Kultur Klatch / And the Oscar should go to…

I thought it was a pretty good year for movies. Did you?

Here are my Oscar picks, predictions, and comments for this year.

Hollywood continues to be risk-averse, and produce too many recycled tales and too much derivative fare, as it continues to be embedded in a highly concentrated media ownership landscape. Yet a number of original stories made it through this year–albeit many of them after having to go back to the drawing board and having to incubate for awhile–and there was some ambitious storytelling, even if plenty of flaws and a periodic lack of execution came along for the ride.

Also, Tom Hanks is a lot of animals (H/t Valentina Stackl) and Robert De Niro is not selling cars.

“I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis, caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.”  –Charles Ferguson, from his Oscar acceptance speech for Inside Job

“The camera never lies. Except it always does.”
—James Franco, General Hospital, July 7, 2010

Supporting Actress
5. Helena Bonham Carter. In addition to the historical inaccuracies in her role as Queen Elizabeth–Carter reportedly sped-read through books as preparation for the part–she never really lifts the character from the flatness on the page, even if she has the better performance between her and Firth.
4. Amy Adams. Plays well opposite Wahlberg and Bale and makes her character’s feistiness crackle at the right times.
3. Jacki Weaver. Arguably the linchpin in the ensemble cast that came together quite well in Animal Kingdom.
2. Melissa Leo. Really honing her craft now. Appreciated her pro-union comments at the SAG Awards.
Should win: Hailee Steinfeld. Beat out 15,000 girls for the part and it shows. Gives a wonderfully multilayered performance.
Will win: Leo. Edge goes to veteran actress who is at the top of her game.

Supporting Actor
Should’ve been nominated: Michael Fassbender, Fish Tank
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Mark Ruffalo
5. Fassbender. Exudes easy cool, then dumps it on its head.
4. Geoffrey Rush. He’s so sure here and his role is so plum he can afford to ham it up, unfortunately in the service of historical inaccuracy.
3. John Hawkes. Like Leo, a veteran honing his craft. He lifts every scene he’s in.
2. Jeremy Renner. Best James Cagney since James Cagney?
Should win: Christian Bale. Approaching Daniel Day-Lewis territory, which is to say, the best of the best.
Will win: Bale.

Actress
5. Nicole Kidman. Wavers somewhat on the emotional depth her character needs.
4. Annette Bening. Would probably place Bening alongside Meryl Streep in the “makes it look so easy” class. Here doesn’t do anything poorly, but I wasn’t transported like I expected and the filmmakers seemed to intend.
3. Michelle Williams. Makes us upset that her character is underwritten.
2. Jennifer Lawrence. Youth corps is representing this year.
Should win: Natalie Portman. Feels like the role was written specifically for her as she spreads her wings nicely and hits her control/out of control performance notes just right.
Will win: Portman

Actor
Should’ve been nominated: Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine; Robert Duvall, Get Low.
Shouldn’t have been nominated:
-Colin Firth. A one-note performance that’s part of a morally dubious film. What happened to A Single Man man? It may be that he breaks down when given too much to do.
-Javier Bardem. Like the fox he’s compared to in the film, he has an innate augmented reality navigation system and some resilience, but he’s forced to forage in lean times and amid transience.
5. James Franco. Game show scene is a sizzling pastiche.
4. Duvall. Plays a tortured soul who must make an outward turn after taking a long inward one. An interesting complement to his performance in The Apostle.
3. Gosling. Like the character he did get Oscar-nominated for, Dan Dunne in Half Nelson, Gosling plays someone burdened by knowledge, in this case by the knowledge of the contrast between what he could and should be and what he is.
2. Jeff Bridges. Basically his Crazy Heart role in a Western. His Rooster Coghburn has been criticized as a rehash of the Crazy Heart role, but to me that’s like criticizing someone for winning two championships in a row because they used a similar gameplan.
Should win: Jesse Eisenberg. Made Mark Zuckerberg into an interesting character.
Will win: Firth. The Academy will focus on and heavily endorse the ableist “overcoming disability” theme here.

Animated Shorts
Should’ve been nominated: URS; The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger
Shouldn’t have been nominated:
-Day & Night. Squanders the potential of its idea.
-Madagascar, carnet de voyage. Some success in using different kinds of animation and has its moments, but overall we’re reminded of the limits of travel writing.
5. Pollution. Cheeky satire that is limited by its lack of a real power analysis.
4. The Lost Thing. Imbued with anti-consumerist and anti-homogenization messages, its slow build up leads to an encounter with bad bureaucracy–“a place of forgetting and leaving behind”–and a surrealist dreamscape that is, unfortunately, walled off from the rest of us.
3. The Gruffalo. The power of story and the importance of perspective.
2. URS. Sublimely intergenerational, it uses its animation to set its bleak and bittersweet mood.
Should win: The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger. An absurdist delight and a vegetarianism conclusion. Great use of sound.
Will win: Day & Night. Have to expect the Academy to go lowest common denominator here.

Live-Action Shorts
5. God of Love. A postmodernist godsmack that features a positively medieval backdrop with classical accents and an emphasis on technique, setting, and spectacle.
4. Na Wewe. The action is gripping but hits us over the head with messages that are too simple (we’re all part of the same human family) or absurd (Western pop culture as genocide prevention).
3. The Crush. Pop goes the weasel. The more sociopolitical demobilization and apathy there is, the more likely there will be an emphasis, as here, on tropes of the extraordinary and the artificial.
2. Wish 143. Decaching authority and false propriety. The practical and experiential as informing the fantastic and the ideal.
Should win: The Confession. About: unintended consequences under overarching Manichaeism and under God as a panopticon; inadvertently conjuring the very thing one is supposed to be against; ritual reification as self-sabotage.
Will win: Na Wewe.

Animated Feature
3. The Illusionist. Unfolds at a deliberate pace but fails to adequately flesh out its characters.
2. How to Train Your Dragon. Being true to oneself and finding one’s own identity.
Should win: Toy Story 3
Will win: Toy Story 3

Film Editing
Should’ve been nominated: Inception
Shouldn’t have been nominated: The Fighter
5. The King’s Speech
4. 127 Hours
3. Black Swan
2. Inception
Should win: The Social Network
Will win: The Social Network

Sound editing:
5. Toy Story 3
4. Unstoppable
3. Inception
2. True Grit
Should win: Tron: Legacy
Will win: Inception

Sound mixing:
5. The Social Network
4. The King’s Speech
3. Inception
2. True Grit
Should win: Salt
Will win: Inception

Cinematography
5. The King’s Speech
4. The Social Network
3. Inception
2. Black Swan
Should win: True Grit
Will win: True Grit

Adapted Screenplay
5. Winter’s Bone
4. 127 Hours
3. The Social Network
2. True Grit
Should win: Toy Story 3
Will win: The Social Network

Original Screenplay
5.The King’s Speech
4. The Kids Are All Right
3. Another Year
2. The Fighter
Should win: Inception
Will win: The King’s Speech

Director
Should’ve been nominated: Mike Leigh, Another Year; Christopher Nolan, Inception
Shouldn’t have been nominated:
-Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech. Too over the top.
-David Fincher, The Social Network. Gets solid performances from several young actors but he wasn’t able to supply the expected there-there for the film.
5. Christopher Nolan, Inception. They didn’t nominate Spielberg for Jaws either.
4. Mike Leigh, Another Year. His actor improv technique is used to good effect.
3. Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan. Is too literal at times, but he puts everything together well here.
2. David O. Russell, The Fighter. Strikes the right balance with ensemble cast.
Should win: Coen Bros., True Grit. The closest thing to filmmaking magic this year.
Will win: Fincher

Picture
Should’ve been nominated: Animal Kingdom; Dogtooth; Another Year; Fish Tank; Greenberg; Somewhere
Shouldn’t have been nominated:
The King’s Speech. Follows in the glaring inaccuracies, misrepresentation, and moral failings tradition of Oscar favorites like Crash and The Reader. There is a lot wrong with this film. At the top of the list is its whitewashing of appeasement of Hitler, the Nazis, and fascism by Edward VIII (who went beyond appeasement to admiration), Queen Elizabeth, and George VI himself. It also: omits the period of Nazi appeasement by the British from 1936-39; pretends Churchill did not support Edward through the abdication crisis; exaggerates George VI’s stutter; lionizes George VI even though he abused his wife and was held to be of weak character and low intelligence; fails to discuss the centrality of FDR’s encouragement; omits Louis Grieg, who was arguably more of a mentor to the king than Logue was; it may over-attribute his rage and temper to his stutter; exudes a general nostalgia for the monarchy; it was actually commoner Churchill who would rally Britain via broadcasts, not George VI. All this while being ableist to boot. There are other, lesser inaccuracies and failings, but you get the picture.
The Kids Are All Right. Disappointingly perpetuates stereotypes based on gender, sexual orientation, and race.
Winter’s Bone. Strong individual performances cannot dissipate its anti-people-who-are-poor air.
127 Hours. Stirring individual scenes, but not one of the year’s ten best.
The Social Network. Doesn’t do anything poorly, but even parts and elements that are supposed to be volatile and visceral come across as too scripted, managed, and neat. As important and dramatic as the events leading up to the creation of Facebook are, their review of them only highlights that the far larger drama, and of greater importance, is its social impact since its machiavellian birth, an impact which is really only hinted at here.
Black Swan. “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.” (Goethe) The selfish mother and perverse father figure turn this notion on its head by alternately burying and deracinating the protagonist, while promoting growth of the wrong kind of wings, which she eventually has to painfully clip to avoid furthering suffering.
10. Another Year. Contemplates the intersection of the seasonal and the chronic.
9. Greenberg. A seemingly tidy portrait in anti-mensch that creeps up on you.
8. The Fighter. It took Wahlberg forever to make this and he was then forced to cut its first act and two-thirds of its budget by a stingy and risk-averse studio. Like Micky Ward, overcame big time.
7. Somewhere. Somewhere Coppola honed affecting portrayals of banality, ennui, lassitude, and plain boredom.
6. Fish Tank. A sharp, coming-of-age story that, like the best of them, helps us see anew things we’ve taken for granted, here exposing the unnaturalness of a sick culture that eats its young.
5. True Grit. Sovereignty, statehood, origins myths, and Mr. Bridges once again shows us how the baby boomers can get off the stage gracefully. I’d give my right arm…
4. Toy Story 3. Strong “childhood as formative” lesson and disposable society critique.
3. Inception. Dreams never lie. Except they always do.
2. Dogtooth. This film is one of those works of art that takes things to their logical extreme and in so doing, helps us get our bearings and gain perspective. This film is about: abuse; control; power, including the power to name; testing our limits; turning authoritarian systems on themselves and having them collapse under the weight of their own contradictions.
Should win: Animal Kingdom. This is how violence should be depicted: abrupt; disruptive; dislocating; deracinating; retarding; paralyzing; stasis- and impotence-inducing. This film is about: the difficulties, pain, and suffering of growing and developing; how people enter into worse suffering by trying to avoid pain; the negatives and unsustainability not just of playing cat and mouse, but of being cats and mice; about how youth are forced to protect themselves from, deal with, and atone for, the sins of the fathers.
Will win: The King’s Speech. Unfortunately, I have to expect that the Academy will continue to be so drunk on this film it will make the ceremony look like the Golden Globes.

Other recommended notable films of 2010 that I’ve seen:
Blue Valentine. Williams and Gosling team up in this mood piece to deliver a postmodernist, melodramatic narrative parsimoniously and effectively.
Stone. The importance of using bad bureaucracy against itself; sometimes the way out begins by going deeper in; being in zero-sum games without knowing it and eventually breaking out of them.
Inside Job. A thorough and scintillating dissection of the 2008 financial crisis.
A Prophet. Delivers visceral impacts throughout.
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. The second half is especially strong, as it effectively details the successful conspiracy to take down Spitzer and hurt the public interest.
William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe. “Michelangelo’s David is a good example for all of you. This is the only representation in art of David before he kills Goliath. All the rest–Donatello’s bronze, the paintings–show him holding up the severed head of Goliath, as Goliath leads the Philistines down the hills of Galilee toward the Israelites. Michelangelo is saying, across these four centuries, that every person’s life has a moment when you are thinking of doing something that will jeopardize yourself. And if you don’t do it, no one will be the wiser that you even thought of it. So, it’s easy to get out of it. And that’s what David is doing right there. He’s got the rock in the right hand, the sling over the left shoulder, and he’s saying like Prufrock, `Do I dare, do I dare?'” (William M. Kunstler, from his 1995 commencement address to the University of Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning) Trivia: In The Big Lebowski, The Dude demands representation from Kunstler or Ron Kuby during the Malibu Police Station scene.
-The Tillman Story
The Town
Shutter Island
A Prophet
The Ghost Writer

If you’ve read this far–congratulations, you’re a real critic! In conclusion, let us endeavor to stop this kind of tragedy from ever happening again.  (H/t Rachel Toulouse)

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