The Empty Bookshelf Guide to the 2010 Oscars

This won’t be a guide to all of the awards, but we’ll get through all of the important ones. I’m structuring this as an “Empty Bookshelf Guide” and selectively using the royal “we,” though I’ve not consulted with the Junior Staff for their opinions.

The format will be listing the ten Best Picture nominees, and being that the majority of the nominees for the “big” awards are culled from the Best Picture list, we’ll weave through the other categories and touch on those where appropriate.

In no particular order…

Toy Story 3
I saw this after hearing many peers (mid to late 20s) breathlessly explain how this was “the most emotional movie in the history of ever.” It wasn’t, and it’s not. I’ll award it points for being ostensibly a kids movie which presented a moment where the characters are resigned to their fates and have lots of time to realize that it’s going to happen, but points are deducted because the movie doesn’t follow through with it. That’s manipulative, not emotional, fellow 20-somethings.

The Kids are All Right
This movie is perfectly….fine, but it had no business being nominated and serves to show why so many people outside of California hate California. No, not because of the same-sex parents (which, by the way, is completely not what the movie is about and has little to do with the plot other than it enabling the “kids meet their sperm donor father” plot), but because of the darn “localvore,” organic-this, organic-that California silliness. Think the tone of American Beauty, but less fun. Also, what the heck is going on with the title? The Who song is “The Kids are Alright” which makes some sense and would fit movie (in terms of a title). Spelling it “all right” implies something like, “The Kids are All Correct” – I don’t think that makes sense. There are two kids in the movie, so that would mean, “both of the kids are correct.” Hmm, that still doesn’t really jibe with the movie. Both Mark Ruffalo and Annette Bening were nominated, but try to describe these characters in more than three words, and you’ll find that there wasn’t much material for them to work with and make memorable characters.

Inception
Remember when everyone was like, “The Dark Knight should have been nominated – I mean, it would never win, but it should’ve been nominated?” Inception. Great movie. Nominated. Won’t win. (for such a “smart” story, it was slightly reliant on guns in the third act – blech, I hate using lingo). Also, for you folks arguing/discussing the ending of the movie and whether it’s “real.” Just stop. The whole point of the ending was that it was ambiguous. Speaking of which, Inception had, far and away, the Best Original Screenplay.

The King’s Speech
See? The title’s a double-entendre! Seriously, though, this is a tough one. The movie made speech therapy interesting (sorry for any speech therapists who are reading), and sent me to Wikipedia to read more about that odd time in the British Monarchy, BUT….but, there were better movies that came out in 2010. Honestly, there’s not one thing I’d change in the movie (other than maybe having Guy Pearce play his character from Ravenous instead of a prince, but I digress), but it was just too staid, too safe, and didn’t surprise me (other than the “making the development of modern speech therapy more interesting” thing). In terms of acting for accolades, speech impediments and British Royalty both seem like low-hanging fruit, but darn it, Colin Firth should win for Best Actor.

The Fighter
I generally avoid boxing movies – there’s just something about the false romanticism applied to boxing that grates on my nerves, so this one of the ten movies I was least looking forward to seeing. So, it was a pleasant surprise that it almost avoided any sort of the phony, down-on-his-luck BS that accompanies stories like this. Christian Bale should win Best Supporting Actor. In principle, he’s a bit too much of a capital-A “Actor” for my tastes, but darn it, if you told me he wasn’t the same person who plays Bruce Wayne, I’d believe you (of course I’m ignoring the significant physical change and just going by cadence, body language, and tics). Now, Wikipedia says he stayed in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and that’s enough to make me want to slap someone. In terms of the movie, unfortunately it relied too much on the main character being a complete dolt about how much his family was holding him back, so even though it was (closely) based on a true story, that took me out of it. “Bartender with a heart of gold” is bit tougher to pull off than “prostitute with a heart of gold,” but both are in the realm of “awards-bait,” but Amy Adams should win best supporting actress (and they didn’t “uglify” her to really pull on the award strings, so that counts for something).

Black Swan
This is the best movie of 2010 and maybe the best movie of the decade (whether the 2000s or the 2010s). There, I said it. See my comments above about “the development of modern speech therapy” and replace that with “ballet.” The screenplay and direction combine to hit notes of hard drama, suspense, sexy thriller, sports-drama (underdogs and all that), psychological horror, stuff-jumping-out-at-you horror, as well as the risky “movie within the movie.” Visually unique, maybe it’s not for everyone; here’s a negative review where I’d actually agree with him about pretty much every point, EXCEPT that my conclusion would be that it all worked. The last few shots (when she’s at the top of the “mountain” on the stage then jumps as the music hits the false crescendo until the fade to white) are perfect filmmaking. Every detail is perfect. The music (seriously the song has two finale crescendos which strike wildly disparate moods, yet are both…perfect. Those crazy Russians), the disconcerting push-pull as she appears to float onto the waiting mattress, her eyes, the audience which can’t contain its cheers which continue through to the end titles. Natalie Portman (who the Internet has apparently always thought can’t act?) should and will win the Best Actress award, but I see the Best Picture trophy going to a safer pick. Darren Aronofsky should be a shoe-in for Best Director, and Black Swan should also win for editing. Also, give it the Best Cinematography award, too. Sure, you’re thinking True Grit (“ooh, sweeping vistas!” says my dad) or The Social Network (“they shot so much in low light – think of the types of lenses they needed to use!” says the movie nerd [note: “nerd,” not “geek”]), but this is an artistic award, not a technical one, and the only truly unique “sweeping vistas” I’ve seen were in The Fall. It’s easy to make a sunset look artistic.

Soapbox warning: for you internet folks out there complaining that Clint Mansell was not eligible for the Soundtrack award, listen to his “arrangement” of the most dramatic and compelling scene of the movie with the most complementary music (the final scene), then compare it to Tchaikovsky’s original. Go on. I’ll wait. Yeah, adding two measures of glorified vamping to give the director room for another shot before the big finish doesn’t mean that the Academy’s rules are old-fashioned, and it was a travesty he was not DQ’d. Sorry, internet.

True Grit
Along with The Fighter, I wasn’t looking forward to watching this, but it was a pleasant surprise. It kept its “Coen Brothers-ish” tone under control for the most part which kept me happy, but they couldn’t let a few of their beloved “American Eccentrics” stop the movie dead in its tracks (specifically
the “doctor” with the bear skin); “hey character actor – how about you stare at the main characters and say things in a weird syntax with an even weirder, non-placeable but eminently ‘American’ accent while we roll the cameras until we get a take we like.” Also, what’s more Coen-ish than a precocious 14 year old girl with a passion for lawyering (and revenge)? BUT, my main concern was that Jeff Bridges was going to turn his role into a vanity project with the huge leeway afforded by the character’s accent (and wanting to separate the role from John Wayne’s original take on it) and tear up the scenery. I was pleasantly surprised that once I accepted his growling accent after five minutes of it, I was on-board and for such a broadly drawn character, and I actually enjoyed watching him. Hailee Steinfeld didn’t so much act as successfully spit out the typically Coens-ish dialogue (that’s not a knock on her), and enjoyable to watch or not, she wasn’t a supporting actress, she was the whole F’N show, so out of principle I won’t even consider her for that award.

The Social Network
Keeping up the theme of “making something not-interesting interesting for two hours,” The Social Network worked. I was less enamored than many others (Mark goes to California, his best friend is royally screwed, the movie abruptly ends). Aaron Sorkin avoids his typical speechifying, and provides the Best Adapted Screenplay, which is why the movie is so enjoyable, and actually could be the reason that Jesse Eisenberg won’t be stuck playing “think ‘Michael Cera,’ but with darker hair” roles until he’s 35. Like other David Fincher movies, there’s a lot of crazy special effects/camera tricks going on which don’t call attention to themselves (the crew race was filmed with no one in the stands, and famously quoted by people who have the internet, the twin jerks were played by one guy.) Speaking of the twin jerks, the fact that they’re entitled jerks but that you still get a sense that they were unceremoniously screwed by Zuckerberg hints at the strength of the screenplay, actors, and director. Also, because True Grit was not eligible for Best Soundtrack (and TRON Legacy wasn’t nominated to provide some competition), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross should get an Oscar to match their Golden Globe. (special note: I’m still undecided about the TRON Legacy soundtrack. I agree with this review more than I disagree with it. The album is a little too “safe” and doesn’t stand out as anything other than a post-Batman Begins soundtrack.)

Winter’s Bone
I knew nothing about this movie when I saw it other than its poster. Naturally, I assumed it was about kids hunting for treasure while it was cold outside. With a canoe. Wow, that was not what the movie was about. At all. Unless a deadbeat dad is considered “treasure” in the sadder parts of Arkansas! Ha! Poverty Humor! Speaking of poverty, the movie was more enjoyable than this critic implies [special note: he uses the awesome and awesomely made-up word “yokelocracy” (and if you saw the movie you’d understand how precisely appropriate his word is)], but I agree with his point that the movie is glorified “poverty porn.” Maybe it was written/based on some intensely researched and nuanced perspective of the greater Ozarks, but if I were to be tasked with “write a three paragraph description of the meth-addled South,” I don’t think it’d be too different from what we see up on the screen. Like “The Kids are All Right,” [alternatively titled: “Both Children are Correct”] it won’t win and has no business winning, but they needed ten nominees to make up for not nominating “The Dark Knight” two years ago.

127 Hours
Coming off of “Slumdog Millionaire,” and one of my top 5 movies, “Sunshine” (well, the first two-thirds and the final 3 minutes of it), Danny Boyle had an opportunity to establish himself, but he didn’t trust his sound team enough. Let me explain. This movie should really be titled, “he cuts his own damn arm off with a dull blade,” so, of course, that’s the critical moment. It makes the movie. Sound people in Hollywood were drooling for this contract; what exactly is the sound of a dull blade cutting through ligament, tendon, flesh, muscle, bone, and marrow? Well, they came up with it (did they ever), and instead of letting the sounds speak for themselves (hmm – I guess that’s an oddly literal figurative expression in this case) Boyle kept the camera in a series of tight shots of the cutting process, when the risky move would have been to re-establish the precariousness of the situation with a shot showing the entire canyon, then letting that sickly sound establish that the cut had been successful. Risk = reward, and Boyle didn’t trust his sound team with that risk. It needed only to be visually OR aurally shocking; both were too much.

So, some wrap-up to cover all of my bases…

Other than Natalie Portman, I don’t think Black Swan will win anything, so generally, where I circled Black Swan, transfer it to The King’s Speech.

Best Picture Nominee I liked and appreciated as a “good” movie, but would actively avoid watching in the future (also called the Schindler’s List award): Winter’s Bone.

Safe pick for the Best Picture Nominee I would recommend to my mom (who doesn’t like violence, excessive swearing, excessive sex, excessive volume, and is a constant risk for falling asleep any time after 9:00PM): The King’s Speech.

Risky pick for the Best Picture Nominee I would recommend to my mom (but wouldn’t want to be in the same room or reachable by telephone after): Black Swan.

Best Picture Nominee I would not want to watch with my mom in the same room: Black Swan.

Best Picture Nominee I’d flip past on TBS during another show’s commercial break, then watch until well after the original commercial break ended, causing me to miss my show: True Grit

Best Picture Nominee I’ll watch out-of-order in 5 minute chunks on FX over the course of two months: The Fighter.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, low): Toy Story 3.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, cash-in): The King’s Speech.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, high): True Grit (maybe about Matt Damon’s character?)

Movie which could easily get a spin-off or sequel but shouldn’t: Inception.

Movie which should’ve taken the place of either “Both Children are Correct” or Winter’s Bone: Blue Valentine.

Best Picture Nominee about which I wrongly underestimated before I saw it: The Fighter.

Best Picture Nominee to recommend to people who don’t usually like ‘Best Picture Nominee-type movies’ (degree of difficulty, The Departed): The Social Network.

Best Picture Nominee to recommend to people who don’t usually like ‘Best Picture Nominee-type movies’ (degree of difficulty, The English Patient): Winter’s Bone.

****½

Four-and-a-half stars – It was a pretty good year for movies.

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