Thursday, December 15, 2011

Academy Committees Narrow Down Nominees in "Special" Categories

Even though the announcement of the nominees for the 84th Academy Awards is still over a month away, some categories have already started the process of whittling down the eligible films.

In the Best Documentary Feature category, the Documentary Branch Screening Committee viewed all 124 of the eligible documentaries and narrowed finalists down to 15 for this year's shortlist:

Battle for Brooklyn
Bill Cunningham New York
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Jane's Journey
The Loving Story
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Project Nim
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
Sing Your Song
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
We Were Here

In the Best Animated Feature category, 18 films have been submitted for consideration this year:

The Adventures of Tintin
Alois Nebel
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Gnomeo & Juliet
Happy Feet Two
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
Kung Fu Panda 2
Mars Needs Moms
Puss in Boots
The Smurfs
Winnie the Pooh

In the Best Animated Short category, 44 films initially qualified this year. The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch Reviewing Committee held a preliminary round of voting after viewing all eligible films and produced their 10-film shortlist:

"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
"I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat"
"La Luna"
"Magic Piano"
"A Morning Stroll"
"Paths of Hate"
"Specky Four-Eyes"
"Wild Life"

Out of 107 qualifying films in the Best Live Action Short category, the committee selected 10 for the shortlist:

"Je Pourrais Être Votre Grand-Mère (I Could Be Your Grandmother)"
"Love at First Sight"
"The Road Home"
"The Roar of the Sea"
"The Shore"
"Time Freak"
"Tuba Atlantic"

And finally, the Academy's Visual Effects Branch Executive Committee has announced that 15 films will be eligible for consideration in the Best Visual Effects category. This year's eligible films are:

Captain America: The First Avenger
Cowboys & Aliens
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Sucker Punch
Super 8
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Tree of Life
X-Men: First Class

In all categories the nominees will be determined by the individual branch of the Academy overseeing the category. The nominees will be announced on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. PST.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ask the (Self-Proclaimed) Oscar Expert

I thought it might be time to bring back a fun feature of the old Geocities (R.I.P.) site: Ask the Oscar Expert. This is where you all send me the trivia questions that have been stumping you—or just the ones you think can stump me—and i do my best to answer them in future posts.

You can submit trivia questions to me via email at, via Twitter (@TheOscarsBlog), or through the comments section of this or any other post.

Not all questions will be answered, as in the past I've gotten lots of variations of the same question and the occasional inappropriate or off-topic query, but I will do my best to answer as many as possible.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Billy is Back!

After a tumultuous week for the Academy—losing next year's planned Oscars' producer to a scandal involving homophobic slurs; host Eddie Murphy stepped down a day later—things appear to be back on track for next year's Oscars' telecast: The Academy announced yesterday that Billy Crystal will return this year to host his ninth ceremony. 

In an Academy press release Thursday, Crystal said, "Some of the best moments of my career have happened on the Oscar stage. I am thrilled to be back there. Actually, I am doing this so that the young woman in my pharmacy will stop asking me my name when I pick up my prescriptions."

Crystal has hosted the Oscars eight previous times, last emceeing the show in 2004. For those of us who grew up watching Billy Crystal host, this is a very exciting, welcome announcement, especially after last year's unfortunate hosting performances by Anne Hathaway and James Franco.

One can't help but wonder, though, whether Crystal thought about how he will write a medley that could include up to 10 best picture nominees before accepting the gig! For anyone who has never seen Billy's famous Oscar medleys and film parodies, here is one of my favorites, from the 1998 telecast: 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Oscar Predictions Post-Mortem

Well, the statuettes have all been handed out, the parties are all over, and the winners (and non-winners) are just recovering from their Oscar-night hangovers. That means it's time to see how everything shook out prediction-wise. Traditionally, I've compared my predictions to Entertainment Weekly to see who did better (this started because I had a subscription in high school, and continued after that lapsed because it was already a habit). 

This year, Entertainment Weekly's Dave Karger and I actually tied (if memory serves, I beat him 5 of the last 7 years), each correctly predicting 16 of the 24 awards categories, so I decided to also see how I fared against some other prognosticators.

But first thing's first; here's the breakdown:

What I Got Right:
Best Picture - The King's Speech 
Best Actor - Colin Firth 
Best Actress - Natalie Portman 
Best Supporting Actor - Christian Bale 
Best Adapted Screenplay - The Social Network 
Best Original Screenplay - The King's Speech 
Best Foreign Language Film - In a Better World 
Best Animated Feature Film - Toy Story 3 
Best Documentary Feature - Inside Job 
Best Documentary Short Subject - "Strangers No More" 
Best Film Editing - The Social Network
Best Original Score - The Social Network 
Best Original Song - "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3 
Best Sound Editing - Inception 
Best Sound Mixing - Inception 
Best Visual Effects - Inception  

What I Got Wrong (My predictions are in parentheses):
Best Director - Tom Hooper (David Fincher) 
Here I overestimated The Social Network's support and assumed voters were having a tough time choosing, thus throwing a consolation prize to the film. Obviously they had no regret, giving 4 of the top awards to The King's Speech.

Best Supporting Actress - Melissa Leo (Hailee Steinfeld) 
Watching Melissa Leo's awful speech at the Oscars makes you all wish I'd been right here, doesn't it?

Best Animated Short Film - "The Lost Thing" ("The Gruffalo") 
Almost no one predicted "The Lost Thing" could beat "The Gruffalo" and "Day & Night."

Best Live-Action Short Film - "God of Love" ("Wish 143") 
Such a good film, and such a wonderful acceptance speech.

Best Art Direction - Alice in Wonderland (The King's Speech

Best Cinematography - Inception (True Grit

Best Costume Design - Alice in Wonderland (The King's Speech
It's nice to see a fantasy film take this prize for the first time since the third Lord of the Rings film. Even more impressive that it beat a film about royals.

Best Makeup - The Wolfman (Barney's Version)  
I said this could's a shame too, because the film was really awful. The clips they showed during the awards looked more like CGI than makeup anyways, but the voters clearly chose the film with "Most Makeup" rather than "Best Makeup."

As I mentioned, Dave Karger and I tied this year, with him beating me in Costume Design, Makeup, and Art Direction while I beat him by correctly predicting Original Score, Original Song, and Documentary Short. I also tied with Rolling Stone Magazine's Peter Travers and USA Today's Susan Wloszcyna, who each had 16 correct predictions, and beat Roger Ebert and CNN's Thelma Adams, who each got 14 correct predictions. Among major prognosticators, editor Andrew Pickett did the best, with 20 out of 24 correct predictions, and editor Sasha Stone did the worst, with 12 out of 24.

Stay tuned this week for a wrapup of the 83rd Academy Awards: What worked, what didn't, and who should be on fashion probation.

Winners for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards

Winners for the 83rd Academy Awards
Winners for the 83rd Academy Awards, for acheivements in film in 2010, were presented February 27th, 8:00 PM EST.

The Academy Awards for achievements in film for the year 2010 were presented on Sunday at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. Winners are indicated with a Winner below.

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
Black Swan - Darren Aronofsky
The Fighter - David O. Russell
The King's Speech - Tom HooperWinner
The Social Network - David Fincher
True Grit - Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

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

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

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

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

Best Animated Feature Film
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3Winner

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

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

Best Art Direction
Alice in WonderlandWinner
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
The King's Speech
True Grit

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

Best Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland - Colleen AtwoodWinner
I Am Love - Antonella Cannarozzi
The King's Speech - Jenny Beavan
The Tempest - Sandy Powell
True Grit - Mary Zophres

Best Documentary Feature
Exit through the Gift Shop
Inside JobWinner
Waste Land

Best Documentary Short Subject
Killing in the Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No MoreWinner
Sun Come Up
The Warriors of Qiugang

Best Film Editing
Black Swan - Andrew Weisblum
The Fighter - Pamela Martin
The King's Speech - Tariq Anwar
127 Hours - Jon Harris
The Social Network - Angus Wall and Kirk BaxterWinner

Best Foreign Language Film
Biutiful (Mexico)
Dogtooth (Greece)
In a Better World (Denmark)Winner
Incendies (Canada)
Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) (Algeria)

Best Makeup
Barney's Version - Adrien Morot
The Way Back - Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
The Wolfman - Rick Baker and Dave ElseyWinner

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

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

Best Animated Short Film
Day & Night
The Gruffalo
Let's Pollute
The Lost ThingWinner
Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)

Best Live-Action Short Film
The Confession
The Crush
God of LoveWinner
Na Wewe
Wish 143

Best Sound Editing
Inception - Richard KingWinner
Toy Story 3 - Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
Tron: Legacy - Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
True Grit - Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
Unstoppable - Mark P. Stoeckinger

Best Sound Mixing
Inception - Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed NovickWinner
The King's Speech - Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
Salt - Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
The Social Network - Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
True Grit - Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Best Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland - Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
Inception Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter BebbWinner
Iron Man 2 - Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Live Tweeting the Oscars

For my Live Tweets of this year's Academy Awards, head on over to!!!!!

TheOscarsBlog: Live tweeting the Oscars! 40 minutes till showtime! Who's excited for James Franco and Anne Hathaway? (2/27/11 7:52 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: 25% of text poll respondants on E! think James Franco will win Best Actor...really? He was good, but this is Colin Firth's year. (2/27/11 8:02 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Best Dressed: Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Hudson... (2/27/11 8:06 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Worst Dressed so far: Cate Blanchett, Florence (and no machine), the lady in the background rigt now behind Sandra Bullock. (2/27/11 8:08 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Oscars! Oscars! Oscars! (2/27/11 8:30 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: I'm 0 for 2 so far...but the night is young. (2/27/11 8:48 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake: too much hottness for the stage all at one time? (2/27/11 9:02 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: The Lost Thing: Amazing short film, so surprised it beat out The Gruffalo and Day & Night though (2/27/11 9:05 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Yay, 1 for 5! Go Toy Story 3! (2/27/11 9:08 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: I hope David Seidler now gets the respect of Aaron Sorkin's daughter's guinea pig! (2/27/11 9:19 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Poor Melissa Leo, she'll just keep getting made fun of for dropping the F-bomb. (2/27/11 9:34 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Until the Golden Globes, I didn't know Christian Bale was British... (2/27/11 9:34 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: I'm making a mid-show comeback...I'm 6 for 10 on predictions now. (2/27/11 9:45 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: I love when Randy Newman performs on the reminds me of ever year growing up! (2/27/11 10:03 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: So Zachary Levi can sing? Do I sense a musical episode of Chuck at some point in the future. (2/27/11 10:09 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: So many great movie musicals this year! (2/27/11 10:19 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Anne Hathaway in the red dress = gorgeous. (2/27/11 10:42 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Colin Firth is amazing. If you haven't seen The King's Speech, what are you waiting for? #oscars (2/27/11 11:29 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Come on The King's Speech!!! #oscars (2/27/11 11:35 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: OH HELL YEAH! The King's Speech so deserrves it! Best Picture of 2010! #oscars (2/27/11 11:37 PM)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Predictions for the 83rd Academy Awards

Well today's the day you've all been waiting for: Oscar Prediction Day! If you've been reading all my reviews (and I'm sure you have, since literally SEVERAL people read this blog every single day!) then you probably have a pretty good idea of where I think all the chips will fall this Sunday night, but I have always reserved the right to change my mind, and I've always liked to make a crazy prediction or two just so everyone thinks I'm a genius if it comes true (this is a good way to win...or embarrass oneself in an Oscar pool). Now without further ado, my Oscar predictions for the best achievements in film for 2010:

Let's face it, the race for Best Picture has been a two-film race from the beginning. While gaining a lot of publicity last year for expanding the Best Picture race to 10 films, the Academy can't change the fact that a couple of films are always going to gather all the awards-season buzz. So which will it be, The Social Network or The King's Speech? Pundits seem split on this; in Gold Derby's poll of 23 Oscar prognosticators, most say the The King's Speech will emerge victorious, but 6 are still holding out hope for The Social Network (and one chose Inception). To me, the answer is simple: The Academy loves films about royalty(The Queen, Shakespeare in Love, The Young Victoria) and films about people with disabilities (Forrest Gump, My Left Foot, Children of a Lesser God), and The King's Speech has both. This film won the BAFTA, the DGA, and the Producer's Guild Award, and Oscar is the next prize it will be taking home.
Verdict: The King's Speech should win easily, but The Social Network could still make a comeback.

Everyone seems to be split on this one this year. Often, in a close Best Picture race, voters will split their votes for Best Picture and Best Director between different films; certainly this year’s contest is close enough that this is a real possibility.
Verdict: With voters wanting to seem less stuffy by rewarding The Social Network, David Fincher will take home this award

Colin Firth is well liked in Hollywood, he is fantastic in The King's Speech, and he has never won an Academy Award. This one is a slam dunk. While Eisenberg and Franco both earned rave reviews, and Bardem was excellent as always, the best way to guarantee yourself an Oscar is to play a royal...just ask Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, and Judi Dench.
Verdict: Colin Firth is the closest thing to a sure bet we have this year.

Several pundits in recent weeks have been predicting a dark horse win for Annette Bening for The Kids are All Right, but I think this category still belongs to Natalie Portman this year. Portman's performance has won her the Screen Actor's Guild Award and the BAFTA, and has been widely regarded as her best yet. Academy voters also tend to (subconsciously?) vote for whoever will make the show most interesting (how else do you explain Marisa Tomei?), and Portman is my vote for most likely to cry and give a great speech.
Verdict: I don't care what Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says, Natalie Portman will win Best Actress for Black Swan.

Having won most of the pre-Oscar awards, Christian Bale looked like a sure thing a few weeks ago for his role in The Fighter. However, since Geoffrey Rush beat him at the BAFTAs a couple weeks ago, some of the shine has come off (pun intended). That said, Bale should still emerge victorious, but this was a more bruising Oscar contest than it was once shaping up to be.
Verdict: Christian Bale isn't as safe a bet as he was, but he will most likely edge out Geoffrey Rush for the prize.

This is the biggest wild card of the major categories. For awhile it seemed like Melissa Leo had this award all locked up. Her performance was terrific, she won the Golden Globe and the SAG Award, but in early February, Leo caused a bit of controversy when she took out ads in the trade papers showing off her "glamorous" side. This may have soured some voters on her. Also to consider: Leo and The Fighter co-star Amy Adams are both nominated in the same category, making it likely that the film's fans could split support thus giving the award to another actress. The most likely candidate: 14-year old True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld. Her performance has earned great critical reviews and several critic's groups' awards, and her youth and innocence represent the antithesis of what people hate about the shameless campaigning.
Verdict: I think it will be Hailee Steinfeld, but Melissa Leo could still be in the running.

Aaron Sorkin is perhaps the greatest writer of our time. He has written some of the best plays (A Few Good Men), films (The American President) and TV shows (The West Wing, Sports Night) of the past 20 years, and The Social Network is his most acclaimed project in a decade and his highest-grossing film in nearly two decades. Moreover, the reason The Social Network is so compelling to watch is Sorkin's trademark rapidfire, witty dialogue. That his words are what we most remember about the film is both a positive for Sorkin, and a negative for some of the film's other nominees.
Verdict: Aaron Sorkin all the way. The Social Network will earn him a long-overdue Oscar.

My sister said to me today, having not yet seen The King's Speech, "I still don't see the appeal. A guy with a stutter? Cool...but everyone loves it." The appeal is that David Seidler took what could very well have been a dull concept for a film and made it compelling, made the audience live and die with King George's successes and setbacks. For writing a fun, entertaining, and compelling film about what could have been a boring subject (and because he won the BAFTA just last week), it seems an Oscar is in the cards for David Seidler.
Verdict: David Seidler should win easily for The King's Speech.

Conventional wisdom says that if a film is nominated for Oscars in other categories as well, (especially major ones), it has a better shot at the Best Foreign Language Film prize. Javier Bardem got a well deserved Best Actor nomination for Biutiful. Also aiding Mexico's submission is that Biutiful is the only film to get any sort of wider release in the US. These things matter less than you think though, since voters have to see all five films before they can vote in this category. (That rule is applied to the short film, documentary, and foreign language categories only; a voter who only saw Sex and the City 2 and nothing else last year can still vote in the remaining 19 categories.) Because of this, and because it won the Golden Globe, Denmark's In a Better World has a slight edge.
Verdict: In a Better World will most likely win, but Biutiful could upset.

Do I really even need to say again why no other film has a chance this year besides Toy Story 3? OK, here goes: It is the highest-grossing film of 2010 and the highest-grossing animated film of ALL TIME! It was almsot universally loved by critics and audiences alike. It had heart and a funnybone, and if all that doesn't do it for you try this on for size: it's nominated for Best Picture. That means the Academy has already said its better then the other two films in the category since they weren't nominated for the top prize.
Verdict: Toy Story 3, duh!.

A few of these films this year got some wider releases than usual, but the one that everyone is talking about is Inside Job about the 2008 financial meltdown. It's topical, relevant, and (i hear) well made, and looks poised to take home the Academy Award.
Verdict: Inside Job

I haven't seen any of these films, nor have I heard much about them so I'm going to defer to the wisdom of the crowd here, and the closest thing to a consensus among pundits on this one is "Strangers No More".
Verdict: "Strangers No More", with a chance that any other film could win...really...any of them.

This is a tough one. I really liked four of the five films, but the two best are "Day & Night" and "The Gruffalo." I have to say "Day & Night" has a slight advantage because it played before Toy Story 3 and therefore was seen by a very wide audience. On the other hand, voters need to see all 5 films before they can vote in this category, so this doesn't really affect them. "The Gruffalo" is funny and clever—not to mention rhyming— and features this year's Oscar darling Helena Bonham Carter. This really could go either way.
Verdict: Verrrrrrrry slight advantage to "The Gruffalo," but "Day & Night could pull out a not-that surprising win.

My theory with this category used to be just pick the film with the coolest name, and to be honest that theory got me wins in this category as much as not. Having seen the five nominated shorts this year, makes it so much more difficult because they were all so good. I'm going to have to go with "Wish 143," though, because it's funny and it has heart. It follows the story of a teenager with terminal cancer who is asked by the British equivalent of the Make-a-Wish Foundation what he wants, and he tell them his wish is to lose his virginity. What's not to love?
Verdict: "Wish 143" but i won't complain no matter what wins.

The King's Speech

True Grit

The Social Network

As in most categories this year, this one is The Social Network vs. The King's Speech; It's new and hip vs. traditional. The Social Network won the Golden Globe while The King's Speech took the BAFTA. Overall, It looks like The Social Network should win, but if a sweep starts early for The King's Speech, expect Alexandre Desplat to get caught in the wave.
Verdict: The Social Network

All the songs are pretty good, but the one that stands out above the rest is "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3. It's the kind of sappy, sweet song we've come to expect from Randy Newman every year (and especially in every Pixar film).If the Academy is trying to act all cool and modern (remember "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"?), they could reward Dido's "If I Rise" from 127 Hours, but that seems unlikely.
Verdict: "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3 will earn randy Newman his second Oscar.




Take a look at the last 10 years of Best Costume Design winners and you may notice a pattern: The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Marie Antionette, Memoirs of a Geisha...hmm...these all seem like period films. More often than not they also involve royalty. Does that sound like any films this year?
Verdict: With 0% of precincts reporting, CNN is ready to call this race for The King's Speech.

Academy voters sometimes treat this category as "Most Makeup" rather than "Best Makeup," and they may just assume that the creature-feature The Wolfman had the best makeup out there this year. Personally, I'd love to give this award to Alice in Wonderland like the BAFTAs did, but for some reason beyond understanding, it didn't get nominated. The Way Back and Barney's Version are both great films, with the latter having somewhat more impressive makeup work. If the Academy voters do what they should, they'll pick Barney's Version, but that's not the safest bet out there.
Verdict: Barney's Version should win this one, but should doesn't always do it at the Oscars, and The Wolfman has a decent chance of stealing it.


The Fighter
Number of Nominations: 7
Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo), Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
The Fighter tells the true story of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his drug-addict brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) in the early years of Ward's career. Eklund is a former pro boxer himself and has been training Ward in hopes of him going pro. As Dicky slips further into his crack addiction, he becomes more and more unreliable, but their mother Alice (Melissa Leo), who acts as Micky's manager, won't let him fire Dicky. When Micky falls for bartender Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), she teaches him how to stand up to his family and look out for his own interests for a change.

With an excellent cast and a compelling storyline, The Fighter is both entertaining and engaging. By the final scene, audiences will find themselves cheering as if they were actually at Ward's fights in the early 1980s. The reason the film succeeds is due to its stellar cast. After years of excellent work, Christian Bale finally earns his first Oscar nomination, and he deserves it. From his perfect Boston accent, to his realistic portrayal of crack addiction, Bale nails this role, and Oscar will reward him for it. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are fantastic and feisty in their supporting roles. Melissa Leo won many of the pre-Oscar awards, but in recent weeks has come under fire for her campaigning for the award. As can happen when two performers from the same film are nominated in the same category, Leo and Adams will likely split the film's support and the award will go to Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit.
Grade: A

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


True Grit
Number of Nominations: 10
Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costumes, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Shootouts, murder, cowboys, and gangsters...why don't more Westerns get Oscar nominations? True Grit is a remake of the 1969 film that finally won John Wayne an Oscar, 20 years after his first nomination. Written, produced, and directed by perennial Oscar favorites Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo), this film hopes to go where few have gone before: only three Westerns (Cimmaron, Dances with Wolves, and Unforgiven) have ever won Best Picture. True Grit follows a young woman, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) who hires a U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father's murderer and bring him to justice.

The entire cast is fantastic, and the film is so action-packed, it flies by. Jeff Bridges has mighty big shoes to fill, but as the gruff, alcoholic Cogburn, he would make John Wayne proud. He turns in a multi-level performance, seemingly looking out for his own interests at all times, but if you watch carefully, you'll see that behind the facade, he has Ross's best interests at heart. The real revelation here is Steinfeld, though. In her feature debut, she makes a big impact as the daughter bent on finding the man who killed her father. She is everything the role demands: brash, intelligent, intimidating, and calculating, yet she still shows signs of being a little girl at heart.

As I hinted in the intro, this film has everything you'd want from a Western, from exciting chase scenes to thrilling gunplay. The dialogue is witty, the action is engaging, and the plot is both easy enough to follow and complex enough to hold your interest.

Jeff Bridges is the incumbent Best Actor, having won last year for Crazy Heart, so he is extremely unlikely to repeat (the last time anyone pulled off back-to-back acting Oscars was Tom Hanks for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump in 1993/1994). Also against him: no one has ever won an Oscar for a remake of an Oscar-winning performance.

Hailee Steinfeld, on the other hand, may have a chance at eking out a win. For one thing, many believe she should have been nominated as Best Actress, and leading roles in supporting categories tend to do well. Secondly, she has received heaps of acclaim for the role. Additionally, younger actresses have won this category in the past; look at Anna Paquin, who was only 11 when she won for The Piano, and Tatum O'Neal was 10 when she won for A Paper Moon. Finally, though it seemed as though Melissa Leo had this category locked up just a couple weeks ago, she has received some flak in recent days for her shameless campaigning. What better remedy to her overzealous pursuit of the award than to give it to this unassuming young woman?

Besides Steinfeld, don't expect to see True Grit garner much Oscar gold; up against heavy hitters like The King's Speech and The Social Network in every category makes it highly unlikely to succeed.
Grade: A-

MINI REVIEWS: Barney's Version & Tron: Legacy

Barney's Version
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Makeup
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Barney's Version tells the tale of a man's (Paul Giamatti as Barney) life over a period of 35 years, through 3 marriages, 2 divorces, a murder investigation, and a debilitating illness. The overall film is excellent, and worthy of more than the single nomination it received. The nominated makeup is everything this category should—but doesn't always—reward: It is realistic, subtle, and important to the film. The film features Giamatti from his early 30s into his 70s, so the makeup artists had to age him, but also make him younger for some scenes. Dustin Hoffman as Barney's father is also seen slowly but noticeably aging. One character, Barney's third wife Miriam, is aged so subtly, you may not notice it at all until a flashback reminds you what she once looked like.

As I said, this film SHOULD win Best Makeup, but depending on whether any of the voters even get a chance to see it (it has been in very limited release) it may lose out to something flashier like The Wolfman.
Grade: A
Tron: Legacy
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Sound Editing
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Tron: Legacy follows the son of legendary software designer/hacker Kevin Flynn as he searches for his father and gets stuck inside the program he created. This film will not be winning any Oscars and here's why: It sucked. The only redeeming thing about this film—read: the only thing that kept me awake—are the visual effects, but since they failed to score a nomination, this film will go home empty handed, just as the original Tron did 28 years ago.
Grade: D-

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone
Number of Nominations: 4
Categories: Best Picture, Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes), Best Adapted Screenplay
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Winter's Bone tells the story of a 17-year-old named Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) trying to track down her drug-dealer father so her family won't lose the house he put up for his bail. With help from her sketchy, but ultimately well-meaning, uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), Ree takes great personal risks to determine what happened to her father and keep her family together.

Winter's Bone is everything an Oscar movie should be. It is unpredictable and thought-provoking and contains excellent performances. Unfortunately it also has that other curse of some of the great Oscar films: no one has seen or heard of it. This is the kind of thing that makes people say the Oscars are "out of touch" but honestly, that particular criticism has always seemed odd to me. These are the films the artists have said are the best ones, so if they're not the popular films, maybe we all need to go out and watch better movies. Winter's Bone is a prime example: Here is a film I had never heard of until it started popping up on critics' lists at the end of the year, but when I rented it and watched it, I was riveted. The acting was excellent, the plot was engaging, and the cinematography was wonderful.

All my love for this film aside though, Winter's Bone's awards were the nominations themselves. A film that barely registered at the box office will get plenty of DVD rentals and purchases just from the nods alone, but the Oscar buzz just isn't behind it in any category. If it weren't up against Aaron Sorkin, I'd say you could perhaps expect an upset in the screenplay category, but I think Sorkin is upset-proof.
Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: The Illusionist

The Illusionist
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Animated Feature
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
From the director of one of the most unusual and entertaining animated features of all time, The Triplets of Belleville, comes this very unusual but interesting and emotional film, L'illusionniste. The film follows a French illusionist who travels to Scotland and befriends a young woman, changing both their lives in unexpected ways. Director Sylvain Chomet adapted an unproduced screenplay written in the 1950s by French actor/director Jacques Tati, and the film's title character is an animated version of Tati. The visual style of the film is classic hand-drawn animation, and 1950's Scotland is shown in beautiful detail. The film is funny and yet full of heart. Unfortunately one cannot help comparing it to Chomet's earlier film, and it suffers for this comparison. Fans of The Triplets of Belleville will find little similarity to this film, the exception being the very caricaturish style in which some of the film's inhabitants are portrayed. Where Belleville used visual caricature as its main tool, The Illusionist tends more towards behavioral caricature. Still, the technique is effective and entertaining. All of this is important, because fans of animated cinema will want to see this as soon as it's available in their region, but none of it matters for Oscar night, as Toy Story 3 still has a lock on the Animated Feature category.
Grade: A-


Rabbit Hole
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Actress (Nicole Kidman)
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Rabbit Hole is the story of a married couple, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), coping with the loss of their four-year-old son. Becca starts following, and later talking to, the boy who accidentally hit their son with a car to try and bring some closure, while Howie finds his own ways to try and cope.

By now we're all pretty used to Nicole Kidman's talent. We've been watching her, for years, take on challenging roles and master them. This is not one of those roles; something here feels stale, like we've seen it before. Don't get me wrong: Kidman is as good as ever, but there's nothing new or innovative in either the film or her performance. The characters in the film don't seem to make much progress in their grief, and the film as a whole feels empty because of it. Still, competent performances from all involved, including Sandra Oh as a friend from the couple's group therapy, help make this film watchable.
Grade: B


Black Swan
Number of Nominations: 5
Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
As I was exiting the theatre last December after seeing Black Swan I overheard an excited 20-something saying to his girlfriend, "If you had told me we were seeing a scary movie about ballet, I wouldn't have believed you." I think this sums up the film pretty well actually. Black Swan follows professional ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) who, after getting the lead in her company's production of "Swan Lake," slowly begins to lose her mind as she immerses herself in the character of the evil black swan Odile. Meanwhile she becomes paranoid that her rival Lily (Mila Kunis) is trying to steal her role and her moment in the spotlight.

I've been a Natalie Portman fan for a long time, and I've forgiven her for the mediocre performances and bad film choices, and loved her in movies like Garden State, but this is, without doubt, the best performance she's ever given. Much like Angelina Jolie's character in Girl, Interrupted, we witness Nina experiencing a psychotic break. The audience won't know from one minute to the next which scenes are real and which are invented in Nina's delusional brain. Portman gets everything right, from the graceful ballet moments, to the steamy—and much talked about— lesbian sex scene with Lily, to the film's more violent moments. Her performance is so engaging that it keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

The film itself is both beautifully imagined and flawlessly executed, much like the ballet it portrays. Darren Aronofsky displays the same obsession for perfection in his filmmaking as Nina shows in her ballet. Everything we see on the screen is intentional, from the camera angles to the timing of the scenes. Of course the vision is Aronofsky's, but it is realized through the Oscar-nominated film editing and cinematography. The film is as beautiful to watch as the ballet it portrays.

Natalie Portman is as close as you can get to a lock for Best Actress, and we could see Black Swan upset and win in cinematography, but the film is a little too weird for the older Academy voters and probably doesn't have a chance at Best Picture or Best Director.
Grade: A+

Monday, February 21, 2011


Number of Nominations: 2
Categories: Best Actor (Javier Bardem), Best Foreign Language Film (Mexico)
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
From acclaimed Mexican writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams, Amores Perros) comes one of his best films yet. Biutiful follows Uxbal who runs an underground business of illegal Chinese workers making designer knockoffs. When he is diagnosed with cancer, he tries to forge a reconciliation with his estranged wife so his children will have someone to care for them when he is gone.

Despite the criminal elements he is involved with, and his occasional angry outbursts, Bardem makes Uxbal a likeable and relatable character. Through his pain and anguish as he's dealing with his diagnosis, Bardem portrays a man desperate to hold his life together, a man who cares deeply for his children and his "employees."

Biutiful contains some of the key elements of many of Iñárritu's past films—drug use, main characters with sketchy pasts, non-chronological timelines—but it is actually much simpler than 21 Grams or Babel. Lacking the multiple interwoven plots that made those films either extremely engaging or extremely confusing depending on your point of view, Biutiful is much easier to follow but sacrifices some of the intrigue and excitement that accompanies those twisting plots. Still, it is probably evidence of a maturing filmmaker, as this film has greater emotional depth than some of Iñárritu's previous works.

Biutiful seems poised to win the Best Foreign Film award since it is the only film nominated which received a wide release in the U.S., and the only film in the category which has any other nominations. Of course, this was the prevailing wisdom I used last year to predict a win for Germany's The White Ribbon, and I was mistaken then. Javier Bardem seems unlikely to win his second Oscar. For one thing it may seem too soon after his win two years ago for No Country for Old Men. For another, he's up against Colin Firth in the best film of the year as well as breakout roles for James Franco and Jesse Eisenberg, so Bardem was barely on anyone's radar until his nomination (he even failed to garner nominations from the SAG Awards and Golden Globes, two of the big Oscar predictors).
Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Actress (Michelle Williams)
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Blue Valentine tells the story of Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling), a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. The film alternates between timelines, featuring scenes from their meeting, courtship, and married life all interspersed with each other. The early days of their love are gleeful and heartwarming; the later days are gloomy and heartbreaking.

This is the best performance yet for Michelle Williams, who was robbed of an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain. She runs the whole gamut of emotions, from the exhilarating first love (and lust) to the despondent, trapped feelings late in her marriage. As a woman somewhat forced into marriage by her circumstances, you will empathize with Cindy even when she comes off as being too controlling or too uptight.

Williams is a bright young talent who, if she keeps up the way she's going, will almost certainly win an Oscar...someday. Unfortunately for her, this is not going to be her year, as she is up against the impossible-not-to-love Natalie Portman who won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Award, and looks poised to grab this little golden guy as well.
Grade: A-