. This makes predicting this category a tad more difficult than it used to be—or it adds an extra thing to guess: how many nominees will there be? Last year there were nine nominees, and this year I'm predicting there will be eight. The obvious nominees are Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln, which have split many of the awards so far. Les Misérables, which got mostly positive reviews and is likely to garner a couple of acting nods, is also basically a shoo-in. Silver Linings Playbook is a prett safe bet as well. The second-tier is made up of likely, but by no means certain, nods for Argo, Life of Pi and Django Unchained. The "last" slot is a bit of a toss-up, but depending on the mood of the voters it could go to Beasts of the Southern Wild, Austria's Amour, or even Moonrise Kingdom. Obviously, if Academy voters are feeling generous, they could all nine of these films with nods, but if it's just seven, my money would be on Amour grabbing the last slot.

Best Director

As it has been since 2009, the key to this category is figuring out which directors of Best Picture nominees will get left out. I mentioned last year that only one film since 1932 that only one film had won Best Picture without its director getting a nod, and that still holds true. Using this formula, we have to assume that the eventual Best Picture winner will also have at least a nomination for its director, so the best bets in this category are the strongest of the Best Picture nominees. This leads me to choose former Best Director winners Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Stephen Spielberg (Lincoln), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), and Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) as sure bets. The last slot is a bit hard to predict; David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook has done well in some categories in the other awards, but he was snubbed by the Golden Globes and the Director's Guild Awards. Given the DGA's past success in predicting this category, I'm inclined to say Ben Affleck will earn his first directing nomination for Argo

Best Actor

Locks: Bet on Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), and Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables).
Probables: John Hawkes (The Sessions) and Denzel Washington (Flight) are pretty safe guesses...
Dark Horses: ...but look out for Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) or even Jean Louis Trintignant (Amour).

Best Actress

Locks: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) seem like sure bets.
Maybes: With a fairly strong field, the rest of the slots are somewhat up for grabs, with Naomi Watts (The Impossible) leading the pack but Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), and even Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) not too far behind.

Best Supporting Actor

Locks: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) and Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Probables: Alan Arkin (Argo), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), and Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
Dark Horse: Javier Bardem (Skyfall), or maybe Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables)

Best Supporting Actress

Locks: Anne Hathaway is Les Misérables's only definite acting nominee, and Sally Field Lincoln picking up her third Oscar nom.
Probables: Amy Adams (The Master) and Maggie Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
Maybes: Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy) Dark Horse: Samantha Barks (Les Misérables)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Academy Committees Narrow Down Nominees in "Special" Categories

Hey there, Oscars fans! It's the most wonderful time of the year again: the time when all the Oscar contenders are finally released in theatres! Yes, all year we've had to put up with the drivel that Hollywood doesn't deem worthy enough to be awards bait, but they're just now getting to the good stuff. Not only does that mean that the announcement of the nominees is a mere two weeks away, but it also means that some categories have already been narrowed down to a small selection of eligible films.

This year, 71 countries submitted films for consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category. The Phase I committee selected six of these films, while the Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee augmented the Phase I committee's selections with an additional three films. Together the selections comprise the official "short list" from which the eventual nominees will be chosen:
Amour - Austria
War Witch - Canada
No - Chile
A Royal Affair - Denmark
The Intouchables - France
The Deep - Iceland
Kon-Tiki - Norway
Beyond the Hills - Romania
Sister - Switzerland

In the Best Animated Feature category, 21 films have been submitted for consideration this year:
Adventures in Zambezia
Brave
Delhi Safari
Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Frankenweenie
From Up on Poppy Hill
Hey Krishna
Hotel Transylvania
A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
The Mystical Laws
The Painting
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
The Rabbi's Cat
Rise of the Guardians
Secret of the Wings
Walter & Tandoori's Christmas
Wreck-It Ralph
Zarafa

Seven films remain in contention for the Oscar in Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Lincoln
Looper
Men in Black 3
Snow White and the Huntsman

The Academy's Documentary Branch has viewed all eligible documentaries and has winnowed the titles down to the 15-film short list:
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Bully
Chasing Ice
Detropia
Ethel
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
The House I Live In
How to Survive a Plague
The Imposter
The Invisible War
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Searching for Sugar Man
This Is Not a Film
The Waiting Room

There are 10 films still contending for the Best Visual Effects category:
The Amazing Spider-Man
Cloud Atlas
The Dark Knight Rises
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
John Carter
Life of Pi
Marvel’s The Avengers
Prometheus
Skyfall
Snow White and the Huntsman

In addition, 104 original scores and 75 original songs have been deemed eligible in their respective categories, while 282 feature films are eligible in the Best Picture category. Nominees in all categories will be announced on Thursday, January 10, at 5:30 AM PST.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reflecting on the Tenth Anniversary of the Animated Feature Film Oscar

Believe it or not, this year marks the tenth anniversary of the inception of the Best Animated Feature Film Academy Award. The original goals of adding the category way back in 2001 were to increase the awareness and prestige of a medium that had gone woefully unappreciated by the Academy for 64 years.

In 1937 Walt Disney introduced the cinematic world to the first ever full-length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That year, the Academy presented Walt with one full-size Oscar and seven minature statuettes to celebrate his "significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field." Over the next 64 years, 37 animated feature films garnered 64 Academy Award nominations and 15 Oscars in competitive categories—mostly for songs or scores, with one for BEst Picture (Beauty and the Beast), one for Best Original Screenplay (Toy Story), and one for Visual Effects (Nightmare Before Christmas). Until The Prince of Egypt won Best Original Song in 1998, no studio other than Disney had ever won an Academy Award for an animated feature.

The events that led to the Academy deciding to give animated features their own category actually began ten years before the category came to fruition. When 1991's Beauty and the Beast was nominated for six Oscars—the most for any animated film in history, including the medium's first-ever Best Picture nomination—it represented a turning point for animated features. While 1937–1990 had seen 17 films nominated for 29 Oscars and winning 5, from 1991–2000, 18 animated features earned 35 nominations and 10 Oscars. Though the majority of the awards were still in music categories, the '90s saw diversification in another way: 5 of the 18 films to earn competitive nominations were non-Disney fare, compared with just 3 in the preceding 54 years.

Many in the animation industry lobbied for a long time to give animated features their own category, and finally, a decade after Beauty and the Beast broke the glass ceiling the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar was created. Animators and fans alike hoped the new category would increase awareness and prestige for animated films and encourage the production of more and diverse entries. Initially the category was a temporary experiment; rather than making it a permanant category, the Academy determined it would need to be activated each year by the Academy's Board of Governors. Finally, for the first time for this year's Oscars, the category has become "permanant" and no longer needs to be activated each year.

As we approach the eleventh Oscar to be given for Best Animated Feature, it is worth examining whether the award has accomplished its goals. Some critics of the award argue it actually hurts animated films. By creating a mini Best Picture-type award for animated films, their logic states, you are essentially boxing animated films in and making them less likely to be taken seriosuly in other competitive categories. Many film critics and movie fans were up in arms in 2008 when WALL-E, one of the highest-grossing and most critically-acclaimed films of the year, failed to garner a Best Picture nomination. Some in the media even insinuated that the film had been deliberately snubbed.

Perhaps it was partially in reaction to this furor that caused the Academy to chance the Best Picture category the following year to allow ten nominated films to compete. If allowing more-popular fare to break into the top category was the Academy's goal then the move was immediately successful; that year, Up became the second animated feature in history to earn a Best Picture nomination.

If the overall goal of the Best Animated Feature Oscar was to bring greater prestige and attention to animated films overall, the category has arguably been successful. Having their own category does mean that every year, whether they earn any other nominations or not, animated films will have a place in the awards-season buzz. Additionally, animated films have continued to earn other competitive nominations over the past ten years—since 2001, 19 films have earned 42 nominations and 4 Oscars outside the Best Animated Feature category. The selection of films recognized by the Academy since the animated feature category was created has become more diverse as well. The last decade has seen the first animated film ever nominated for Best Foreign Language film, and animated films from Israel, France, Spain, Ireland, and Japan have received Oscar recognition. A category many feared would be dominated by Disney has actually helped bring more non-Disney fare to the forefront than might otherwise have happened. Since the category's inception, 26 of the 39 films nominated for Best Animated Feature have not been produced by Disney or Pixar, though 6 of the 10 winners have been. For the first time in 2011, a movie released by Disney/Pixar, Cars 2, failed to even make the cut for a nomination. Outside the Best Animated Feature category, 7 of the 19 nominated films were also non-Disney; that's almost as many animated non-Disney films as the entire previous 64 years.

Overall, though many have criticized the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and though it still remains to be seen whether any animated feature can actually win Best Picture or earn a nomination in an acting category, the inclusion of the Best Animated Feature in the annual Academy Awards has raised the prestige and visibility of animated films everywhere.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Predictions for the 84th Academy Awards

With just five days left until the 84th Academy Awards, it's that time again, folks: time for Oscar predictions! Last year I correctly predicted 16 out of 24 categories, tying Entertainment Weekly's Dave Karger and besting Roger Ebert who only got 14 correct. This year there seems to be a lot of agreement among prognosticators in certain categories and none whatsoever in others. As I write this, even though I planned out my picks yesterday, there are still two categories on which I am wavering (and may even change my mind by the time I get to them). So without further ado, here come my predictions for the 84th Academy Awards. Feel free to agree, disagree, or write your own predictions in the comments.

Best Picture

This year all the mystery centered around how many Best Picture nominees there would be; there was very little doubt going into the Oscar race which films would be the actual frontrunners. This has really been a two-horse race from the very beginning between The Descendants and The Artist. The Descendants nabbed a couple of early awards, but all signs point to the The Artist taking home the top prize.

Best Director

Most years, I would remind you that the conventional wisdom about the Best Director category is that it generally goes to the director of the Best Picture. Rules, though, are made to be broken. In fact, in the last eleven years the two top prizes have been split three times; Crash, Chicago, and Gladiator all won Best Picture but failed to garner a directing Oscar. I predict that will be the case again this year, with the award going to veteran and perennial nominee Martin Scorsese for his efforts on Hugo. Look at it as sort of a consolation prize for not giving the film Best Picture.

Best Actor

Though quite deserving of the nominations, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, and Demián Bichir never had a chance. From the very start it was between George Clooney, who won the Best Actor in a Drama prize at the Golden Globes for The Descendants, and Jean Dujardin, who took home Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for The Artist the same night. Early on it seemed as though Clooney had this in the bag. His film was well-liked and a strong contender for Best Picture; he had buzz surrounding multiple roles this year, which never hurts; and he is genuinely very good in The Descendants. But when Dujardin won the BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Award earlier this month, he cemented his place as frontrunner. Dujardin is the guy to beat, and Clooney is not going to beat him.

Best Actress

This is another case where it is sort of a two-horse race; Viola Davis got rave reviews for her portrayal of a black maid in civil-rights era Mississippi in The Help, but serial nominee Meryl Streep won the Golden Globe and started creating a lot of buzz around her role of former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. It's also worth mentioning Michelle Williams won a couple awards and rave reviews as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. The late awards haven't helped much, as Davis picked up the SAG Award while Streep took the BAFTA. But since the BAFTAs are notoriously British-biased, and the SAG Awards are usually a better bellwether for the Oscars, I'm giving this one to Davis...but just barely.

Best Supporting Actor

There has never been any doubt in this category. Having picked up every imaginable award for his understated portrayal of a recently out of the closet widower dying of terminal cancer in Beginners, Christopher Plummer is the closest thing to a sure bet you will find this year.

Best Supporting Actress

This category is somewhat less cut-and-dried than its male counterpart. My gut tells me The Help's Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain risk splitting the film's support and throwing the award to Bérénice Bejo. My brain tells me that Octavia Spencer deserves the award and will probably win. This is one of the aforementioned I-could-change-my-mind-at-any-second categories, but I'm going to give Spencer a very slight edge over Bejo. A word to the wise: this category is often presented very early in the evening. If Bejo pulls off a win, it could be a sign that a major sweep for The Artist is about to start (think Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). If that happens then all bets are off, especially in the directing and screenplay categories.

Best Original Screenplay

Though The Artist is the most prominent film in this category, I'm going a little bit out on a limb (though not too far out; a handful of critics agree with me on this one) and predicting Woody Allen will win his fourth Oscar (his first since Hannah and her Sisters in 1986, though he's racked up 12 nominations since then) for Midnight in Paris. The film is fantastic and is definitely the most original of any of the nominated films. The Academy loves Woody Allen; they have shown him this with 23 career nominations, yet he has only won three Oscars.

Best Adapted Screenplay

There is some tough competition in this category; these are mostly really good movies with really well-written screenplays. Personally I think the most deserving is probably The Ides of March, a clever and gripping political thriller. However, since The Ides of March doesn't have any other nominations, I'd say it's probably out. This contest really comes down to The Descendants vs. Hugo, and John Logan's Hugo screenplay should emerge victorious.

Best Foreign Language Film

I'll be honest; I haven't seen any of these yet—though I hope to get in one or two this week before the Oscars. That said, generally when a film nominated in this category has broad-enough appeal to land it nominations in other categories, it is a pretty safe bet to win Best Foreign Language Film (think The Sea Inside, The Barbarian Invasions, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). In that vein, I'd give A Separation pretty good odds of winning.

Best Animated Feature

Best Animated Feature is another category in which I have waffled in recent days. In my opinion, the two foreign films, A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita, are the two best offerings, with A Cat in Paris being the cleverer of the two. That said, far more people saw Rango, even if few of them understood it. The animation and voice work in Rango are excellent, and the film seems to have much more support than the other nominated films. Finally, hand-drawn (or hand-drawn style) films have never been successful in this category; the last to win, which was also the last foreign offering to win, was 2002's Spirited Away. With category-favorite Pixar (they've won six of the ten years the category has existed) not competing this year, Rango should slither away with the award.

Best Documentary Feature

Every year there is a buzz-worthy documentary, yet every year some pundits try to pick an out-of-the-box choice for this category that never pans out. Face the facts: if there's a movie you've heard of on this list in any given year, it's probably going to win. This year, for those in the know, the "it" doc was Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the third film about the so-called West Memphis Three. The film has gotten great reviews, and I expect more people will be seeing it in the coming months. Its two predecessors are largely credited with helping the West Memphis Three go free, and the Academy loves influential docs (think An Inconvenient Truth).

Best Documentary Short

Honestly your guess is as good as mine. My best bet here is that the timeliness of "Incident in New Baghdad," about the slaying of two Reuters journalists during the Iraq war, will get the Academy's attention.

Best Animated Short

I really enjoyed three of these shorts this year, and I have to say, in my mind it's essentially a tie between "La Luna" and "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore." The films are equally memorable and both have a lot of heart. "La Luna" may have a slight edge since it's a Pixar offering in a year where Pixar didn't even get nominated in the animated feature category, but I think "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" will win because it is both funny and sad all while presenting a really cool concept.

Best Live-Action Short

Years ago I was of the opinion that picking the film with the coolest-sounding name was as good a way as any to call the short film awards. Then several years back I started actually seeing the short films in hopes it would give me an edge in the overall predictions game (everyone knows the Oscar pools are won and lost in the shorts categories!), but this created a whole new problem: so many of them are good! "Pentecost," "Time Freak," and "Tuba Atlantic" are funny but not terribly substantial; "Raju" is sad and a little scary; and "The Shore" combines humor and heart. Using just what I think the Academy SHOULD like, I would lean towards "The Shore," but given the types of films that have triumphed in this category—the hilarious "God of Love" and "West Bank Story" to name a couple examples—I have to go with the lighter fare this year. In a year where many films seem to be, directly or indirectly, about time travel, I'm predicting "Time Freak" will be the winner.

Best Art Direction

Hugo, hands down.

Best Cinematography

I hated, hated, hated The Tree of Life, but if there's one thing I can say about it it would be the cinematography was very well done. It can't be easy to light dinosaurs and the apocalypse all in one film, but Terrence Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki worked very hard to follow a whole bunch of guidelines on how they wanted everything shot in this film, and some of it really does come through.

Best Film Editing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the most exciting and riveting films of 2011, and it only works because of the masterful editing work of Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall.

Best Original Score

They say when you lose one sense your other senses become heightened. In most films you barely notice the score because there is so much dialogue and other sound going on. In The Artist, the score is all you get for 99% of the film, so it has to not only complement the action, as most scores do, but has to enhance the action without distracting from it.

Best Original Song

This one is pretty obvious to me: it has to be "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets. When the Academy revealed a few weeks ago that the Best Original Song nominees would not get staged musical numbers at the ceremony, Perez Hilton launched a petition to "Get the Muppets on the Oscars," which has nearly 68,000 signatures to date. Everyone loves the Muppets. 'Nuff said.

Best Sound Editing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Best Sound Mixing

Hugo

Best Visual Effects

Many people felt that the final installment in the massively popular (and profitable) Harry Potter franchise deserved some Academy recognition; I was not the only one hoping to see it land in the Best Picture category and there were more than a few fans hoping to see Alan Rickman score a supporting nod for his role as Professor Severus Snape. While Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 failed to score any major nominations, it will likely win a couple consolation Oscars in the technical categories. To date the franchise has earned twelve Oscar nominations and not a single statuette, but that should change this year, if only in a couple minor categories.

Best Costumes

What do Shakespeare in Love (1998), Marie Antoinette (2006), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), The Duchess (2008), and The Young Victoria (2009) have in common? All are period pieces, most take place in England, all take place 200 or more years ago, and all won the Best Costumes Oscar in the past 15 years. These criteria provide a fairly reliable formula for predicting the costumes category, and this year two films fit all the criteria. Between Anonymous and Jane Eyre, the Shakespeare-era drama Anonymous has the better duds and should win the prize.

Best Makeup

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2...see visual effects category above.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Help

The Help
Running Time: 146 minutes
Nominations: 4 (Best Picture; Best Actress: Viola Davis; Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain; Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer)
Availability in the US: On DVD and Blu-ray
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for thematic material

In a small town in 1960s Mississippi, Skeeter (Emma Stone), an aspiring writer, turns her town upside-down when she decides to interview the black maids who have helped raise the white children of her town. The first maid who agrees to be interviewed is Aibileen (Viola Davis), Skeeter's best friend's maid. Meanwhile, after being fired for using the indoor bathroom rather than the outhouse during a raging storm, Aibileen's friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) goes to work for social outcast Celia (Jessica Chastain), who has little love for the social order of town.

From beginning to end, The Help is nothing short of excellent. It is, at turns, funny and sad, heartwarming and heartwrenching. As the brave and bold Aibileen, Davis is marvelous. Bursting onto the Oscar radar three years ago in Doubt, Davis shows range here that her previous nominated performance lacked. Octavia Spencer also shows impressive versatility as Minny, who is distrustful, mischievous, and yet understanding and caring. This is Spencer's first nomination and first real noteworthy film role, which would hurt her if the category were chock full of veterans, but of the five nominated actresses, only McTeer has ever been recognized before by the Academy. Chastain, whose role is rather small compared to Spencer's, is just as phenomenal and no less deserving of recognition, leading some to worry the two may split support for the film in the supporting actress category.

As one of the best films of 2011, The Help seems almost certain to garner at least one or two awards on Sunday; Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are both considered frontrunners in their respective categories, and Davis is almost a shoo-in. Spencer's success is less certain; her awards buzz peaked early, and a sweep of major awards by The Artist could bring Bérénice Bejo along for the ride, especially if Chastain syphons off some of Spencer's votes.

Grade: A+

Monday, February 20, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Running Time: 158 minutes
Nominations: 5 (Best Actress: Rooney Mara; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing)
Availability in the US: Now in Theatres
MPAA: Rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language

Based on one of the most talked-about books of the decade, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he tries to figure out what happened to a girl who has been missing for 40 years. He is aided by a tattooed and pierced young computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) who has her own motives for wanting to solve the case.

The role of Salander was highly coveted throughout Hollywood, and there was even some discussion of Noomi Rapace, who played the role in the original Swedish version of the film, reprising the role. Ultimately Mara, a relative unknown, was cast in the role. The filmmakers could not have made a better choice. Mara transformed herself for the role, getting multiple ear, eyebrow, and nipple piercings, and she bares a lot more than her body in the film. Salander's character experiences an emotional rollercoaster from physical and sexual assaults, to the illness of her close friend/guardian, to the disturbing details of the unfolding mystery.

Fans of the book series and the original Swedish films were concerned about a Hollywood adaptation, but David Fincher's adaptation lives up to, and at times surpasses, the original film. I am often quite wary of my favorite books' film adaptations, yet I very much enjoyed this take on Steig Larsson's tale, and even look forward to the next two books being adapted. Craig and Mara are a big part of what makes this version so excellent. In any other year, I might be tempted to predict a win for Mara in this category—and with two more movies potentially on the way, this role may yet yield her an Oscar— but the competition this year is just too strong. The film's best chances at Oscars are probably in the two sound categories, but it could be a strong contender for Best Film Editing as well.

Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: Beginners

Beginners
Running Time: 105 minutes
Nominations: 1 (Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer)
Availability in the US: On DVD and Blu-ray
MPAA: Rated R for language and some sexual content

Oliver Fields's (Ewan McGregor) life is turned upside-down when he learns his aging father Hal (Christopher Plummer) is homosexual and is suffering from terminal cancer. The film switches between Oliver dealing with the new realities of his father's life and Oliver some time later coping with his father's passing.

Ewan McGregor shows impressive range in this sad but sweet tale, but Christopher Plummer is truly incredible. Hal has spent his entire life living a lie and, a mere five years after the death of his wife, learns he is also dying. Coming to terms with both his mortality and his sexuality at once can't be easy, and Hal manages to make us laugh and cry in the process. From taking on a much-younger lover to hiding his illness from that lover, Plummer's portrayal is both understated and heart-wrenching.

Surprisingly, Christopher Plummer has never won an Oscar. Even more surprisingly, perhaps, until two years ago—when he earned a nod for the almost unwatchable The Last Station—he had never even been nominated. None of that matters now, however, as one of the most underappreciated actors of his generation is finally going to get his due. Plummer has won every major award this season and looks to be the closest thing to a shoo-in at this year's Oscars.

Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: Warrior

Warrior
Running Time: 140 minutes
Nominations: 1 (Best Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte)
Availability in the US: On DVD and Blu-ray
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material

I'm not a huge fan of sports that involve fighting (excepting hockey, of course), and yet every year around Oscar time, I find myself having to watch another film about them. First we had 2010's The Wrestler, then last year's The Fighter and now Warrior. The film follows two brothers who, unbeknownst to each other, enter a mixed martial arts tournament. The younger son returns home to ask his alcoholic dad (Nick Nolte) to train him, while the older son is forced to compete when he has trouble making his mortgage payments.

As with many films that earn a single Oscar nomination, Warrior is remarkable only for the nominated performance. Nolte is heart-breaking as Paddy Conlon, the 20-days-sober father whose children haven't spoken to him in years. When youngest son Tommy returns suddenly he sees a second chance at being a father, only to discover that's not quite what Tommy had in mind.

This is Nolte's most memorable performance since at least Hotel Rwanda (2004). Nolte has never won an Oscar—this is his third nomination—which in a role like this would work in his favor, but every pre-Oscars award has gone to Christopher Plummer, and the Oscar is likely to do the same.

Grade: B