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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Top Ten Films of 2010

31 December 2010

Top ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australia in 2010

Inception

Inception

1. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
This almost clinical and mechanical representation of the human subconscious facilitated an extraordinary exploration of cinematic space in order to deliver an intriguing heist story with wonderfully thrilling action sequences. This year’s masterpiece.

2. Enter The Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
This mesmerising assault on the senses by the director of Irréversible was a strange, brilliant and audacious first-person head-trip into drugs, death, sex and the neon lit metropolis of Tokyo.

3. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
Martin Scorsese’s latest film was a typically brilliant example of subjective filmmaking, but where the point-of-view belongs to an unreliable protagonist. A sophisticated exercise in film style dressed up as a pulp thriller. So much more than a spot-the-twist film.

4. Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010)
The Australian film to receive the most hype this year was also the most deserving. The low-key filmmaking resulted in a tense, gritty and at times horrifying crime drama.

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3

5. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The combination of tight writing, powerful sentiment, humour and characters with so much heart delivered one of the greatest animated films ever made. Possibly the most perfect resolution to a trilogy too. Not a dry eye in the house.

6. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
An extraordinarily empathetic film about the everyday and commonplace tragedy that love doesn’t always prevail. Contains the year’s strongest performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

7. The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Juan José Campanella, 2009)
The surprise winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, this Argentinean murder mystery/romance contains hidden depth. A thrilling and intriguing genre film in its own right but also a moving representation of Argentina’s history of political turmoil.

8. The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010)
To reduce this to merely a generic hit man film ignores how immaculately crafted Corbijn’s second film is. The rich use of style and homage offers multiple rewards for a visually literate audience.

9. The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
Another great example of subjective filmmaking where the film gets increasingly deranged as its psychopathic protagonist increasingly loses his grip on reality. A superb adaptation of Jim Thompson’s hardboiled novel featuring some incredibly upsetting acts of violence.

10. Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
It wasn’t an old-school David Cronenberg film but the glorious blend of science-fiction, horror, melodrama and psycho-sexual thriller made it feel like one. Transgressive wicked fun.

Honourable mentions

11. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
12. Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
13. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
14. Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010)
15. Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009)
16. The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2009)
17. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
18. The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)
19. A Prophet (Un prophète, Jacques Audiard, 2009)
20. Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

Top ten unreleased films

Son of Babylon

Son of Babylon

(Films with either very short seasons or only festival screenings, and to the best of my knowledge aren’t scheduled for a general release in 2011).

1. Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
2. I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
3. Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010)
4. The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
5. Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010)
6. Nobody’s Perfect (Niko von Glasow, 2008)
7. William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, 2009)
8. When You’re Strange (Tom DiCillo, 2009)
9. World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009)
10. The Army of Crime (L’armée du crime, Robert Guédiguian, 2009)

Other

Tim Burton: The Exhibition

Tim Burton: The Exhibition

1. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948) at the Astor Theatre.
2. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) with a live orchestra at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
3. Tim Burton: The Exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
4. The Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and Jacques Demy seasons plus the Max Ophuls and Tod Browning nights at the Melbourne Cinémathèque.
5. The experience of seeing The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003) as part of the on-going Cult Cravings program at Cinema Nova.

Also appears here on Senses of Cinema.

An earlier (and since revised) version of the top ten film list originally appeared in the December 2010 edition of the Triple R magazine The Trip (online here).

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010


Film review – Inception (2010)

19 July 2010

Inception

Knowing the details of how Inception unravels will not ruin the film for you but going into it as a blank slate is still the most rewarding way to initially experience it. So it is enough to simply say that Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an expert in extraction, which is the art of stealing secret information hidden in people’s subconscious. He and his team face their biggest challenge yet when they are tasked with inception – the seemingly impossible act of implanting thoughts into somebody else’s subconscious.

Inception: Mal (Marion Cotillard) and Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Mal (Marion Cotillard) and Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Films depicting different levels of reality that projections of the mind can occupy are now reasonably familiar. The Matrix first introduced the concept to mainstream cinema audiences and this concept has since appeared in films as diverse as eXistenZ and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Inception owes something of a debt to all these films, plus Dark City, but it is still a boldly original work that takes the idea in a new direction. Director Christopher Nolan has worked with complex narrative structures before in Memento. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight demonstrated his stylishly cold spin on the film noir aesthetic in his portrayal of the hostile city. All these elements come together perfectly in Inception to make it Nolan’s masterpiece to date.

Part of what makes Inception so remarkable is that it has been made to appeal to the broadest audience possible. The film’s internal logic in the way it depicts how the subconscious operates is carefully thought-out and explained in terms of how different levels of the subconscious can have temporal and spatial effects on the others. These ideas end up facilitating the extraordinary lengthy action sequence that takes up the final act of the film. It is conceptually complex but written so well that you are never confused about what is happening. There is nothing wrong with cinema that leaves you puzzled, perplexed or confused but it is also extremely impressive to experience a film that is mind-bending in such a digestible way. At the same time, at no point does Inception feel dumbed-down or overly explanatory, which was the significant flaw in Nolan’s The Prestige. In 2010 both Toy Story 3 and now Inception have demonstrated that big studio films don’t have to be disposable products only aimed at short attention spans.

Inception: Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Inception is cinema at its most rewarding. Hans Zimmer’s score complements the visuals and the emotional rushes throughout the film. It contains a lot more characters of importance than in most films of this nature and yet they are all fully fleshed out and identifiable. Inception is the sort of film that future films will be compared to for its structure, writing, concepts and action. Cinema is rarely this engaging on so many levels and if you have any doubts then they will be gone by the final shot that cuts to the credits at the most perfect moment possible.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

Inception

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