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My Beautiful Dark Twisted Oscar Fantasy

Click to enlarge and witness my high-res nerdery!

So I'm really excited about the Oscars this year. You know why? Because my number one movie of the year might actually earn the Best Picture honor. Yes, there's a lot of hubbub about The King's Speech garnering enough steam since the Golden Globes to usurp the title from The Social Network, but I don't believe the hype. Around 2007 the Academy was infused with a much younger voting block and started getting their act together, actually awarding the top award to good (though admittedly not always great, and often problematic) movies. Giving Crash the statuette over Brokeback Mountain in 2006 will go down as the ultimate Oscar nadir, but from there, there was nowhere to go but up. And yet while I liked or loved The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker, only two of those were in my top tens for their respective year, and none of them were my favorite movies of those years. (For those curious, I wish that list read Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood, Rachel Getting Married, and Inglourious Basterds). But this Sunday night it could all change. This being said, I would still like to point out in the categories I care most about, especially now that I've seen almost all the movies I wanted to see in 2010, what should have been nominated, what should win, and what shouldn't win.

Best Picture: Only 3/10 of my fantasy nominees are actually nominated in this category. Of the seven that didn't get on the big ten, I say the hilarious and heartwarming documentary Best Worst Movie should have been recognized. But if we're going to hold to this unspoken rule that only fictional narrative films can compete for the main trophy, I would argue that Animal Kingdom wasn't given a fair shake - it very well could be the best crime movie since L.A. Confidential, another Guy Pearce affair. Alas, this one's Australian, so it barely counts as a film, according to the Academy. Of the nominees though, of course my weight goes behind The Social Network, because I could watch the movie on a continuous loop to catch new subtle deliveries of immaculately crafted dialogue, modestly inventive non-chronological storytelling techniques, and boldly symbolic shots, pans, and cues. Oh, also, it really is the movie that defines the balance between ego and friendship in the internet age, and I don't care how dumb that sounds; it's true. The movie that I think should definitely not win is The King's Speech, because while visually and thespian-wise, it was certainly powerful, the story was so basic and barebones that even the intensely problematic The Kids Are All Right comes out as a more thrilling and vital piece of film fiction. If it does win, I will re-unfriend The Academy like I did in 2006.

Best Director: Just 2/5 in common here. Debra Granik (Winter's Bone) was completely shafted here, which I honestly don't get, especially on the heels of Kathryn Bigelow being the first woman to win this golden guy. Granted, her style was a lot more subdued and yes, even more gritty, but what with all the other nominations I was surprised to see this movie deservedly get, I thought directing would be a given. Of the available picks, however, David Fincher (The Social Network) should and will win this award, because despite his pity nomination for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (all of this movie's nods were pity nods, really) two years ago, the man proved with this film that he doesn't need a flashy or action-packed plot to make his scenes thrilling and distinctly Fincher-esque, which he does with ease and perfection here. I actually think all the nominees in this category are great directors, but if The Coen Brothers win for True Grit, their reaction will mirror my ambivalence. The dudes themselves said on nomination day "ten nods seems like too many" because while True Grit was a great romp, that's all it really is: a remake romp with existential heart. Oscar-worthy directing is not.

Best Actress: A whopping 4/5 are in common here, which isn't much of a surprise as the pickings for this category are slight almost every year. You see, Hollywood is largely run by dudes and dudes tend to make movies about dudes, because, you know, they're dudes. The one that got away from this set, though, is ironically Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit, who was hands-down the best thing about the movie, and was clearly the main character, despite her for some reason actually being nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Oh wait, it's because the Academy is also full of dudes, and dudes equate diminution and youth with supporting roles instead of leading ones, regardless of line count or screen presence. From the actual group, on the other hand, I believe Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) should own it, as her downplayed but organic and silently emotional performance pulsed with tension and a fuck-all heroic attitude that was magnetic as all get out. Between her and Steinfeld, I feel like the next generation of leading actresses could be stone cold badass, if they're not processed through the rom-com machine. And this might be heresy, but I think Natalie Portman's Black Swan portrayal was uneven, and though some scenes she helped make thrillingly suspenseful (especially in the latter half of the film), there were too many that were melodramatic (in a gross way), such as when she first begs for the part from Vincent Cassell. Ugh, what a dumb and overwrought scene.

Best Actor: The fraction for this one comes out to 3/5, though it very well could have been 4/5 if I had seen Javier Bardem look sad for two hours in Biutiful. Regardless, the actor who I thought was preposterously left out here was Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine, which was hands-down the most gut-wrenching performance of the year. He's not just a pretty face, boys and girls (Brigitte, I know you think his eyes are too close together, so just stop), but how much you go from hating to loving to feeling sorry for his character in that movie is like emotional gymnastics, and that's just from watching his facial expressions. But if Gosling can't get it, I sure hope James Franco (127 Hours) does, because dude's a beast. Obviously, the movie's very premise demands someone as versatile and engaging as Franco, but even after reading blog after blog about his portrayal of Aron Ralston, I was still surprised by how human he made him: a hyperactive goof with nerves of steel but a resigned outlook on life and death. I'd also be okay if Firth gets his locked-in win, but despite my love for it, The Social Network's Jesse Eisenberg should not be the victor, if only because he's surrounded by much more nuanced and eclectic talent, and put simply, he didn't make the movie. It was probably his best performance yet, but still, everyone else in that movie justly outshone him as well, because they got to actually react to Zuckerberg's stoicism.

Best Original Screenplay: That's right, 0/5 similarities with the Academy. Suck it. I haven't seen Another Year, though, and I'm a Mike Leigh fan, so that might be a discrepancy. Otherwise, their biggest discrepancy is not including David Michod for Animal Kingdom, whose script tears up conventions like no one's business. It floats before the punches, and when the punches happen, they're so unexpected it stays with you for days. Add to this the fact that the expansive cast of characters are all distinctly memorable yet all function so clearly as a family and you've got a near perfect screenplay. With what we've got, however, I'd have to break my rule about how a script can't be great if there are more than two writers and recommend the threesome that wrote The Fighter, if only for its ability to tell both Ward brothers' stories, and while it caused it to lack a cohesive singular voice, it was still largely successful as making us care about both (arguably) main characters. And once again, there was nothing special in The King's Speech's script, but as long as Christopher Nolan (Inception) doesn't get awarded for writing a 140-minute rulebook on dreams, I'll be okay. As fun as that movie was, there were no characters, and no movie without real characters should get an Oscar.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Another 3/5 desirables in this stable of nominees, which is much better, even though I am miffed at nobody taking Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright's script for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World seriously. This duo took quite the ambitious project on when they made a miniature yet still robust version of the six-book comic series, and I thought it paid off quite well, flowing effortlessly between ex-boyfriends while still jam-packing in the jokes at a rapid-fire pace. It should be quite clear by now, to get real for a second, that Aaron Sorkin wrote one of the best screenplays ever in The Social Network, so much so that I'd literally be okay with reading his dialogue over and over again if somehow all copies of the film got destroyed. This is the sign of an accomplished and incendiary writer. Once more, I didn't think I'd ever call out the Coens (True Grit) for being the lesser nominees (much less in two different categories), but to be honest, the dialogue sparked throughout while the structure and audience anticipation lagged in places, thus in my mind keeping it from deserving the win, certainly amongst its rivals.

Best Supporting Actress: If you don't count Hailee Steinfeld, I have 2/5 in common with Oscar here. Who I really thought was missing in this realm was Marisa Tomei for her uniquely mysterious performance in Cyrus, a movie that in general was unfairly forgotten come awards season. Yes, it was quirky mumblecore, but I also think it elevated the genre with its high-profile and very capable cast, including Tomei, who had a difficult job in trying to make a too-close-for-comfort relationship with her 21-year-old son seem both hilariously awkward yet also painfully real. She pulled it off quietly and with a calm certitude and without having to resort to the histrionic antics that got her to possibly mistakenly get called up to the podium for My Cousin Vinny back in the day. I will be totally okay, on the flip side, because Melissa Leo will finally get her comeuppance when she wins for The Fighter, a dark (and darkly comic at times) portrayal that shows Mrs. Ward as a blue-collar matriarch who trembles as much as spits vitriol. She is truly Hollywood's best kept secret and am glad she hasn't succumbed to doing dumb projects as she's gotten more and more notice over the past few years. I will not be okay, though, if Helena Bonham Carter aids in a The King's Speech sweep, as I really cannot comprehend why she was nominated. She's in so few scenes in the period-piece bromance and when she is, she's coyly one-dimensional, never letting on more than a hint or two about her personality or attraction to Firth's monarch with low self-esteem.

Best Supporting Actor: And finally, we have one more 3/5 fraction of commonality to present. And sure enough, I once more extend the right to complain about a missing nomination for Animal Kingdom, this time in Ben Mendelsohn, whose crazy is so creepy it's flawless, and is in the movie just enough to leave you wondering how the hell he got so relentlessly evil, even though he clearly also loves his effed-up family. I will say no more for fear that many have yet to see the film, but this will be my final plea: Nerdflix it already! It should be predictable that I'll be clapping along with the rest of the world when Christian Bale (The Fighter) deservedly clasps his golden guy on Sunday night, because his overly intense method acting style finally payed off. He's impossible not to watch with awe on screen, and even when Dickie goes over-the-top, Bale commits so much to it that it feels authentic. It's a truly remarkable step up from the Batman voice. I will be sad if Jeremy Renner (The Town) somehow scoops this up, because it will just encourage bad movies with a single glimpse of a bright spot to get made more often. This conflicted and explosive lower-class sidekick character was also just straight up not as multi-dimensional and arresting as the aforementioned one, so Renner, please, just understand the Academy feels they have to nominate leading actors from Best Picture winners every time they do something even marginally good, even if it's in a genuinely bad movie.

P.S. I'd love to keep going and go through all the categories covered in my grid above, but I simply don't have the time. Let's continue the conversation in the comments, though! What/who did I snub?

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 4:46 PM |  

    I think Helena Bonham Carter was nominated to make more sour faces when Leo makes another sure-to-be narcissistic acceptance speech. She probably is a great actor, but I couldn't stand her at the Globes.

    I'll have to watch Social Network again someday in the future. I think my semi-ambivalence towards it is based on my ambivalence towards the facebook generation as a whole, as well as my disappointing experience at an East Coast school with these same kind of people.

    Ryan Gosling is hot.

  2. Blogger qualler | 11:50 PM |  

    Hot damn this is one incredible blog post. Well done, Chris. I cannot comment on it because my movie-going/watching habit has drastically declined this year. I am sorry that King's Speech winning tonight means you are un-friending the Oscars again.

  3. Blogger Sean | 12:03 AM |  

    I finally saw The Social Network the other night and I was underwhelmed. I saw The King's Speech this weekend as well, and I found it to be a much more enjoyable film. I'm glad that it won best picture.

  4. Blogger Unspar! | 9:33 AM |  

    Chris, I'm sorry The King's Speech won. I can't see why people liked it so much--like you said, it was basic, but even more than that, it was boring. Which shouldn't surprise me since it's about British people (the most boring people on the planet) in the '30s and '40s (two of the most boring decades of the last hundred years). There was only one scene that really stirred me (when he actually gives the speech), and by then I didn't really care. I'm even more incensed, though, that it won for best directing. I have a hard time believing that movie even had a director. Pretty much everyone in that category was more deserving.

    That said, this is the Academy. It's an abusive relationship if there ever was one. They insult and belittle us once every three years or so, spend the next couple years trying to prove that they still love us, and then piss us off again out of spite.

  5. Blogger chris | 1:12 PM |  

    Thank you, Unspar. No thank you, Sean.

    The King's Speech is a formula. Great acting and great cinematography, but just a formula. And with only one line possibly insinuating that King George VI was a Nazi symapthizer, a big detail that could have actually made the mediocre movie a great one.

    The Social Network is a revelation. It covered so many facets of life and society (friendship, money, privilege, ostracism, revenge, paranoia, the list goes on) with biting dialogue and inventive cross-cutting and bewilderingly framed scenes.

    I don't love Spielberg (though I do love Minority Report & AI), but his comment was the best of the night: the 9 other Best Picture nominees will have to settle with being lumped in with such films as Citizen Kane and Raging Bull rather than How Green Was My Valley and Out of Africa.

  6. Blogger Sean | 1:31 PM |  

    The Social Network is overrated, Chris. Hate to tell you this: Tough beans.

    First, it had the most one-dimensional characters ever. "I'm a bitter nerd, and I want to impress a girl"; "I want more input in this project and I will get that by whining"; "I like to party and talk about myself"; "We are East Coast stereotypes and we are also bitter, did we mention we row crew?" Snoring.
    Second, the cross-cutting between scenes was hardly new cinematic territory. Having a plot that plays out in present scenes and flashbacks is the oldest thing ever, and nothing this movie did with it was revelatory.
    Third, the dialogue was your standard Aaron Sorkin fare: Two people talking to one another like they're on crack cocaine, but they're not because they're just driven white people from the East Coast. Boring.
    And fourth, the most interesting stuff wasn't covered. I would have rather seen an actual Zuckerberg biopic, rather than generic girl/bitterness motivation that isn't even based on reality. Instead we got boring lawsuit deposition scene after scene with some snippy dialogue. After this film what more can you say you actually know about Zuckerberg and the start of Facebook? The dude is kind of a prick and business is full of sharks? I wanted to learn more about him, and less about a lawsuit and fictional girl problems.

    Yes, The King's Speech was a formula. But it was executed very well. And in a year of not so many awesome films, that means something. The point is: The Social Network is overrated.

  7. Blogger chris | 2:15 PM |  

    All right, Sean. It's go time:

    You've got to get over it not being factually accurate. Many believe George VI was a Nazi sympathizer and yet only one line of dialogue even hinted at the moral ambiguity of his character in The King's Speech. Rooney Mara's character served as an important framework for Zuckerberg, but calling him one-dimensional based only on the beginning, end, and a short scene in the restaurant in the middle is shortsighted. His friendship with Eduardo, his anxiety surrounding Finals Clubs, and his attraction to a life of notoriety (not excess, which I thought was an impeccable distinction) all played into his identity as well.

    Next, downplaying the editing and story structure as mere "flashbacks" is reductive criticism at its finest. That's like calling the editing and story structure of Eternal Sunshine "dream sequences." Not only were there two different present tenses to juggle along with the main narrative crux beginning in 2003, but we also got parallel protagonist-less visions of the Phoenix's admissions process and intense left-turn introductions of characters such as the Winklevoss twins and Sean Parker before we even know how they get tied into the central story. It's vivid, it's exciting, and it's inventive. I don't care if you fell asleep.

    And lastly, identifying Sorkin's writing style as "fast" belies its actual power, which lies in the content, not the velocity of its delivery (though the rhythms of this indeed add to the fun of it all). Every line sounds like it was crafted with as much forethought and care as the next, whereas 90% of screenwriters go for the easy laugh or the obvious histrionics. "I have a voice!"? Are you kidding me? Sorkin often forgoes realism in favor of incisive wit and poetic wordplay, and if that makes me pretentious, so be it, because it makes the movie-going experience infinitely times more engaging and stimulating than your average biopic.

  8. Blogger qualler | 2:24 PM |  

    Hey Sean...

    http://forums.freeriden.co.nz/files/stallowned_143.jpg

  9. Blogger Sean | 3:40 PM |  

    Guess what: I still think it's highly overrated.

    CHECKMATE

  10. Blogger qualler | 3:49 PM |  

    I'll admit, I haven't seen it yet, but Chris lent it to me. My guesstimate is my opinion will fall somewhere between Chris' awe and Sean's awe-this-is-boring attitudes!

  11. Blogger DoktorPeace | 5:20 PM |  

    As implied in my original comment, I also think it's overrated. I stopped thinking about it 5 minutes after I left the theater.

    That said, I think everything is overrated; except those tight butts I can bounce coins off of.

  12. Blogger Brigitte | 9:30 PM |  

    (stock girl comment): would have been nice if the social network feature any prominent female characters...the only female character to be in more than half the scenes ended up being totally crazy for no apparent reason.

    that was my main gripe with it. who was i supposed to relate to in the film? c'mon, hollyweird! gimme a break!

    though, i suppose this is a man's world and i'll just have to learn to deal with it.

    on second though, i guess i could relate to mark because, like him, i'm insanely smart. however, i felt that, as a smart person, this was an unfair depiction of us. we're not all total assholes. just some of us.

  13. Blogger Brigitte | 9:32 PM |  

    also qualler is watching the social network RIGHT NOW and says "mark zuckerberg is an insufferable dick"

    i think he's enjoying it, though.

  14. Blogger qualler | 10:40 AM |  

    Alright guys, I watched it! And...

    Well, I liked it. On a purely "how much did I enjoy it and/or get the chills while watching it" level, I gave it 4 out of 5 on my Netflix queue.

    I think I agree with Sean, though, on the one-dimensional characters thing. I didn't see any characters change or evolve. There was nothing particularly interesting about the way the characters interacted with each other, outside of having snappy dialogue.

    On that account, I agree with Chris that the screenplay was top-notch. As much as I hate Aaron Sorkin personally from my understanding of the way he treats fellow writers on his former TV gigs, and from his pompous attitude this awards season (namedropping Paddy Chayefsky in his acceptance speech was a great example), the screenplay was a delight. With that regard, I assume the editing did a great job keeping up with it. Well done, Sorkin.

    Directing, though? Fincher is a very good commercial director, and has proven time and time again to be an excellent commercial director with an artistic flair. But I don't think he deserved to walk away with the directing award this year. I would rank three directors' work ahead of his -- Aronofsky for Black Swan and Christopher Nolan for Inception. Black Swan was an assured work very much in Aronofsky's style. Haterz be hatin' on Inception, but it is pretty hard to pull off a thinking person's action movie and have it work on both an action and a thinking-about-it level. I would also rank Debra Granik over Fincher. And I'm sure Tom Hooper did more than just tell his actors to act! Leave the poor nerdy guy alone!

    All in all, I'll give the movie my "ehhhhh, yeah! (while nodding and making a frowny face)" ranking.

  15. Blogger Shrilly | 1:12 PM |  

    Wth? Eisenberg was outshined? That's news to me, I thought he was always stealing every scene he's in even when he's not talking. Sure he was annoying as hell but he manages to be more interesting and you simply can't take your eyes off him, because every little eyebrow movement, lip curling, nose flaring was worth following if only to crack his crypticness but Eisenberg never gives you that satisfaction, it was simply dazzling.

    I don't know about you but The Social Network lives and dies in Eisenberg's performance. I can't imagine other actor topping that.

    Plus Sean, I'm suprised you mention the word overrated without also mentioning Inception, which I feel is more overrated than The King's Speech and The Social Network combined.

  16. Blogger Shrilly | 1:13 PM |  

    Wth? Eisenberg was outshined? That's news to me, I thought he was always stealing every scene he's in even when he's not talking. Sure he was annoying as hell but he manages to be more interesting and you simply can't take your eyes off him, because every little eyebrow movement, lip curling, nose flaring was worth following if only to crack his crypticness but Eisenberg never gives you that satisfaction, it was simply dazzling.

    I don't know about you but The Social Network lives and dies in Eisenberg's performance. I can't imagine other actor topping that.

    Plus Sean, I'm suprised you mention the word overrated without also mentioning Inception, which I feel is more overrated than The King's Speech and The Social Network combined.

  17. Blogger chris | 2:01 PM |  

    Shrilly, thanks for the comment and for shoving the Social Network hate in Sean's face. Always appreciated.

    You make great points about Eisenberg's performance, and I agree he was indeed great (as I still nominated him in my fantasy ballot) for all those reasons and more, but I simply think my ire over the lack of nomination for Andrew Garfield in the Supporting category, as well as the lack of a nod for Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine, was fueling some unnecessary minor rage. If I could go back and re-do this post, I would certainly argue against Firth, who I think also had a quietly brilliant performance but in an otherwise unremarkable film. At least Eisenberg's subtle tics and mannerisms were backed by an astounding script.

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