Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscars: Tough Call this Year

This is one of those years, like last year, when the acting categories are easier to handicap than Best Picture-- and not just because there are only half as many noms per category. It looks like a bunch of shoo-ins: Colin Firth for The King's Speech, Natalie Portman for Black Swan, Christian Bale for The Fighter, and Amy Adams for The Fighter as well. Okay, maybe Hailee Stienfeld for True Grit, but I doubt it.

Nonetheless, here is the huge, unruly mob of Best Picture candidates. They have widely different budgets and each excels in very different ways, all of which makes comparison difficult. Seen six of them, which ain't bad: I'll see at least two more before Oscar night, I'm sure. In alphabetical order:

Black Swan - It's picked up a slightly unsavory reputation and had decent but not great box office, which gives it long odds. Darren Aronofsky has become the new Brian DePalma: An excellent director, but one that can't be trusted not to go completely over the top. (Haven't seen this yet.)

The Fighter - Saw it and loved it. Boxing epics, with their strong visuals, extremely obvious conflicts, and simple rags-to-riches storylines, are Academy voter catnip. It'll take acting and technical, but it doesn't quite have the scope and breadth of a Best Picture. I should say everyone but Mark Wahlberg has a shot at winning, as he was the quiet, underacting center of the film and therefore didn't get nominated. And I'm cheering hard for Amy Adams, who threw the best punch in the movie.

Inception - Love to see it win, because it's such a unique film, and it's a production that hews close to the ideal for a Hollywood big picture. But director Christopher Nolan wasn't nominated for some reason, so it's unlikely.

The Kids Are All Right - Didn't see it. No director nod, so no chance. I liked the 1979 Who rock-doc it was based on, though. Wait…

The King’s Speech - The front-runner, as things stand right now. It's got everything: Nice costumes, a unique historical perspective, and lots and lots of British actors.

127 Hours - Didn't see it. No director nod, so no chance. James Franco is second pick for Best Actor.

The Social Network - Just an amazing story, the most unique among the ten. It captures whole the feel of the now, a slice of the evolving present, with a clarity rarely seen in contemporary films. A morality play for a time with no morals. I'm handicapping this one as a very, very close second pick to The King's Speech.

Toy Story 3 - Awesome to see this one win, but it's animated so it probably won't. If you want to measure the quality of a film by it's power to convey strong emotional moments, this one beats anything I've seen this year. True, it didn't make people throw up and faint like 127 Hours did, but that's probably a good thing.

True Grit - This one has done great box office, and has that something extra that might mean a Best Picture win: It seems to have captured the public imagination in a way unique to the list of nominees. There's a fascinating article by Frank Rich in the New York times that draws a parallel between True Grit and The Social Network: both are about conflicts in moral vacuums, one in the Old West of the 1880s, the other in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2003.

Winter’s Bone - Huh?

Tough to pick a front-runner, and mine is provisional: I reserve the right to change my mind. It's anyone's game!

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