Cinema Autopsy on the 83rd Academy Awards Nominees (including predictions)

25 February 2011
Inception

Inception

The 83rd Academy Awards are only a few nights away so once again I’ve allowed myself my yearly indulgence of commenting on the nominations and attempting to second guess how everything will pan out. If you don’t want to read all this then you can jump to my ranked list of nominated films or my predictions list. Also, rather than being yet another source to list all the nominations I’ll simply point you towards the nominations page on the official Academy Awards website so you can get that information first hand.

I forget where I first heard this theory but apparently while a broad spectrum of films can gain nominations, as they have done this year, the films that win tend to be the more middle-of-the-road films rather than the truly memorable films. This is because films that are genuinely interesting, bold and ahead of their time usually divide opinion. Meanwhile the safe, crowd-pleasing films usually don’t ruffle any feathers so while they may not be the absolute best films on offer, they tend to be the films that everybody agrees are pretty good and therefore are able to secure the votes they need to win. So with that theory in mind let’s take a look at the various categories:

Best Motion Picture and Best Director

The two widely embraced and safe-bet contenders for both of these awards are The Social Network and The King’s Speech. Don’t get me wrong; these are both intelligent and immaculately crafted films that I rate extremely highly but they are also inoffensive crowd-pleasers. I’m predicting a win for The Social Network in both categories simply because it’s got an American focus rather than a British/Australian one. And who would begrudge David Fincher getting some award glory?

Black Swan

Black Swan

However, the two films that I think would be far more interesting to focus on are Black Swan and Inception. Both have been widely and enthusiastically embraced but both have also attracted strong criticism from their detractors. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground with these films.  I’m not a fan of Black Swan although I have been fascinated (and admittedly frustrated) by how well it has been received by so many people I respect, trust and usually agree with. On the other hand I loved Inception and believe it is the film that deserves to win in both categories, which is impossible of course considering Christopher Nolan rather astonishingly didn’t even get a director nomination.

For me the differences are that Inception contains the abstraction and complexity of a traditionally art house film while presenting itself as an easy-to-follow heist/action genre film. On the other hand, Black Swan is a shallow and simplistic melodrama/exploitation film with a false veneer of sophistication and depth. Inception allows for the possibility of a variety of critical readings while Black Swan is painfully literal and obvious. Nevertheless, I predict that both films will continue to resonate after the other nominated films (except The Social Network and possibly Toy Story 3) are largely forgotten.

Acting awards

Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine

I know Natalie Portman is widely tipped to win the best female actor award for Black Swan and she probably will. I really like Portman and she was one of the elements of the film that sustained my interest. However, from where I was sitting she did very little except appear to be constantly on the verge of tears (with the exception of the scenes where she cried). I think Michelle Williams is far more deserving for her outstanding work in Blue Valentine, but really, any of the other female actors are a more deserving recipient.

Aside from feeling that both Julianne Moore and Ryan Gosling unfairly missed out on acting nominations, for The Kids Are All Right and Blue Valentine respectively, I have no strong feelings about the other acting awards. I’d probably prefer to see James Franco honoured for his very fine work in 127 Hours but I suspect Jesse Eisenberg will win the best male actor award for The Social Network and that would hardly be undeserved. At the risk of sounding all patriotic I think it would be marvellous if Jacki Weaver won the female supporting actor award for Animal Kingdom but I suspect newcomer Hailee Steinfeld will get it for True Grit. Male supporting actor will likely come down to Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech and Christian Bale for The Fighter; advantage Bale.

Writing Awards

The Social Network

The Social Network

While I think the writing on display in Toy Story 3 is some of the tightest and cleverest writing seen in years (especially in mainstream cinema) it is very hard to not be seduced by the rhythmic dialogue that propels The Social Network, so I suspect that will win the adapted screenplay award to the delight of writer Aaron Sorkin’s very loyal fan base. Christopher Nolan should and is likely to win the original screenplay award for his Inception script, if nothing else as a sort of compensation for not getting a direction nomination.

Technical awards

All of the films nominated are great looking films and while I may lean more towards Inception and True Grit for the cinematography award I think it will go to Black Swan. As well as Franco’s performance, a big part of what made 127 Hours work as well as it does is the editing so I’m hopeful it will win the editing award that it deserves. As for the sound awards, I’m tipping Inception for sound editing and True Grit for sound mixing based on a gut reaction with no intelligible justification. Inception should win for visual effects.

Production awards

True Grit

True Grit

During last year’s awards Best Costume Design award winner Sandy Powell expressed my frustrations that big films about “dead monarchs or glittery musicals” always  tend to win production and design awards over films that do things like use setting, costume and makeup to convey important character information. Having said that, I think the two period films The Kings Speech and True Grit will be the main contenders for the art design award with the votes leaning towards True Grit, which I have no problem with. However, I’d really like to think that the outstanding use of fashion in I Am Love will earn it the costume award but that may be wishful thinking rather than a rational prediction. The Way Back should and probably will get the makeup award.

Other

The best music score will be a close tie between Inception and The Social Network but with the later most likely to win, while “If I Rise” from 127 Hours will win the best song. The folks from Pixar will go home once again with the best feature animation award and although I loved both How to Train Your Dragon and The Illusionist, I really adore Toy Story 3 so that’s fine by me. I believe that Inside Job is the best nominated feature documentary, however, I strongly suspect that Restrepo will win in that category, which would be more than appropriate considering its subject matter and bold approach. Finally, considering the high profile director and lead actor behind Biutiful, it’s almost certain to win the best foreign language film award although of the three nominated films I’ve seen I prefer In a Better World.

I haven’t seen any of the live or documentary short films so I can’t comment on those. I’ve also only seen two of the short animation films, The Lost Thing and Day & Night. I am extremely fond of The Lost Thing, especially as I was part of the jury that gave it one of its first awards, but I thought Day & Night was sublime and I’d be very surprised if it didn’t win.

Read my follow-up post on the award winners


Ranked list of all nominated films

I’ve listed all the nominated films below in the order that I would rank them, although you should probably take my rankings with a rather large grain of salt.

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) 8 nominations
Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010) 1 nomination
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010) 4 nominations
Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010) 1 nomination
Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010) 1 nomination
127 Hours (Danny Boyle, 2010) 6 nominations
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010) 1 nomination
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010) 1 nomination
The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010) 9 nominations
Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, 2010) 1 nomination
The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010) 4 nominations
The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010) 11 nominations
True Grit (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 2010) 11 nominations
In a Better World (Hævnen, Susanne Bier, 2010) 1 nomination
How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, 2010) 2 nominations
Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell, 2010) 1 nomination
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) 4 nominations
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010) 1 nomination
I Am Love (Io sono l’amore, Luca Guadagnino, 2009) 1 nomination
Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010) 2 nomination
Tangled (Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, 2010) 1 nomination
GasLand (Josh Fox, 2010) 1 nomination
The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010) 7 nominations
Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau, 2010) 1 nomination
The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010) 1 nomination
The Way Back (Peter Weir, 2010) 1 nomination
Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton, 2010) 3 nominations
Hereafter (Clint Eastwood, 2010) 1 nomination
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (David Yates, 2010) 2 nominations
Unstoppable (Tony Scott, 2010) 1 nomination
Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2009) 1 nomination
Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) 6 nominations
TRON: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, 2010), 1 nomination
Salt (Phillip Noyce, 2010) 1 nomination
The Wolfman (Joe Johnston, 2010) 1 nomination

Not seen yet
Barney’s Version (Richard J. Lewis, 2010) 1 nomination
Country Song (Shana Feste, 2010) 1 nomination
Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010) 1 nomination
Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi, Rachid Bouchareb, 2010) 1 nomination
The Tempest (Julie Taymor, 2010) 1 nomination
Waste Land (Lucy Walker, 2010) 1 nomination


My predications list

Best Motion Picture: The Social Network (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin)

Directing: The Social Network (David Fincher)

Actor in a Leading Role: The Social Network (Jesse Eisenberg)

Actress in a Leading Role: Black Swan (Natalie Portman)

Actor in a Supporting Role: The Fighter (Christian Bale)

Actress in a Supporting Role: True Grit (Hailee Steinfeld)

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin)

Writing (Original Screenplay): Inception (Christopher Nolan)

Cinematography: Black Swan (Matthew Libatique)

Film Editing: 127 Hours (Jon Harris)

Sound Editing: Inception (Richard King)

Sound Mixing: True Grit (Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F Kurland)

Visual Effects: Inception (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb)

Art direction: True Grit (Jess Gonchor for Production Design and Nancy Haigh for Set Decoration)

Costume design: I Am Love (Antonella Cannarozzi)

Makeup: The Way Back (Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng)

Music (Original Score): The Social Network (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)

Music (Original Song): 127 Hours (“If I Rise”, music by AR Rahman, lyrics by Dido and Rollo Armstrong)

Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)

Documentary Feature: Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger)

Foreign Language Film: Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010)

© Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – True Grit (2010)

24 January 2011
True Grit: Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld)

Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld)

In the version of the Wild West that is depicted in this 2010 adaptation of Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, human life is cheap and more often than not it is used as a commodity. When the smart, assertive and independent 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) teams up on a manhunt with Deputy US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), neither speak about justice in the legal sense. Hunting down the man who murdered her father is a personal act of revenge for Mattie while for Rooster it’s a commercial transaction. The pompous Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is tracking the same murderer, does seem motivated by a desire to see justice properly handed down but he’s out of his jurisdiction. True Grit is a classic chase story with a trio of characters who under normal situations would not choose each other for travel companions. In a moment of frustration Rooster sums up their attitudes towards each other best when he declares them to be “a foolish old man … a harpy in trousers and a nincompoop”.

Usually when directors/writers Joel and Ethan Coen make a film that belongs to a distinct genre the results are very reflexive and stylised. In particular, Coen Brothers films that adhere to popular Classical Hollywood genres; such as film noir (Blood Simple, Fargo), gangster (Miller’s Crossing) and screwball comedy (The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty); are both affectionate homages and subversively self-aware. What makes True Grit such a unique Coen Brothers film is how conventional it is in the way it conforms so closely to a traditional western. True Grit falls at the less noble end of the western tradition, since it is vengeance rather than justice that is the motivation for order being restored through violence. The characters and situations are represented as they are with no overt political commentary. Casual brutal treatment of Native Americans is the norm and the difference between an outlaw and a lawman is often little more than a badge.

True Grit: Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) and LaBoeuf (Matt Damon)

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) and LaBoeuf (Matt Damon)

However, there is nothing wrong at all about the Coen Brothers going old school especially when the results are this strong. True Grit is a compelling and engaging story that is told effectively and confidently.  The use of browns, oranges and dirty whites in the costumes and sets give the film the appearance of an old black-and-white film that has been tinted with a brown wash. The use of early morning light at the start of the film and then the emphasis on dusk and night shots towards the end create a wonderful sense of passing time, for both the film’s narrative and Rooster, who represents a dying breed.

Portis’s novel has been adapted before in the 1969 film directed by Henry Hathaway, which is probably most notably known for being the film that won John Wayne his Best Actor Academy Award for his role as Rooster. Despite that award, it was not a great performance by Wayne who was a far better actor when under the direction of John Ford in classics such as Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In this 2010 version Jeff Bridges is much more adapt at portraying the mixture of comedic absurdity, menace and ruthlessness that makes Rooster such an intriguing character. He’s a drunk and a windbag but also quick to act and unafraid to use violence as soon as he sees it is necessary.

True Grit: Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges)

Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges)

Matt Damon is infinitely better than Glen Campbell when he played LaBoeuf, with Damon’s version of the character being far more of a well meaning but frequently irritating buffoon. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross is especially strong in the 2010 film and a lot less masculinised in appearance than Kim Darby was in the 1969 version. While Darby did give a great performance, having her looking so overtly boyish did undermine the idea that Mattie could be tough, independent and intelligent while also being a young girl. In fact, the only things really missing from the Coen’s version of True Grit are a young Dennis Hopper and a young Robert Duvall in key supporting roles. Otherwise, this 2010 adaptation is the superior film.

With the exception of the strange arrival of a doctor who appears resembling a bear mounted on horseback, True Grit is one of the Coen Brothers’s least Coenesque films. Nevertheless, it maintains their command of film style and storytelling. After the intricacies of A Serious Man, Burn After Reading and No Country for Old Men there is something very pleasing with this straightforward and generically respectful film of revenge and strange allegiances in the American Old West.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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