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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
THOSE OTHER GUYS
Now for those nominees for the "other" films that nobody ever sees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE BIG ONES
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.
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!
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.
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?
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).
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...
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!
Rather than pay off last year's cliffhanger right away, the second season of Fringe made us wait four episodes to find out what Bell had to say to Liv. I don't fault the show for this; it's a creative way of doing things. The season opened with things on our side, leading up to Olivia in a delayed car wreck. The season was off to something of a slow start, but wasn't nearly as scattershot as last year. The X-Files parallel continued with the introduction of shape-shifting soldiers from the other universe. These beings have mercury in their blood; they are part organic, part liquid metal. ...which means Fringe just ripped off Terminator 2 as well. But despite the obvious parallels, I liked that the shape-shifting is a messy business and that it requires specific hardware. That element was far more original.
My biggest problem with the opening of the year, and the year as a whole, was that last year finally built up to all the mythology having William Bell behind it, and then that went nowhere. Everyone just went about their business with Massive Dynamic, even though the organization and its leadership are highly suspect. I can see why Olivia has reasons to want to trust Bell, but no one even questions his motives in the least. It wouldn't be until the end of the season that Walter would confront him about why he had his brain sliced up. The writers want to keep Nimoy sympathetic it seems, but I had a real hard time believing the team could just have business as usual with Nina Sharp after everything that happened last year. I will say though that I really liked the storyline with Walter's brain; I thought it was brilliant.
The other smart move the show made was not to drag out the Peter mystery too long. After a few more lovely teases (even though fans knew all along anyway), they addressed the fact that he's from another universe. I liked the reveal of Liv seeing him glimmer. "Peter" was a strong episode, despite the fact that it had a few continuity hiccups. My favorite part was the '80s-style opening credits. It was just before this episode I began suspecting they would make Peter the catalyst for the whole war, and I was right. I'm not sure that all makes sense based on stuff from last year, but I like the storyline overall. The mythology was much cleaner this season. Unfortunately, it was almost too clean when there was no mention of ZFT or such at all until a throwaway reference in the finale.
I think they've gotten a better handle on the Other Side, but it seems they are focused on one other universe now, even though there are supposedly an infinite number. I'm confused whether war is coming to all universes or just our own. It seems to me they would have been safer only dealing with two and not even introducing their multiverse theory last year. Is there a reason only our two universe interact? They've done a good job on the whole dealing with the Other Side, but there have been continuity issues for me. Why do they keep saying Walter is the only one to open a door to the other side when we saw several doors open up last year? They weren't open very long, but they hung there in the sky and things passed through. So I don't get the difference. I don't quite see why the technology is SO advanced on the other side. At first I thought maybe Bell was responsible, but then we learned that wasn't the case. Maybe alternate Bell? It just seems like a bit too much; like they were having too much fun theorizing the other universe. It also doesn't seem consistent to me with the magic typewriters and all. The world we saw in the finale doesn't all seem to gel for me with the glimpses we got last season. I do appreciate little touches though like "Back to the Future starring Eric Stolz". I like things that seem like logical extensions. But there were times it seemed too heavily influenced by "Mirror, Mirror", with people being almost evil twins. The storyline has also now borrowed heavily from Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I don't really like mirror-Olivia. We learned that Olivia was hardened and fearless as a result of Walter's experiments. So wouldn't it be more interesting if her counterpart was softer and less aggressive?
There were some good stand-alone stories, and the season was certainly more cohesive. I don't know what to do with random elements like Olivia's sudden bionic hearing that comes and goes or the bowling guru. But it's satisfying enough with X-Files gone. I was glad that Olivia was revealed to be switched at the end because I was trying to figure out when she had the time to dye her hair after the fight. Hope she's not stuck over there too long.
May it be known that the following poem is bizarre and you will probably hate it. May it also be known that it is my intellectual property and should not be reproduced or distributed without my permission, however you may link to this page should you so desire.
When did we start demonizing the path of least resistance?
I'm sure you know what I mean. In the popular mindset the "path of least resistance" is always seen as the lesser choice; the weaker choice. It's the road that cowards, losers and the ungodly take. We have this notion that we only grow through adversity and struggle, and that therefore the best options are the ones that are hard because the yield the best results. While some of this thought was good-intentioned, I find it grossly backward and misleading. I think it's time we re-evaluated the way the world really works.
The most commonly cited examples are from nature. The one you always hear in sermons, therapy, motivational seminars and the like is the bird hatching from an egg. They say that he has to struggle against that egg or his muscles will never develop. It's only by being trapped in that egg that he develops the strength to break out. We are then all told to be like that. First, let's get something out of the way: humans are not birds. The same goes for illustrations about mothers pushing them out of the nest or they'll never fly. Birds are built that way; humans aren't. Your illustration doesn't hold. If I'm pushed out of a nest, I'll plummet to my death. But beyond that, what is really going on in that egg? The bird is not fully formed yet. It is a slow, gradual process. There may be some truth in the work of the body busting out of the shell that is good for the bird. But it doesn't grow solely because there's a shell in the way. And why does the shell break? Because the bird is ultimately stronger than it. And that first crack develops where the egg has least resistance. The bird isn't struggling for the sake of it; he's forced to get out, so he looks for the path of least resistance. Funny no one ever says that unless a human fetus kicks the uterine walls it will never find its way out of the cervix. That would be ridiculous.
The more I've thought about it, the more our basic understanding is WRONG. Observing the natural world, all phenomena take the road of least resistance. Electricity flows where it isn't resisted. Water looks for any opening with least resistance. Gases are the same way. They all take the most open or weakest spot and rush out that way. Why? Because that makes sense! Everything in our world seeks to be able to move, and does so in areas of lower pressure. Sometimes these pressure levels balance out. Usually, one is stronger than the other.
Taking it back to humanity, where did we ever get the idea that more pressure meant more good result for us? In what universe does pushing against higher pressures make you more likely to succeed? It doesn't; it wearies you out. You are only able to succeed when the pressures are lowered. This is of course only relating to things that are enclosed, but I think you get my meaning. Let's look at a balloon. Too much outside air pressure, and it won't even inflate. But too much internal pressure (that is, you blow it up too far) and it will explode. This is a crude and unscientific illustration, but I think you get my meaning.
I'm not advocating a life without any pressures at all. I never said humanity thrives in a land of NO resistance. Without use, your muscles will atrophy. But nobody would advocate placing a refrigerator on someone's foot and then telling him to kick until he's strong enough to move it. The guy would struggle until he could get his foot out from under the refrigerator and hope that his leg still works. There's an old saying: "Nature abhors a vacuum." What that really means is that in the presence of empty space, the full parts rush to fill it. The pressures of the world spread so that there is no empty space. And the path they take to do this is the path of least resistance.
This nonsense of struggle seems most prevalent to me among Christians. There is what I consider heresy floating about that a good Christian life is a hard Christian life, and that when everything goes wrong, that means you are being godly. Yes, the life is not always going to be simple and easy. As Westley said in The Princess Bride, "Life is pain, higness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something." I agree. But most pain in the Christian life comes from external persecution. That is, we were warned that others would hate and despise us. Jesus however said that "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Note, he still yokes and there is still a burden; but its lightness speaks to it being less resistant than that of the world. Jesus offers ease. I'm not suggesting there are no trials, etc. But to actively tell people to essentially seek out high pressure and difficulty with the promise of growth is unnatural and dangerous. Consider the parable of the sower; was it on rocky or thorny soil that the seed best grew? That would seem to be most resistant, yes? So I should expect a stronger result? NO. It was on good soil. In the soil burdened with the pressures of the world, the seed gave up and died! All life has some pressure or struggle built into it. There is always dirt on top of our seed. But let's not lose sight of the fact that the road we take in that struggle out, is always the simplest road possible.
"There's an obvious attraction to the road of least resistance," Alanis Morissette once sang. What she said with ironic derision, I declare with conviction. It's time we as a society start living and thinking according to how things really are, and stop demonizing the path of least resistance.