Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Getting Ready for Oscar

There are less than 50 days left to catch the nominated films before the Oscars air on the last Sunday in February, so here's a rundown of movies I expect to see nominated in a couple of weeks. Even if they don’t get any love from Oscar, most are all well worth watching.

The Social Network's combination of first-class filmmaking and social significance is catnip to the Oscars, as it has been to just about every other awards program this year, so I’m betting it’ll be nominated for best picture, director, and screenplay and for at least one acting award. All three of its leads (Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake) deserve the statue, but Garfield has gotten most of the awards so far, maybe because his character was the only one of the three you can actually relate to.

The King’s Speech is another kind of Oscar candy, a beautifully acted historical drama with snob appeal (we Yanks just can’t get enough of those royals) and a strong populist streak (the king’s quirky self-taught therapist treats his crippling stutter by daring to treat him as a friend). The movie is likely to be nominated for an Oscar, and Colin Firth is almost sure to get a best actor nod for his buttoned-down yet emotionally flayed portrayal of King George VI, a very private man forced to assume a very public role.

Black Swan is all but certain to be nominated for best picture, best director (Darren Aronofsky), and/or best actress (Natalie Portman as prima ballerina Nina Sayers in the title role that slowly drives her mad – and, of course, as her choreographer incessantly reminds us, in the white swan role Nina inhabits so effortlessly).

Inception, 127 Hours, and The Town are all likely contenders for best picture and/or director too, and James Franco should get a best actor nod for his impressive physical and emotional work in 127 Hours. True Grit, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone, and Blue Valentine are also likely to get best picture or screenplay nominations and almost sure to nab some in acting. I thought Mark Wahlberg’s unshowy but rock-solid performance in The Fighter was the best work he’s done since Boogie Nights, but he’ll probably be passed over by the Academy as his character was in real life, overshadowed by his crack-addicted brother Dicky (Christian Bale), whose motor mouth alpha-dog antics are just the sort of thing that wins trophies. That said, Bale has earned whatever accolades he gets for his Dicky, a volatile antihero with electric eyes, a hungry stride, and a comically outsized ego that might actually be almost justified.

Jeff Bridges will probably earn another richly deserved nomination for his laconic Rooster Cogburn, an outlaw disguised as a lawman in True Grit, the Coen brothers’ pitch-perfect adaptation of Charles Portis’ martini-dry Western satire. Bridges’ teenage costar Hailee Steinfleld may get some love in the supporting actress category for nailing 14-year-old Mattie’s humorless self-righteousness and unbending backbone. I’d like to see Matt Damon recognized too, since he’s very funny as a preening Texas Ranger who turns out not to be as useless as you’d expect, but I think Oscar prefers Damon as a more conventional hero.

And The Kids are All Right may well earn a supporting actress nomination for the amazingly intelligent, emotionally transparent Annette Bening. Bening turned in a standout performance last year in the tasteful tearjerker Mother and Child, but I liked her even better in the funny and warmhearted Kids, which takes the temperature of family life in a particular place and time in American history as precisely as a John Updike novel.

Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom, and John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone could all win best supporting actor or actress nominations for their work in much darker family stories (Jennifer Lawrence may also get a best actress nomination for her real-as-dirt work as Winter’s Bone’s Ree Dolly). Hawkes’ Uncle Teardrop is the closest thing Ree can find to an ally while scouring her fist-tight and lethal Ozarks community in search of her missing father. Leo and Weaver both portray toxic moms, though Leo’s is all head-tossing sound and fury while Weaver’s coyly aging “Grandma Smurf” is a piranha disguised as a goldfish.

Other possible nominees worth catching include:

  • Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling for their exquisite acting in Blue Valentine, a realistic domestic downer about the birth and death of a love affair;
  • Likely best foreign film nominees Mother, A Prophet, Biutiful, and Carlos;
  • Best documentary candidates Exit Through the Gift Shop, Inside Job, A Film Unfinished, Marwencol, Last Train Home, The Tillman Story, and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work;
  • Toy Story 3, which is almost sure to win Best Animated Feature, and Despicable Me, The Illusionist, and Megamind, which may also get nominated; and
  • The excellent ensemble casts of Mike Leigh’s Another Year (Lesley Manville is a likely supporting actress nominee), Rabbit Hole (Nicole Kidman could nab a best actress spot for this one), Please Give (Catherine Keener is a long shot for best actress) and Greenberg (mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig was widely and deservedly praised for her sort-of-mainstream debut in this one).

Written for TimeOFF

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