Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar reactions

The Academy Award nominees were just announced so I guess it's that time again: to share my reactions. I have a couple more films to see before I'm comfortable posting a top 10 list for the year, but one will be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks. Anyway, let's look at some of the surprises, choices, and omissions on Oscar's roster this year.

Visual Effects
It's not often you get 5 nominees in this category, so that's cool. The nominees are Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Hereafter, Inception, Iron Man 2. Right now I think Inception is the front-runner, though Iron Man could possibly take it. This is only the second or third time a Harry Potter film has been nominated in this category. Though I have to ask: where is Scott Pilgrim?? Why does best visual effects mean "most CG"? I guess Alice deserves some credit for shrinking Helena Bonham Carter.

Sound Mixing and Sound Editing
The two sound categories are among the hardest to call. You usually find a Pixar film there, and Toy Story 3 did make it in. Though after Wall-E lost two years ago, I have no faith in the Academy's choices in these categories. King's Speech gets a welcome nod for its mix, probably due in no small part to the recreation of radio broadcasts and such. But where the heck is Scott Pilgrim? They nominated Salt, but not Pilgrim? Sorry, Scott Pilgrim had the most immersive, fun and interesting sound I've heard in a movie in a long time. Maybe if the Academy played some Legend of Zelda they'd realize how awesome it was.

Film Editing
No real surprises here. Seems a solid group. I'm thinking it likely goes to Black Swan or The Fighter.

I'm glad they didn't nominate any obvious "we were shot on video because we're edgy" movies in this category. Inception's is interesting because we look at several different styles of film throughout, which could give it a win, but right now I'm thinking Black Swan. And it troubles me how many things Social Network is up for. I haven't seen it yet, but I don't expect to like it. And after so many awards went to the terrible Benjamin Button a couple years ago, I fear Fincher's newest film may repeat history.

Art Direction
Interesting again that a Harry Potter movie gets a nod in this category. But I'm sorry, what exactly was so award-worthy in this installment that didn't appear in any other Potter movie? Every single element was featured in one of them, and the film is set mostly outside! Don't tell me they were nominated just for the tent! Alice's was interesting enough, but won't win. It's always odd in this category when period pieces are up with fantasy. This is probably Inception's, unless Alice squeaks by or there is a lot of push for King's Speech.

Costume Design
No matter what costumes are nominated, it will always come down to a period piece winning. The Tempest got a nomination; really interesting. If you've not seen it, the outfits are very punk-Elizabethan and most characters have zippers all over their clothes. I'm surprised to see I Am Love here as well.

Three nominees and the only one I've heard of is The Wolfman. That's not good. And even that feels more like a "we love Rick Backer" vote than because anyone actually thinks the Wolfman is worthy of anything. A bit surprising Alice did NOT make it here. Guess the white-face thing is soooo passe. Like every year, there's a glitch on the Oscar website, so the title of the nominee Barney's Vision is not listed, and it looks like the movie is called "Achievement in makeup". ...There should BE a movie called Achievement in Makeup!

Now for those nominees for the "other" films that nobody ever sees.
Animated Short
As usual, many of these are from other countries. "Day & Night", which debuted with Toy Story 3 is up. Pixar usually gets a nomination. I liked that one though because it was a blend of 2-D and CG animation. But this does remind me that Lasseter had promised to get Walt Disney Animation back to doing shorts and releasing them with films. They've only released like two. They've made like six. Glad the silly Roadrunner cartoon wasn't up there though; it just wasn't good. Warner Bros. don't really know how to make shorts anymore. I mean, Disney doesn't always know what they're doing either in that regard these days, but a CG Looney Tune is just weird.

Live-Action Short
And I've never heard of any of them. But that's usually the case here. Boy I wish there were more shorts screened with movies, like in the old days. Maybe if you had the option, like "Such-and-such movie" at these times with short, or at these times without short.

Documentary Short
Also no idea about any of them. "Poster Girl" is about the Iraq war, so that might sway things for it. I never know how to call these.

Documentary Feature
Yea, films I've heard of! I've heard of at least three of these. The obvious frontrunner here is Exit Through the Gift Shop, which I still haven't seen. But these categories don't always go where you think they will, and Restrepo has been getting some buzz. It's notable that the Joaquin Phoenix fake I'm Still Here didn't make it here, since it was revealed not to be real. I wonder if it would have gotten a nomination, had that been kept under wraps. Also, any hopes Phoenix had of a best actor nomination for that film were dashed today. I think that would have been interesting. Granted, it's a competitive category. I wonder if maybe the Academy voters were ticked at him for pulling a stunt like that and calling it art.

Foreign Language
I always find it funny when Canada gets a nomination in this category. The only way to top it would be for the US to get one if someone did a film entirely in another language, though I think Academy rules prohibit it. This is a weird category that only allows one film from each country, but is sort of a dumping ground for foreign cinema, but also has rules about it being a foreign language. It's weirdly complicated. Biutiful might be a front-runner, since Javier Bardem got an acting nomination for it. I'm most surprised and happy that Greece's Dogtooth was recognized. I've yet to see it, but it's one I'd really like to. I don't think I can adequately describe it, but it sounds so messed up, and that piques my interest. I hope it wins.

Animated Feature
Stupid Academy rules that limit nominees to 3. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Toy Story 3 will win, which is a shame. Good to see How to Train Your Dragon up. It's a good film. It's NOT a GREAT film, but it's the best Dreamworks has ever made, or at least the best CG they've ever made. It still has issues, but the Toothless animation is wonderful. All of its success goes to former Disney genius Chris Sanders (the guy responsible for Lilo and Stitch). We were all hoping the third slot would go to Tangled. Unfortunately, it went to the French film The Illusionist, but at least that's a film in its own right. So glad no silly nominees like Despicable Me in that other slot. Remember the year they nominated Shark Tale?? Still, for me Tangled was probably the best animated film of the year, and it's a bummer Disney loses out again. They have never won in this category, and that's a shame.

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM. I'm sure we all saw Hans Zimmer's score for Inception finding its slot here. How To Train Your Dragon's nomination is nice. But it's another sad year for Alan Menken who hasn't been nominated for a Disney film score since I think Pocahontas. While Tangled wasn't is richest or most obvious score, it sparkled with folk elements, and the Kingdom Dance sequence is lovely. Sorry Alan.

Though at least Tangled did get "I See the Light" nominated. In years past it likely would have had several songs nominated. I fear Disney is putting all its weight behind Toy Story 3 (one reason that Disney and Pixar being the same company is a BAD idea). I don't even remember the Randy Newman song from it. It obviously doesn't have the same oomph as "You've Got a Friend in Me". Feels like a sympathy nomination to be honest. Then it's some song no one ever heard of from 127 Hours and one from Country Strong. Glad nothing from Burlesque made it in this category. That's why the Golden Globes will always be the dorky kid-sister of movie award shows. Considering the competition, I'm really pulling for "I See the Light". It will be a travesty if Menken doesn't get another award and get Disney back on track.

Adapted Screenplay
Nice for Winter's Bone to secure a nomination here. At first I wondered why Toy Story 3 was considered an adaptation; is it because it's a sequel? Then I realized: it's because it just STOLE THE PLOT OF THE FIRST TWO MOVIES. There is seriously maybe 30% original material in this movie. So much of it feels like a retread of the other two. Too much sentimentality garnering it nominations it doesn't deserve. A good movie yes, but not as good as the first two and certainly not the masterwork they seem to think it is. Aaron Sorkin is a respected name in Hollywood, and he will probably win for The Social Network. This is one category I'm hoping they do win, at least to beat Toy Story.

Original Screenplay
The King's Speech was good, like a little play. Most nominations here are expected. Christopher Nolan I guess deserves the nomination, but since Inception has been the source of so much frustration, I hope they don't award him with an Oscar for its writing. Great to see The Fighter in this category!

Supporting Actress
Great to see some love for The Fighter!! Amy Adams was her best here. She's been nominated before, but I hope she wins this time. Congrats to Hailee Steinfeld, the young girl in True Grit, for her nomination. Also, a surprise nomination for Jacki Weaver from Animal Kingdom, which I think is Australian.

Supporting Actor
Let's not kid ourselves. This is Christian Bale's category and everything else is window-dressing. I'm glad Jeremy Renner got a nomination for The Town, the only nomination for that film. For a slice of local Massachusetts flavor, you could have a great double-bill with The Town and The Fighter. Maybe that's one reason The Fighter has edged The Town out of every other major category?

Lead Actress
Nicole Kidman slides in on star power for Rabbit Hole. This could very well be Portman's year for Black Swan. However, we should not rule out Michelle Williams and Blue Valentine. Her performance was fantastic (and I've never been a fan of hers). Also one of the more controversial films of the year, and this is its only nomination. It is carried by its performers, and a win for her could be an award for the film. Plus there's the unwritten rule that the Oscar goes to the actress who got naked, so Williams' breasts might buoy her chances (couldn't resist that).

Lead Actor
Slight surprise that Bardem got in for Biutiful. No surprise seeing Eisenberg or Colin Firth in this category. Jeff Bridges won last year, so that likely won't happen again. Too bad Mark Wahlberg, the only major player from The Fighter, didn't get nominated.

Mostly expected choices, with the Oscar likely going to Fincher for the Social Network. While he's a good director, I really hope it doesn't because this isn't the film he deserves an award for. Maybe for Seven he deserved it, or Zodiac, or Fight Club or even Alien 3 for doing something with the mess he was given, but I don't feel good about it being this year. A big congrats to David O. Russell though for his nomination for The Fighter. I wonder if this is a sign that The Fighter might be a serious dark horse in the Best Picture race. Speaking of which...

Best Picture
Once again, ten nominees. I'll hit each one.
Black Swan -- no doubt this would be there
The Fighter -- pleasantly surprised by its nomination. Even though it's a sports movie, and in some ways that makes it predictable, I loved this movie.
Inception -- There was no doubt it would be here, but it won't win.
The Kids Are All Right -- Not a surprise it's here, but it didn't get as many nominations as I'd expected. I haven't seen it (I can't stand Julianne Moore). Now I have to begrudgingly watch it.
I'm also bummed that a title that once brought to mind The Who will now bring to mind lesbian sperm donation.
The King's Speech -- Excellent for this kind of film, and a frontrunner.
127 Hours -- I was really surprised this managed to make the ten. It hasn't generated much beyond nausea. Maybe it's sympathy for Danny Boyle, who's last film won best picture. I really didn't want to have to see this though.
The Social Network -- ...or this. Hope it doesn't win. Fie on Facebook.
Toy Story 3 -- Give me a break.
True Grit -- Not often a remake gets this sort of honor. The Academy loves them some Coen Brothers these days I guess.
Winter's Bone -- This was one of the first films of the year to get serious critical acclaim. I haven't seen it yet, but it's nice that it had the legs to stay in people's minds.

Biggest disappointment: The total shut-out of Scott Pilgrim Vs the World from the whole thing. Last year it was Where the Wild Things Are. No love at all. Not even in sound! I thought it was a lock for sound!

Well, I've only seen 4 of the 10 best picture nominees so far, so I'd better get to viewing!

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