Monday, January 31, 2011

Why The King's Speech Should Not Win Best Picture

I've been growing increasingly irritated this week, from the Producers Guild of America giving The King's Speech their top prize the weekend before last to Speech garnering 12 Oscar nominations on Tuesday to director Tom Hooper winning the Directors Guild of America prize on Saturday night to Sunday night's final triumph: the Best Ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild. And when that ensemble won, the audience roared with approval.

That applause meant more than any of the critical prizes, the Golden Globes, the PGA, the DGA, or the SAG itself. That applause meant that the industry at large is in full-fledged support of The King's Speech. That applause meant that The King's Speech is going to win Best Picture at the Oscars come February 27th.

But it shouldn't.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The King's Speech Rises Above All Competition

Hey, remember that time the Directors Guild of America decided that Tom Hooper was a better director than David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, David O. Russell and Darren Aronofsky? And remember how that sealed the Oscar race up and will lead to the glorified prequel to The Queen winning 8 Oscars?

Ugh. I don't have the patience. I know Speech has many fans, and it was good enough to make my top ten of the year, but it is NOT the best picture of the year, and it certainly was not helmed by the best director.

I don't have much else to say--I'll post something after the SAGs tonight. (In case you're wondering, The King's Speech is gonna win Best Ensemble, Best Actor and maybe even Best Supporting Actor there, while Natalie Portman will continue her winning streak for Best Actress--no idea how Best Supporting Actress will go.) In the meantime, check out the Current Oscar Predictions tab to see how the race has shifted.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Class of 2010: Older and Wiser

One of my favorite parts of Oscar season is to take a look at the selection of all the acting nominees as a giant "class" of sorts--what is the makeup of the group? Who are the most popular? Who are the punks who cause trouble? Who just sneaked in?

Banner Year

Like the new banner? I'm undecided and looking for opinions. Let me know what you think.

In case you're wondering who all the faces are and why I've selected them to be featured on the banner...

Top: Tom Hardy, Ryan Gosling, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Amy Adams, Hailee Steinfeld, Jim Carrey, Jacki Weaver, Emma Stone, Bottom: Miles Teller, Marion Cotillard, Jesse Eisenberg, Mila Kunis, Colin Firth, Matt Damon, Geoffrey Rush, James Franco, Amanda Peet, Andrew Garfield
Why, it's the twenty* nominees for the Awkwards' acting awards this year! I was originally going to do an all-Oscar nominee banner, but I realized exactly how depressing it was for me to have a group without Garfield, Peet, Kunis, Teller, Stone and Damon in particular, so I decided to use this group instead! And what a diverse group it is, no? (Not in ethnicity--these actors are whiter than Wonder Bread.) Everything from a masterful comedic performance (Stone) to two of the most self-lacerating performances of the year (Kidman and Peet) to truly enigmatic performances (Hardy, Cotillard and Weaver) to performances with great heart (Garfield, Teller, Firth and Rush).

I plan on keeping this up for the rest of the year and changing at the time of the next Awkwards, provided the response to the new banner is good.

So...what do you guys think? Let me know how it looks in the comments!

*Yes, I know, there was originally a tie between Damon and Kieran Culkin for Best Supporting Actor, but I broke it afterward. Same with why Jeff Bridges and Naomi Watts no longer appear while the Blue Valentine stars do--while the one-week release disqualified the film from the original awards, the performances are too good not to include now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beyond the Awkward: Prognosticators React

Last week, Awkward is What We Aim For hosted its first Beyond the Awkward feature with four special guest prognosticators to help predict the Oscar Best Picture race. In the wake of this morning's arguably underwhelming nominations, let's get the thoughts of our guests, Andrew Sheridan, Dani Gregorie, Brandon Cudequest and Jonathan Crossley on exactly how they feel yesterday morning went.

On the whole,  the group was disappointed with the nominations, particularly the snubs of Andrew Garfield, Mila Kunis and Christopher Nolan. But a couple of them have very disparate opinions on The Town and The Fighter.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations Trivia: Original Women

Now that some of the annoyance with a few key snubs has subsided, I've started taking a closer look at the nominations and what it all means, exactly, as well as a few fun facts here and there that I find worth discussing. But first, a discussion of what I consider the two most egregious acting snubs this morning: those of Mila Kunis and Andrew Garfield.
"Someone's hot for snubbing!"

I know, there are other snubs that could be considered more surprising, like the lack of love for Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine and Robert Duvall's exclusion for Get Low. But what I find so hideous about the Kunis and Garfield snubs is that they are effective statements that young actors in true supporting roles are unwelcome in the race.

Garfield was displaced by John Hawkes, certainly a good villain in Winter's Bone but lacking a certain heart. Other than Jennifer Lawrence, that movie lacked heart completely--it was a cold film without any emotional entry point, in my opinion. (Then again, I didn't really like Lawrence's performance, so that might have something to do with it.) I don't know why someone like Hawkes who, yes, does nomination-worthy work, should be considered a replacement for a truly authentic, relatable performance as Garfield's. (If I had my way, I would have removed the co-lead Christian Bale or Geoffrey Rush instead of Garfield, though Rush was actually my runner-up for the prize--then again, Garfield was my winner.)

Kunis I don't have the same personal passion for, but I consider a symbol of their half-hearted acceptance of Black Swan, which I resent. They love the film, they love the lead actress, they love the direction--what about the screenplay? The visual effects? The art direction? The costume design? The makeup? The supporting cast? If Kunis had made it in, or Hershey, or Ryder, I wouldn't be so upset. But no, Hailee Steinfeld made it in for her category-fraudulent performance in True Grit. It's irritating.

All right, I'm done venting. Onto the trivia!

The Best Actress Category: All Characters
I'm really fascinated by this--compare the Best Actress category to the Best Actor category. In the Best Actor category, you have the three frontrunning men playing famous figures (Colin Firth as King George VI, Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, and James Franco as hiker Aron Ralston) with a fourth playing a famous character (Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn). Javier Bardem, a surprise nominee for Biutiful as the miserable Uxbal, is the only actor playing an original character. The Best Actress race, however, is filled with women playing flawed, original characters--Annette Bening as Nic in The Kids Are All Right, Natalie Portman as soon-to-be-iconic Nina Sayers, Nicole Kidman as Becca Corbett, a role originated by Cynthia Nixon in the Broadway production of Rabbit Hole, Michelle Williams as Cindy in Blue Valentine, and Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly in Winter's Bone. It's an interesting distinction in two different ways: one, that there truly are great roles being written for women, and two, that movies about famous men are far more common.

Nolan's Snub: Three Strikes, He's Out?
There has been but one other director nominated thrice for the Directors' Guild of America Award without being nominated once for the equivalent Academy Award before Inception's Christopher Nolan: Rob Reiner, famed director of When Harry Met Sally... and A Few Good Men. Reiner remains, to this day, without an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. It seems like Nolan is going to be relegated to the same fate--they just don't like what he does, sadly.

The King's Comeback
The King's Speech didn't make it through the early phase of the awards season very well, but getting 12 nominations this morning is certainly a nice achievement. Most prognosticators have swapped their allegiance to TKS over The Social Network now--I'd urge them to remember that the movie with the most nominations doesn't always win (Slumdog Millionaire over The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). I'm sticking with The Social Network. But it seems like a real race now.

Obvious Winners
By now, everyone seems to wholeheartedly believe that Portman, Firth and Christian Bale have their Oscars locked up--I'd agree with them. A lot of bluster will be made over whether Bening can beat Portman--just remember the past two years how Meryl Streep couldn't overcome Kate Winslet or Sandra Bullock despite vastly better performances. Firth and Bale are completely locked, but I don't think that Melissa Leo is locked up in the same fashion. I'd say that she's probably in second or third place right now--I'd place better odds on Amy Adams and (possibly) Jacki Weaver to swoop in and take the prize. The Supporting Actress race just seems too loose and open to surprises.

White Oscars
Finally, and this isn't something I usually wax on about, but watching Mo'Nique deliver the nominations announcement this morning (eloquently and with poise, as always), it was really shocking how white all the faces of the acting nominees were. It just proves a reminder to Hollywood that there are so many wonderful women and men of color working today, like Forest Whitaker, Denzel Washington, Djimon Honsou, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Kerry Washington, Mo'Nique, Gabourey Sidibe, Halle Berry and Idris Elba. To waste them is a crying shame--even though five of the aforementioned are Oscar winners, their work since then just hasn't been the same, and it's not because of their abilities--it's because of the parts Hollywood gives them.

Any more bits of trivia I missed? What do you make of all the original parts for women? Take those thoughts to the comments!

Oscar Nominations Announced!

Oscar nomination morning has come and gone, and we are left with a strange group of nominees. Certainly, most, if not all, are deserving, but there were a few strange occurrences.

For example, 127 Hours wound up being way stronger than most predicted, and Black Swan a lot weaker. Academy voters were dumber than assumed and nominated Hailee Steinfeld as a Supporting Actress. The directors' branch ignored Christopher Nolan for Inception, proving their bias against him after three different DGA nominations that weren't converted to Oscar nominations. And the snubs for Mila Kunis and Andrew Garfield particularly sting.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Final Oscar Nomination Predictions Updated

We're so close to Oscar nomination morning! Only two days left. The Producers Guild of America just threw the race into a major loop with their prize going to The King's Speech, stopping The Social Network's total dominance. What will that mean on Oscar morning? Predictions updated on the tab above--read some analysis after the jump.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Best of the Best: Ballerinas, Broken Hearts and Boys Being Boys

If you've looked at The Awkwards By Year tab recently, you'll notice that Blue Valentine has replaced The Social Network at #2 for 2010--as I mentioned when first writing the Awkwards for 2010, Valentine's one-week release rendered it ineligible for the awards the first time around. If it had been eligible, not only would it have made #2 on the Best Picture roster, it would have been runner-up for Best Actress (Michelle Williams) and probably placed in several other categories as well (though I can't choose any category it'd win). But even though I placed it at #2, I'm still not confident of how my top three would look.

Let's face it--there are really no three more different movies than these. In fact, despite all being well-rounded and fully-formed films, they are each an achievement of a different art: Black Swan is the ultimate director's film, with a crazed, fully realized vision, Blue Valentine is the ultimate actor's film, filled with lived-in performances and a brilliant mix of scripted and improvisational acting, and The Social Network is a writer's movie, featuring one of the best screenplays ever written.

I say this more than enough, but it's a shame that all three of these films had to be released in the same year. They will, in my mind, all stand the test of time as works of art, films that set out with a purpose of narrative and fulfilled it completely. One is a psychosexual thriller that acts as a horror film for anyone involved in the arts. One tells a story (not a retelling of events, but a story) about how the site that drives our lives was made. And one is a portrait of a collapsing marriage that breaks your heart with no mercy.

There is so much to love, so much to respect and so much to really respond to in all these films. Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling and Jesse Eisenberg are all giving the performances of a lifetime. Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are all showing exactly what they're capable of. Winona Ryder, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer and Brenda Song are showing that there are truly no small parts, only small actors--and they are most certainly not small actors. Darren Aronofsky is letting his art take him to his peak. David Fincher is reining himself in for the first time in his career. And Derek Cianfrance is establishing himself as one to watch.

There is indeed so much to love about these films, but what is perhaps most important is that they show us how modern cinema is not dead. There are films out there that are beyond the remakes and sequels you see everywhere. There are films beyond the traditional genre molds. There are films that are still what film truly should be: art, exquisite and beautiful. These are the films of the year--they could be in any order depending on the day, but they are the best. Black Swan, Blue Valentine and The Social Network: truly the Best Pictures of the year.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beyond the Awkward: Oscar Nomination Predictions

Welcome to a new feature I like to call "Beyond the Awkward," the basic idea of which is almost exactly what it sounds like: you'll hear the opinions and thoughts of those other than me! (The picture to the right is one I snapped while at the Golden Globes red carpet this past weekend of a very awkward-looking Sandra Bullock. But hey, she's so great! Look beyond the awkward!)

In honor of being exactly one week away from Oscar nominations, I surveyed different students at Loyola Marymount University who watch the awards season closely to learn what others are feeling about this year's Best Picture race. Turns out that college kids love them some Black Swan!

Netflix Pix: Network News

It's a day late, give or take an hour, but it's time for the weekly installment of Netflix Pix! You know the drill by now--one regular mail Netflix feature and one instant streamable feature for your cinematic enjoyment!

We're going with two 1970's classics today, that share more in common than a time period--they're both about that great medium we call broadcast television.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Rapid Reviews: Zombie Island Days with the Prodigal Valentine Clyde

It's been a while since our last round of Rapid Reviews, but movies are always getting watched and write-ups start to pile up. Here's this week's set (another set will come next week)--it features two movies I grew more fond of on repeat viewings, one documentary I'm still not sure how I feel yet, a classic film that isn't perfect, but doesn't have to be, and what might have been the best film of last year (yes, possibly even trumping the magnificent Black Swan and The Social Network--my feelings aren't settled yet!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Oscar Predictions Updated: Spoilers Added

I added potential Spoilers for each category on the Current Oscar Predictions page. I'm also having major problems with Best Actress/Best Supporting Actress (where will Hailee Steinfeld be placed? There's ten performances with six going for one category and four for the other...). What do you guys think? Take a look at the new predictions and head to the comments and let me know what you think.

(Note: I'm well aware that the predictions are poorly formatted--Firefox and Blogger are in a fight. Working on fixing it!)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Supporting Actress Smackdown, Part II: New York Woman

(Note: this is the second part in a two-part post series for StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown. The first piece was entitled "Old Little Princess" and featured Winona Ryder for Black Swan.)

All right, now that you've heard about the "actress on the edge" who wasn't eligible for my Best Supporting Actress prize, let's continue with one that was not only eligible, but won the prize in a tough fight with Inception's Marion Cotillard--Amanda Peet, a real New York Woman.

Please Give has one of the finest ensembles assembled this year, but the star who shined the brightest was Peet. The former romantic comedy mainstay had never truly distinguished herself as a remarkable actress before, but Give was apparently all she needed to break out.

Both acerbic and unflinchingly honest, Peet's portrayal of New York tanning spa employee Mary is fearlessly unlikable, the kind of performance that only seems to come but once or twice a year (the only other performance this year I can compare it to in that regard is Nicole Kidman's in Rabbit Hole, and Kidman is nowhere near as free of vanity in that role.

Make no mistake--there are very few redeeming qualities to Mary. She stalks her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend, making endless cracks about the woman's overly-muscular back. She conducts herself like a child in social situations, refusing to censor herself. She has a drinking problem. She is utterly self-centered. Her relationship with her sister (Rebecca Hall, also doing career-best work in Give) is bitter, with years of resentment built into emotional barriers. She sleeps a married man (Oliver Platt) despite her cordial relationship with his wife (Catherine Keener). And she uses a tanning bed far too often.

In short, Mary is the New York Woman no one wants to be friends with.

Yet instead of playing the character as a one-note, Peet found the vulnerabilities in Mary, the shredded remains of a young girl who never really felt like she had any self-worth. Her relationship with her sister is bitter, but the bonds of sisterhood can be felt pulsating below all the pettiness. And Mary's desperation rings true to life.

It is a masterful performance and one that deserved much more consideration than it received this year. In an ensemble of wonderful, fascinatingly flawed women, Peet stands out with a character who should be so easy to hate. Instead, she created an inarguably awful woman, but one with more than one dimension to her. 

Phenomenal work by Peet, not once upstaging her co-stars or chewing the scenery. The performance is real, and it is beautiful actressing on the edges.

Supporting Actress Smackdown, Part I: Old Little Princess

In lieu of new feature Netflix Pix this week, I'm participating in StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown. For those who aren't familiar, the SAS is a great yearly tradition where Oscar bloggers come together to celebrate what StinkyLulu (AKA Brian Herrera) has termed "actressing at the edges." In other words, the series is meant to celebrate the best female acting performances that aren't right in our faces.

I'll be discussing my 2010 Awkward for Best Supporting Actress winner Amanda Peet's performance as Mary in Please Give in a second, separate post, but first I want to pay homage to what I consider one of the finest female performances of the year: Winona Ryder in Black Swan.
"What'd you do to get this role?"
Unfortunately, Ryder's role as Beth McIntyre, the washed-up elder ballerina who is forced into retirement as Black Swan begins, is far too small for consideration in my greater Best Supporting Actress contest. But there is truly no one who "actresses at the edges" better this year.

Ryder, something of an outcast in Hollywood since her shoplifting incident years ago, has done solid work here and there, but never before has she shown the same promise of being a leading lady once again. She still isn't the lead in Black Swan, but she is something potentially better: a new breed of character actress.

Beth McIntyre is the former "little princess" of a New York ballet company, headed by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). She is pushed into retirement by Thomas, her former lover, after a run of disastrous seasons, to make room for new blood: namely, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). Beth's response to this news is to wreck her own dressing room, drunkenly accost Nina at the company fundraiser, and attempt suicide by throwing herself in front of a truck.

Ryder appears four times in the film: twice in the hospital (once unconscious), once after wrecking her dressing room, and at the gala. She truly only has two substantive scenes, the first of which is at the fundraiser. To say she knocks the scene out of the park is an understatement. She blasts the ball out of its skin.

Imbuing Beth with such an inner hatred of this girl, so much like herself at a young age, who is daring to replace her, Ryder burns a hole through the screen. She gives the impression that she's spitting venom with each line, aiming to cause Nina as much pain with her words as is possible. Her delivery is bitchy, campy, and absolutely perfect. The poisonous way she says a word as simple as "frigid" sends chills up the audience's collective spine.

She hurls the most hurtful charge she can imagine--sleeping with Thomas--and Nina throws it back at her with full force. Even Nina insults better than she can. She is inferior in every sense, and we see her fade away as Nina and Thomas walk away together.

"You make the most of it, Nina!"
What makes the showdown such a great scene is that it is beautifully self-referential. Ryder herself has dealt with being replaced by young starlets like Portman in her career, so the irony makes the scene all the more resonating and truly affecting.

Being in the hospital leaves Beth out of commission for almost the remainder of the movie, except for one key scene that occurs near the end. For those who haven't yet seen the film yet, I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say it's a doozy.

There's an argument to be made that Ryder's work in the film is nothing but a glorified cameo, but what a cameo it is. If her career is destined to be more roles like Beth--essentially, character actress work--then count me among the Winona Ryder fans. She is truly one of the great actresses at the edge.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Guild Wars

The Producers Guild of America and Writers Guild of America both announced their nominations for achievements in film in 2010, and they tossed up a grand total of zero surprises. (Actually, that's not true--WGA, due to their long list of ineligible scripts including Winter's Bone, The King's Speech, and Another Year, had the space to nominate I Love You, Phillip Morris and Please Give. The only screenplay really hurt by the lack of WGA love was the completely eligible Rabbit Hole.)

The only Best Picture hopeful that was really hurt was Winter's Bone, which had the misfortune of being #11 of ten films nominated for the PGA Award as well as being ineligible for the WGA. So out of the three guilds already announced (PGA, WGA, and the Screen Actors Guild), Winter's Bone was only recognized for individual honors by SAG, not for the greater Ensemble prize.

In short: while it's looked as though 127 Hours, The Kids are All Right and The Town would be fighting for those last spots, all of a sudden it's Winter's Bone that looks vulnerable.

However, since who gets the last spots doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things (fighting that hard for a nomination is going to prevent any possibility of winning), let's take a look at which films are looking like the best shots for a Best Picture win.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 Brings a New Awkward is What We Aim For

Like the new look? It's part of a new, 2011-based boost for the site that should hopefully help make the site emerge from the pack of Oscar blogs as a definitive voice. If you wanna read more about the revamp, check out the About the Site tab. As always, the new Oscar Predictions are up, with four more categories added.

In addition, you can now access the site directly! The domain is now mine--just make sure to bookmark to get to the site!

Any thoughts about those can be posted in the comments section on this post. And of course, if you guys have any thoughts on the site redesign, I'd love to hear them! Just leave them in the comments.

Netflix Pix: All About The Ghost Writer

Welcome to the first installment in a new series called "Netflix Pix"! In this series, I'll feature once-a-week (or at least, I'll try to be once-a-week) a pair of films available on Netflix. As best I can, I'll attempt to make it one instant stream/one regular service, but that might vary.

For this first installment, let's look at one film about the business of theater and another about the business of politics: All About Eve (1950) and The Ghost Writer (2010).