Thursday, 24 February 2011

Oscars 2011

With Oscar night falling at the end of this week, it's time to go through the runners and riders I've seen this past year to pick out who I reckon is going to win and, much more importantly, who I think should win. For reference the 10 films in the running for Best Picture are as follows ...
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King's Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter's Bone
Of these, those underlined are the ones that I've actually seen. 70% isn't bad (and is actually the same fraction as last year), and 2 of the 3 that I'm missing I wasn't in a big rush to see anyway (Black Swan and 127 Hours). They'll (probably) make it to our DVD list one day, but I'm not mad keen on watching either the psychological deterioration of a ballerina, or the obligated self-amputation of an extreme sports fan. Consequently, I'm (mis)judging them as non-starters for the winner's podium. While the remaining unseen title, The Fighter, does sound worth seeing (though I write as an Amy Adams fan), it hasn't been talked of in tones that make me think it's a likely winner. So my first prediction is that the winner will (and should) be drawn from the films that I've actually seen.

Regarding these films then, what's the story? First of all, I really liked every one of them - there really wasn't a duffer in sight. So, again like last year, there aren't any that I'd actively be disappointed to see win - no Titanics, no Bravehearts and certainly no Gladiators. But at the same time, I think are more deserving of victory than others. Anyway, in alphabetical order ...

Though nicely brain-twisting, Inception probably doesn't merit the winning slot. It creates a uniquely imaginative world based around the malleability of dreams, and brilliantly follows through on the logic of this world, but the bottom line is that it isn't really as emotionally grabbing as it thinks it is, and the "dream-physics" that it posits have nothing to do with real dreams. So though an enjoyable and engaging ride, no cigar.

The Kids Are All Right, by contrast, is a lot more emotionally (and politically) satisfying, dealing as it does with down-to-Earth family relationships, albeit with the spin of a lesbian nuclear family. By normalising what to many people is still something of a taboo, this central twist gives it a bit of an edge, one that may help it swing Academy voters. But as it otherwise presents a fairly run-of-the-mill parent/child/sperm donor plotline, I'm not sure that it's ambitious enough. I'd be very happy to see it win though. [Original comments]

The ubiquitous The King's Speech is the one that's doing all the running in the UK. It's certainly been raking in the cash at our local arts cinema off the back of its mass appeal (largely with a particular, grey-haired demographic). Again, I really enjoyed it, and it combines a tale of royalty with triumph over adversity, World War 2 and Winston Churchill - a fairly winning combination. But I just prefer some of the other films, and the republican within me has steeled me against its charms. That, and I'm not entirely happy with its rather fast and loose treatment of history (plus: I can't square Helena Bonham Carter, who I've always really liked, with the Queen Mother).

I originally found it hard to comprehend why anyone thought a film about the origins of facebook was a good idea, let along the director David Fincher. But I was very pleasantly surprised at just how well what should, by rights, be a dull dot-com tale was brought to life on the screen. Fincher and his screenwriter Sorkin have definitely pulled something of a blinder with this one, and have made a enjoyably well-paced drama out of some fairly hard-to-like characters and, well, geekery. The Social Network seemed a surefire winner a few months back, but its star seems to have fallen as rivals have been released. I wouldn't complain if it were to win, but my money's moved elsewhere. [Original comments]

It's difficult to count the number of ways in which I love Toy Story 3. Of all the films in the running, this is probably the only one for which I have unequivocal love. Thanks to its earlier, peerless instalments, the bar was set high, but Toy Story 3 totally cleared it. Though fantastical, it invests its central, non-human characters with levels of pathos, as well as humour, that other films just can't touch. And the imagination and inventiveness that have gone into it make it a pretty infectious joy to watch. As a threequel, its placement in the starting line-up is reminiscent of that given to Return of the King, which effectively stood in for all three films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But it's also more plausibly in the running for Best Animated Feature, so though I'd be delighted if it won Best Picture, I'm pretty sure that it won't (though if it doesn't win in the animated category there is no justice!). More generally, I'm also a little against the idea of an animated fantasy winning Best Picture - but that's probably just cinema-as-an-art snobbery. [Original comments]

The last time that the Coen Brothers tried their hand in the remake department, they uncharacteristically produced a rather lame mess (whose sole redeeming feature was a nice line in Southern Gothic). The contrast with their most recent film, True Grit, couldn't be greater - this time around they're firing on all cylinders (or perhaps barrels?). The result is a hugely enjoyable, and darkly humorous, western yarn, solidly grounded by the performances of Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, whose chalk-and-cheese relationship in the film lightens what's an otherwise gritty western. Given that it's both a remake and a western, I was surprised at just how much I liked this. Whether its likely to be a winner is more difficult to say - being a remake probably counts against it, for instance. But, again, I'd be really pleased to see it make off with the statue.

Last, and pretty far from least, is probably the most low-key of the runners, Winter's Bone. In some respects it, too, can be viewed as a western, albeit a modern-day one in which the impoverished midwest stands in for the wild west, and where the outlaws are more interested in methamphetamine than holding up stagecoaches. Like True Grit it also rests on excellent central performances, here Jennifer Lawrence and a rather scary John Hawkes. But it avoids the dark humour of its rival film with a plotline that has more than a passing resemblance to Heart of Darkness, as Lawrence's character seeks her estranged father among rural drug families. Again (I'm sounding like a broken record ...), I really enjoyed this film, and would be pleased were it to win. Certainly, as a more "serious" film, I think it has a good chance, but it's perhaps from a little too far outside of Hollywood to charm Academy voters.

Anyhow, overall I'd rank the films as follows in terms of "who I'd like to win" ...
1=The Kids Are All Right
1=Toy Story 3
1=True Grit
1=Winter's Bone
5The Social Network
6The King's Speech

I can't really decide among my top four, so there's no 2nd, 3rd or 4th places, but the remaining three films are slightly easier to separate. It feels a bit mean to place Inception last, but the field is strong this year, even if I can't really pick out one film that's head and shoulders above the rest. I will be (ever-so-slightly) disappointed if the winner isn't in drawn from the ranks of my top four, but I won't be seriously put out by any winner this year. There's just nothing even faintly approaching the cringingly awful Gladiator for me to get all indignant about.

Anyway, all will be revealed this coming Sunday. Can't say I'll be staying up for the ceremony, but I'll be interested to see which way the Academy bends when confronted with such a strong field. Will it be towards a cinema staple like a western? A fast-talking up-to-the-minute dissection of the dot-com era? A crowd-pleasing animation? Stirring but royal-loving and revisionist history? Or a warm, diversity-embracing family drama?


chimpaction said...

My tally is two - not bad for one trip to the cinema ;) I've seen Toy Story 3 and Inception and I'm steeling myself for 127 hours....

Plumbago said...

I just don't fancy 127 Hours at all. Never mind my squeamishness, I just can't imagine how the film will work given its well-known plot arc. I'll await your review! :-)

Deditos said...

"I'm not mad keen on watching... the psychological deterioration of a ballerina"

It's funny, because that's close to the description of my ideal film. I take it you're not a fan of The Red Shoes either?

You're right about Inception though. Exciting and enjoyable, but as a film that chooses to build its own walled garden it had too many tehnical and dramatic flaws to be considered great. It's not as clever as Nolan's Memento, and even Fincher's The Game might give it a run for its money.

Good to see Nolan, Fincher and Aronofsky all in the mix though, as they've been making some of the more interesting Hollywood films over the last 15 years.

Plumbago said...

Sad to say it, but I've not seen The Red Shoes, although it's famous enough for me to know about it. And, yes, it's not on my DVD rental list! I've liked Aronofsky's previous films, so I will get around to seeing Black Swan in the end though.

Inception is very good, but I'd agree with you about its limitations. I'd also be a bit peeved if Nolan won for it when it's probably the weakest of his films. I think I've seen all of the rest, and while Inception is definitely the most imaginative, it's just not as successful dramatically.

On that note, it's not just Nolan who's up for Best Picture on a weaker film. I'd argue that the same is true for Fincher (Fight Club anyone?) and probably (though, obviously, I've not seen it!) true for Aronofsky (though I may be the only person to have liked The Fountain!).

Anyway, all will be revealed tomorrow ...