Archive | January, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

28 Jan

Title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Year:
2010
Director:
Daniel Alfredson
Writers:
Ulf Rydberg and Jonas Frykberg, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson
Starring:
Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre
MPAA Rating:
R, strong violence, some sexual material and brief language
Runtime:
147 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.9
Rotten Tomatoes:
51%

 

The last 2010 film I saw was The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the last Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s insanely popular novels, the previous two entries of which were also released last year.

Now, the first film of the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I thought was a formidable adaptation, and one that will prove to be real challenge to better for David Fincher, who’s currently working with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig on the American remake. That first film was really amazing to me, I gave it a strong A-, which will make it end up at 35th out of the 210 films I saw in 2010, and it introduced everyone to Noomi Rapace, who played the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander and who gave a riveting performance which I have ranked as the 10th best given by any leading actress in all of last year, and which we’ll all get to see much more off when she appears in the Sherlock Holmes sequel this year, and then in Ridley Scott’s insanely anticipated Prometheus next year.

The second film, The Girl Who Played with Fire, was still really really good, but not as jaw-dropping as the first one, I gave it a B+ grade, and it will end up as 53rd on my year-end rankings. And this one, the final installment, is much like that one, not up to the standard that first one set so high up, and still a tiny bit below the second one, but still a pretty solid film. The thing that let this third installment down was the fact that it didn’t have too many scenes in which Ms. Rapace interacted with Michael Nyqvist, and the chemistry between those two is what made the first one so incendiary, so taking that away from this one only hurt it.

And even though it’s quite slow, it still keeps us interested because we have spent two past films investing ourselves in these characters, and we go through the slower processes in this one still compelled by what’s being shown. And, moreover, even in the most talky scenes, which take place in a courtroom, Ms. Rapace is able to act up a storm, completely owning the screen and showing us why we remember her so damn well from her first outing as Lisbeth. Not to mention that, because Ms. Rapace is absent for much of the first half of the film, it makes her return during the final parts that much more welcome, especially considering she’s talking up a storm like I said.

I devoured the books quickly enough, and I really think these Swedish film adaptations did them justice, and considering the cast and crew the American adaptations have lined up, I’d say we’ll continue to chew up this stuff like hungry babies. How they get this one to end up is pretty cool, because all along it feels like what it is, a conclusion, working its way to tie up the loose ends, to leave you with some final thoughts.

I guess some would say that the best sequels are the ones that stand on their own, you can take any Bourne film and it will still feel amazing even if you haven’t seen the other ones, and even the Lord of the Rings films, you obviously need to know what went down in the previous one to really get them, but if you see them as stand alone features they’ll still really work. And to some extent I think that’s true, which is why, I guess, some may find fault with these films, the first one is an exquisite experience, but the second one and this one are too tied up to that one and they feel nowhere near complete if you haven’t experienced the others.

And while that’s true, I will say one thing, you have to dumb to see a Part II or Reloaded or Supremacy without checking the previous installments. If you go see this one without having seen the first two you may feel pretty lost in all the happenings, even with all the flashbacks we get. And because it’s such a slow film, you probably won’t care about the characters at all and feel as though the film was rather sucky, which, trust me, it isn’t.

But my guess is that even if you think the film isn’t that good, you’ll probably still feel pretty damn interested about Noomi Rapace and her embodiment of Lisbeth Salander, who is, in my opinion, the definitive heroine of the past decade. And that’s because these films, as much great plot as they may have, are all about the personality of their characters, what they say and think, that’s what really sucks us in. And how it’s shown by these actors, how Ms. Rapace decides to play out Lisbeth is especially incredible to see, and how it’s all shot and presented to us by a very fine European crew that it all works so well.

I haven’t yet seen the three films back-to-back, but I think that once I get to it it’ll be one seriously rad experience, the first one starts it off like crazy, a very cool mystery, the second one still fires on all cylinders, delivering a rad thriller with some action thrown in, and then this third one calms things down and ties the loose ends, behaving like one very neat conspiracy film with fireworks going off in those final courtroom scenes. And that’s really saying something, that’s saying that even if these films can’t stand alone that awesomely, they are one very cohesive work when put together, and that’s all we should want them to be.

Grade: B+

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Country Strong

28 Jan

Title: Country Strong
Year:
2010
Director:
Shana Feste
Writer:
Shana Feste
Starring:
Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester, Garrett Hedlund
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content
Runtime:
112 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
5.4
Rotten Tomatoes:
19%

I’ve many times heard people say Gwyneth Paltrow is horribly overrated as an actress. And every time I’ve heard that I’ve been very vocal in my complete disagreement with that assessment, because I really do think Ms. Paltrow is absolutely amazing in anything she’s in, and not one bit overrated. Now, as for Country Strong, her latest, I thought the film itself was ultimately a bit worse than I what I thought it would be like, but that’s because I actually had some pretty high expectations. But that being said, I still thought Ms. Paltrow was amazing in it, giving it her all as a country singer, tackling her character’s issues head-on and singing pretty damn good in the process, I actually had her performance here ranked as 19th in my favorite performances given by an actress in a leading role in all of 2010.

But yeah, Country Strong wasn’t that amazing even though Ms. Paltrow, and the rest of the cast at that, tried their best to make the film succeed. What happened was just a case of a pretty messy script, full of unnecessary clichés and dull bits that made the end result a rather sour affair. I still thought the film was much much better than what its 19% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes would seem to indicate, but my expectations for it were pretty high, I was expecting a film I would grade an A-minus, and what we got was a solid little B-grade film.

The four main castmembers (Ms. Paltrow, as well as Garrett Hedlund, Tim McGraw and Leighton Meester) are what make this film much better than its script would have warranted, they really get into their characters emotions and add a depth to them that most certainly wasn’t there in the screenplay. The balance these actors find within their characters is really something to behold, they make the film compelling all on their own.

Roger Ebert starts his review of the film (to which he awarded two-and-a-half stars out of four) saying that Country Strong is “one of the best movies of 1957”, and saying he means that as a total compliment but that, unfortunately, times have now changed. And that’s a pretty dead-on assessment of what we get here, a film that has a decidedly throwback feel, with good amounts of melodrama and several other thematic elements and characters you would have been more likely to have found five decades ago than just now.

Ms. Paltrow plays a character said by writer-director Shana Feste to have been inspired by Britney Spears, a country singer who has had her fair share of troubles, and who seems to have been released from rehab too soon for her own good. And I really did love how everything fit together here. I mean, sure, Country Strong was something less than what I thought we were gonna get, but that’s because it was something much different. And what we get is still pretty damn cool, full of awesome musical performances and Gwyneth Paltrow tackling a role that she makes all her own, embedding Kelly Canter with all her beauty and charisma and thus making her rather sympathetic.

Tim McGraw plays James, the man who married Kelly back in the day, and that now, after all her issues, remains by her side as a dutiful manager who wants to salvage a great career with a comeback tour, but that as a husband is still reeling with the blow of having lost his unborn baby when Kelly drunkenly fell off-stage at a concert and had a miscarriage. Garrett Hedlund plays Beau Hutton, a guy who also sings, and pretty damn well at that, but does it just for his and the people’s enjoyment, and not so much for the money side of it. Leighton Meester plays Chiles Stanton, a former beauty queen who wants a shot at music stardom and who has cast a spell on both James and Beau, but you also get a hint that those two feel a bit more than that towards Kelly.

The above reads as some really melodramatic fare, which Country Strong is, but it’s one done really efficiently, I mean, it has some very corny stuff in it, but the warmth and sympathy these actors put into their roles make it all work out in the end. And that’s really what a film like this ultimately needs, we know from the second we are introduced to Beau working at Kelly’s rehab center and then to Chiles that they’ll eventually join Kelly’s tour as the opening acts, but with all four main performers doing such a great job with their characters they make these icky situations feel quite real, at least emotionally speaking, which is what matters.

The tension between each of these characters is very soap opera-ish in its tension, Kelly is jealous of Chiles who in turn admires her while also is seemingly starting something up with Beau and James which creates an antipathy between those two, while James for his part is trying to save his broken marriage and Beau has some feelings towards Kelly.

It’s all very exaggerated, but I personally ate it all up, especially because I always ended up losing myself in the musical performances, which we impeccably performed by whomever took the stage (though, strangely enough, the only one who doesn’t is Tim McGraw). Country Strong was less than what I thought it would originally be, but I thought it was much more than people were saying, and I though Ms. Paltrow, as per usual, was just impeccable here.

Grade: B

Biutiful

27 Jan

Title: Biutiful
Year:
2010
Director:
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writers:
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Armando Bo and Nicolás Giacobone
Starring:
Javier Bardem, Blanca Portillo, Maricel Álvarez, Rubén Ochandiano
MPAA Rating:
R, disturbing images, language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use
Runtime:
147 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
7.6
Rotten Tomatoes:
64%

I’m writing this review a day after the Academy Award nominations were announced, but I saw the actual film several weeks before this, and have seen it two more times since. I’ve been raving about Javier Bardem’s performance here for quite a while now, and hearing his name as a nominee for Best Lead Actor, the first time a performance in a foreign language has been nominated for that award, was a great way to start the week.

Because, really, the stuff on display by Mr. Bardem here is a thing of absolute beauty, my fifth favorite performance given by a male lead actor in all 2010, one in a film that’s so damn bleak and dark that it really needed a performance like this to get us through the journey. Because many people have turned off Biutiful or left the theater after a while because they weren’t able to fully watch it, which is a pity, because as hard as it may get to watch at times, it’s incredibly rewarding at the end, and all the support Mr. Bardem is getting from fellow actors and friends like Julia Roberts and Sean Penn is extremely deserved.

Alejandro González Iñárritu is a pretty masterful craftsman, you look at all four of his films, Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and now Biutiful, and you know this is a guy who can handle some pretty heavy topics and create something amazingly compelling with them, something never far from brilliant, and always getting some extraordinary performances from his actors.

Biutiful deals with a man, Uxbal, and looks at him as he knows the end of his life is near, and must do everything to provide a safe future for his children and leave everything he has worked for in order. And in the end there’s hope to be found in Biutiful, a film that has in Mr. Bardem a leading man that was willing to go deep down inside and fetch some really raw emotions that make this film feel like a wonderful poem about life. The shots here are just gorgeous, the details, everything, you just feel this was a work of love from all involved. Gloomy as hell, yes, but also beautifully intimate and, ultimately, absolutely riveting.

There’s something cool about having the actor here be Mr. Bardem and having the city be Barcelona. I say that because, as it’s been mentioned in a few interviews, this film shows the absolute opposite side of the city than the one that was shown in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the Woody Allen film that also starred the Spaniard thespian. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona we saw beautiful colors, beautiful women and beautiful places, in Biutiful the color palette is darker, full of blues and dark oranges, and so are the stories we found, with Uxbal being a very special sort of criminal in the Barcelona underworld. And while the film deals quite a lot with death, you just sense so much life coming out of it.

And how Mr. Bardem plays Uxbal is what ultimately makes this film hit so deep, what makes it stand out from being just a dark moody film. His Uxbal is a guy who could have been played straightforward by a lesser actor and the result wouldn’t have been as astounding, it’s in the complexities and layers that Mr. Bardem adds to the character in which we truly find the richness of Biutiful.

Uxbal, you see, is indeed a criminal, a guy who lives in a zone full of immigrants and has his hands all over many illegal businesses, but he can also communicate with the souls of the recently deceased, which he does, for a price, to alleviate mourning families. He’s a good guy, he really is, and he has the best intentions for the people that surround him. And, most importantly, he’s a dedicated father to their two children, of whom he has full custody of since their mother is really something.

In Mr. Iñárritu’s first three films, which were all written by Guillermo Arriaga with Mr. Iñárritu pitching in as a co-writer in Babel and that were dubbed the ‘Death Trilogy’, he used intertwining story lines and multiple narratives, and for those films, that worked insanely well. But here in Biutiful, his first film without Mr. Arriaga, he decides to focus on just one man, on Uxbal, who discovers he’s dying from cancer. And in focusing on just one man, and in having such a talented actor playing that man, he manages to create scenes of beautiful depth, filmed with handheld cameras and showcasing lovely colors that suit the film perfectly.

And while his first project without Mr. Arriaga has Mr. Iñárritu tackling only a single story, it doesn’t mean he’s going to start focusing on other themes that much. This is still a very sad story, focusing on a man who doesn’t have the best of outlooks. And what I thought was great was the fact that Mr. Iñárritu didn’t work that hard to explain Uxbal to us, most of that discovery is left to us, the audience, to try and understand why Uxbal is the way he is, to try and understand the people in his life.

I understand why some people are saying Biutiful was too grim for them to endure, because it honestly is, and as amazing as I personally thought this was, this is a hard film to recommend because I know deep inside more people than not won’t agree with me. But still, please try and get over the eerie atmosphere and moody outlook and allow yourself to follow Mr. Bardem in his very human exploration of a character, Uxbal is a hero trapped in a situation he knows he can’t get out of, and it’s an amazing journey to be a part of.

The music by Gustavo Santaolalla, the way it was shot by Rodrigo Prieto, every single element comes together here to make a thing of sheer beauty. And trust me, if you’re able to get through seeing Biutiful fully, then the first thing you’ll want to do once you’re done is to see it again, to fully appreciate the intricate subjects that Mr. Iñárritu touches upon here, and realize that even though this may be his simplest film yet narrative-wise, it’s probably the hardest one he’s done as far as studying emotions and situations.

Grade: A

Oscar Nominations: My Reactions

25 Jan

The Oscar nominations were announced bright and early this morning. And while most of the nominees were predictable, there were still quite a bit of storylines to take out of the morning’s announcements.

Firstly, of course, the outrageous snub of Christopher Nolan in the Best Director category, Inception might have made the Best Picture ballot and Mr. Nolan himself got his second career Screenplay nod, but the Academy yet again failed to mention him for Best Director to make room for the Coen brothers. Another snub was The Town, which ended up with a sole Oscar nomination and got snubbed in the Best Picture as well as Director and Screenplay races, the films nominated instead were still quite deserving, but still, too little love bestowed on such a great film.

Then, on a far more positive note, this was also the year in which films that came out of Sundance came out strong at the Oscars, which is terrific news for the independent film business, The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone both got 4 nominations in major races, Animal Kingdom got a Best Supporting Actress bid, and four out of the five Best Documentary nominees were shown in Park City a year ago.

As for what the nominations will mean come the big night on February 27th, well, The King’s Speech certainly got a huge boost today, scoring an even dozen nominations, the most out of any film this year. That has some people jumping from The Social Network‘s bandwagon into the one driven by Harvey Weinstein, since for the last several decades the movie with the most nominations has won the Best Picture race 75% of the time. Now, let’s play statistics for a while here, I actually still think The Social Network will still win this for now, but the stock on The King’s Speech has certainly risen in the last few weeks. First, of course, was Saturday’s PGA win, and considering that association has bestowed its award to the eventual Best Picture winner 13 out of the last 20 years it means it has the odds going for it.

But then again, lets not forget just how much The Social Network has going for itself, it pretty much swooped the Critic’s groups awards, including big wins at the Globes and the National Board of Review. Not to mention that David Fincher is the clear front-runner to win not only the Best Director Oscar, but the DGA honors that will be announced on Saturday. And really, the Best Director winner is always considered the likely victor of the big race and, in fact, the winner of the DGA award has actually went on to have their film win the Best Picture Oscar 33 times in the last 40 years.

So, who really has the advantage? I honestly don’t know, this really is one seriously tough race to call, and I won’t call it until all the remained precursors are done with. Yes, the DGA will most likely go to The Social Network, but then the BAFTAs will presumably be all over The King’s Speech considering it’s a home-grown film. The PGA win by Tom Hooper’s film was big, yes, but so were the many Critic’s Associations and Globes wins by David Fincher’s movie. So, if I may interject, I think that the one awards show that may be a big indicator as to what will happen on Oscar night will be the SAGs, taking place this coming Sunday.

Hear me out for a while, the SAG obviously doesn’t have a Best Picture award, but rather a Best Ensemble one, meaning it will honor the combined acting performances of the cast in a film. And while I still think that the front-runner for that one is The Fighter (which has four seriously spectacular performances), I can see an upset happening courtesy of The King’s Speech. The Social Network won’t win that one, it has some great performances but it can’t compete acting-wise with those two other films, so that race will be the one to prove just how much support The King’s Speech has. And if it wins that one, then I probably will update my predictions and consider it the front-runner for the Oscar, because, remember, the SAGs have many times served as indicators of Oscar upsets, I’m obviously referring to 1998, when the SAG went to Shakespeare in Love, the same film that went on to win the Best Picture Oscar over the clear favorite, Saving Private Ryan, and most recently in 2005, when Crash ended up with the SAG win and ended up upsetting Brokeback Mountain for the Academy’s top honor.

So yes, this will be a Best Picture race for the ages, one I’m really excited for and one that will come down to the very end. Will The King’s Speech end up with the win? Consolidating itself as the biggest Oscar bait there ever was in 2010, a biopic about British monarchy counting with excellent performances all around and a spectacular director working form a brilliant script. Or, will The Social Network prevail? The film with very young up-and-coming actors, directed by a director that started out working on music videos and then went on to create some of the most masterful and popular films of the last decade and a half, one about a modern phenomenon and full of quick-witted, very fast and talkative scenes. It will be a New School vs. Old School battle to the very end, the historical dramas have fared very well in the past, I’m thinking Gandhi or The English Patient, but as of late, with winners like The Hurt Locker and No Country for Old Men, it feels as though the Academy is skewing more towards films oriented to younger audiences with a more gritty sort of feel. We’re in for one very entertaining race to the finish line.

But enough about the big race, I’m sure we’ll talk much more about that in the near future, but for now let us revise all the nominations announced by the Academy today.

BEST PICTURE

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone

All the usual suspects here. I went 9 for 10 as far as my predictions go, considering Winter’s Bone felt the love from the Academy big time today and crept into the big party, throwing out my original prediction for the tenth slot: The Town. Again, as for who will actually win it, I have no idea, it’s a big split between The Social Network and The King’s Speech, and we’ll have a clearer idea of the state of the race once the remaining precursors are all said and done.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Darren Aronofsky (for Black Swan)
  • Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (for True Grit)
  • David Fincher (for The Social Network)
  • Tom Hooper (for The King’s Speech)
  • David O. Russell (for The Fighter)

I went 4 for 5 in this one, considering I predicted the horribly snubbed Christopher Nolan to be invited to the party instead of the Coen brothers. However, True Grit got a massive ten nominations and the love went to the genius brothers instead. Which was well deserved, but it’s ridiculous that Nolan doesn’t have a Best Director nomination to his name yet. However, massive kudos to Darren Aronofsky for finally getting his first career nomination for helming what to me was the best film of 2010.

BEST LEAD ACTOR

  • Javier Bardem (for Biutiful)
  • Jeff Bridges (for True Grit)
  • Jesse Eisenberg (for The Social Network)
  • Colin Firth (for The King’s Speech)
  • James Franco (for 127 Hours)

Went a perfect 5-for-5 in this race, correctly predicting Javier Bardem’s nomination over Get Low‘s Robert Duvall. Still, Bardem’s nomination was much deserved, and it was awesome to see a foreign language performance getting a nod here. However, this has never been a race, the golden man probably has Colin Firth’s name engraved from this very moment.

BEST LEAD ACTRESS

  • Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right)
  • Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (for Winter’s Bone)
  • Natalie Portman (for Black Swan)
  • Michelle Williams (for Blue Valentine)

Another category in which I went 5-for-5 in my predictions. And it really is a lovely bunch of ladies getting nominated here, Michelle Williams got her extremely deserved nomination for her beautiful work in Blue Valentine and Jennifer Lawrence capped off her breakthrough year with an invite to Hollywood’s biggest party. This is, though, still a Portman vs. Bening battle, and even though I think Portman has the edge because hers was the better performance in the better film, I’ll wait until the SAGs are done on Sunday to call her a lock.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Christian Bale (for The Fighter)
  • John Hawkes (for Winter’s Bone)
  • Jeremy Renner (for The Town)
  • Mark Ruffalo (for The Kids Are All Right)
  • Geoffrey Rush (for The King’s Speech)

I predicted four out of the five here, the one I got wrong was Andrew Garfield who I thought would firmly land a nod but was bumped off by John Hawkes who was riding on the huge love given to Winter’s Bone here. Still, this is no contest, it’s Bale’s to lose, and he just won’t.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams (for The Fighter)
  • Helena Bonham Carter (for The King’s Speech)
  • Melissa Leo (for The Fighter)
  • Hailee Steinfeld (for True Grit)
  • Jacki Weaver (for Animal Kingdom)

I’ve always said this was my favorite race of the year, and even though my personal #2 pick, Mila Kunis, was left out, it really still is. I said that if Hailee Steinfeld remained here and wasn’t voted as Lead, then either Ms. Kunis or Jacki Weaver would get the boot, I picked Kunis in my predictions but apparently the Academy really loved the Australian crime saga and wanted to give it a nod, as they should have, really. Still, this is the best race there can be this year, considering I could see any of these ladies potentially winning. Amy Adams was my personal favorite of the year, and she gives her best performance yet, and considering it’s her third nomination they may (and hopefully will!) give it to her. Helena Bonham Carter may find herself winning if The King’s Speech sweeps. Melissa Leo is the current favorite, and if she wins the SAG on Sunday then this will be hers. Hailee Steinfeld carries True Grit and the voters may like to reward a young one. And Jacki Weaver created one seriously compelling character here, though considering she missed out at the SAG I think she’s the less likely to end up winning.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Another Year (written by Mike Leigh)
  • The Fighter (written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson)
  • Inception (written by Christopher Nolan)
  • The Kids Are All Right (written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg)
  • The King’s Speech (written by David Seidler)

I went 4 for 5 in this one, and the one I missed was the one that pains me the most not to see here which was the beautiful Black Swan screenplay, which I had in favor of Another Year, but I guess you can never count Mike Leigh out of this race, he’s just that good. As for who will win it, I would very much like to see The Kids Are All Right pick this one up, or if not then Christopher Nolan as a sort of apology from the Academy for not even nominating him for Best Director. But, most likely, this one will end up firmly in the hands of David Seidler.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • 127 Hours (written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, based on the book by Aron Ralston)
  • The Social Network (written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Ben Mezrich)
  • Toy Story 3 (written by Michael Arndt, based on the story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich)
  • True Grit (written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, based on the novel by Charles Portis)
  • Winter’s Bone (written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell)

As I said in my predictions, Winter’s Bone was going to put up a fight to be honored in this category. In my predictions I had The Town listed instead of Debra Granik’s film, but, as I’ve already said, the Academy shout-out the Ben Affleck film outside of Jeremy Renner’s nod, so no love here either. I like Debra Granik’s script better though (had it 6th in my Best Screenplays of 2010 list, while The Town was 15th), so I’m happy about it. Still, there’s no way Aaron Sorkin is losing this one, but then again I said the same thing about Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner’s script for Up in the Air last year.

BEST ART DIRECTION

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
  • Inception
  • True Grit
  • The King’s Speech

Very very good bunch of nominees here, the only film I could have seen making the cut and still be happy about it would have been Shutter Island, but nevertheless, this will be a very cool race. I’m hoping Inception will prevail here, though Alice in Wonderland may have something to say about that and, if it turns out to be a sweep, so may The King’s Speech.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Black Swan
  • Inception
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • True Grit

If I would have to guess, I’d say True Grit will win this one. However, it was amazing to see Black Swan get listed here, though I would have liked to see The King’s Speech miss out on this race in favor of the wonderful job by the 127 Hours guys.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Io Sono l’Amore
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Tempest
  • True Grit

As I said in my review for The Tempest, you can never count any Julie Taymor film out of the Best Costume Design race (all four of her films have now been nominated), but still, this one will most likely go to Alice in Wonderland. Cool to see Io Sono l’Amore get a nod here, too.

BEST EDITING

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network

Out of the technical categories, Best Editing is the one that foretells the Best Picture winner the most, so this one is one we should pay close attention to. Since the award was introduced nearly eight decades ago, only nine films have won Best Picture without being nominated here. Which I guess also goes to explain why Crash trumped over Brokeback Mountain. But still, the two Best Picture front-runners are here, so seeing who wins may be decisive as to who takes Best Picture. My vote goes to The Social Network here, and I still can’t fathom why Inception wasn’t named.

BEST MAKEUP

  • Barney’s Version
  • The Way Back
  • The Wolfman

They failed to recognize Alice in Wonderland in this one somehow, so I’m guessing this one’s definitely The Wolfman‘s.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • 127 Hours (composed by A.R. Rahman)
  • Inception (composed by Hans Zimmer)
  • The Social Network (composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
  • The King’s Speech (composed by Alexandre Desplat)
  • How to Train Your Dragon (composed by John Powell)

Usual suspects in this one. Awesome to see Reznor and Ross up for this one, and they’re definitely my favorites to end up picking the award. However, Alexandre Desplat gets his fourth nomination with this one and still hasn’t won, so if The King’s Speech ends up owning the show he could win. However, Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception, which is all sorts of mind-blowing, may end up getting the win if the Academy feels it didn’t bestow enough nominations love towards the film, he hasn’t won an Oscar since The Lion King in 1995, despite being nominated 6 additional times since.

BEST SONG

  • If I Rise (from 127 Hours)
  • Coming Home (from Country Strong)
  • I See the Light (from Tangled)
  • We Belong Together (from Toy Story 3)

I honestly don’t know who will end up with the win here. All I know is that I’m happy no songs from Burlesque were named here.

BEST SOUND

  • Inception
  • The King’s Speech
  • Salt
  • The Social Network
  • True Grit

This is the one category that had most prediction experts baffled. Everyone predicted a maximum of 11 nominations for The King’s Speech, and this is the one nobody imagined, and the one that showed us just how much the Academy loved the film. As strange as it may sound, a Sound nomination is what really let us know that it was the front-runner.

BEST SOUND EDITING

  • Inception
  • Toy Story 3
  • TRON: Legacy
  • True Grit
  • Unstoppable

I really liked seeing TRON: Legacy here, and I was sure that The Social Network would get a nod here, but out of nowhere came Unstoppable and made the cut. Still, a cool and eclectic bunch.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
  • Hereafter
  • Inception
  • Iron Man 2

I expected TRON: Legacy to make the cut here, but at least it got a Sound Editing nod so it didn’t go unmentioned. Still, if Inception loses this race the Oscars will have lost all credibility to me.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Biutiful (from Mexico)
  • Dogtooth (from Greece)
  • In a Better World (from Denmark)
  • Incendies (from Canada)
  • Outside the Law (from Algeria)

This one’s always very tough to predict. But hopefully Biutiful will end up with the trophy.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • L’Illusionniste
  • Toy Story 3

This one isn’t a race at all, Toy Story 3 will win this one hands down.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • Inside Job
  • Gasland
  • Waste Land
  • Restrepo

No Waiting for Superman? Yeah, very very weird. Same with the lack of Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. Still Inside Job would be a very cool winner, as would be Exit Through the Gift Shop, especially if we somehow get a Banksy appearance.

OscarWatch: Best Picture

24 Jan

Since the Academy Award nominations will be announced bright and early Tuesday morning (!) I thought I’d do seven OscarWatch posts for the main races: Screenplay (encompassing both Original and Adapted), Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Director and Picture.

In them I’ll detail my thoughts on the given race and how I think things are starting to shape up considering we have now seen most of the precursor awards and count with BAFTA and SAG nominations. I’ll give my personal Top 20, with a brief paragraph on each, for any given race and detail which I think will be the nominees for the Oscars come Tuesday. And in the very final pre-nominations OscarWatch post we’ll of course tackle…

Best Picture

I’ll give my Top 20 picks for the best films in all of 2010, my brief thoughts on each and then I’ll say how I think the Oscar nominations for the category will look once they’re announced on Tuesday.

As for the state of the race, well, it’s a two-way race here. The precursors gave huge momentum to The Social Network, as did its win and mini-sweep at the Globes last week. However, yesterday The King’s Speech won the Producers Guild Award, and considering it will most certainly win the BAFTA, and will have a very decent shot at the Best Ensemble SAG award this really is a two-horse race, and a very very entertaining one at that.

Personal Top 20

  1. Black Swan – My favorite film of the year by heaps and bounds, a true masterpiece, directed by one of Hollywood’s most ambitious and perfectionists minds, featuring a handful of exceptional performances and just nailing every single frame.This is intense and passionate filmamaking at its very best, and were it up to me it would win absolutely everything.
  2. The Social Network – This is being heralded as the film of a generation. And as huge a statement as that may seem, it’s really kinda sorta on the money. A film about the phenomenon that’s consuming huge amounts of time of our lives, directed to perfection by a guy who can’t seem to do a bad thing and who started directing music videos, bolstering sensational performances by a cast full of up and coming actors, and with a script full of words and witty remarks. This really is the film of a generation.
  3. Inception This was the popcorn film that was actually stimulating, the smartest film of the year directed by the visionary we have all embraced like crazy into our lives. This was the one everyone talked about even months after its release, the one that when released on home video showed us just how awesome a blu-ray can really be, the one that had some seriously amazing performances and a very emotional story in the midst of all its visual spectacle. True innovative filmmaking.
  4. Blue Valentine The rawest, most emotional film experience I had in all last year. Bolstered by two pitch-perfect performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, this film showed how quick love can start, and how quick it can all end. It’s portrayal of a crumbling marriage is a very powerful thing to watch, the actors putting everything on the line, masterful stuff all around.
  5. The Kids Are All Right – This one has superb performances around the board, and tells a very contemporary story about family which we can all relate to in one way or another. Beautifully written, directed and acted, The Kids Are All Right was one of the best films of year just because of that, but it became even better when you realized just how much the writers knew their wine.
  6. Somewhere – Sofia Coppola’s back at it again, coming back to the stuff she’s comfortable with, and directing a quiet and gorgeous film. One which takes quite a bit from her own experiences as the daughter of a big star, and has her exploring celebrity like few directors can.
  7. Never Let Me Go – And I’ll say it one final time in these OscarWatch posts, this was, to me, the most underappreciated film of 2010 by a fair amount. Capturing the style and essence of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel it was based on was going to be a tough task for anyone to accomplish, and yet Mark Romanek did so splendidly, directing Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley to beautiful performances.
  8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – A truly original film, one that captures to perfection the style and flair of the graphic novels I love so much and that found in Edgar Wright the perfect director to convey the precious little life of Scott Pilgrim, and in Michael Cera the perfect guy to bring the character to life. This one goes by really fast, with its stunning visuals and cool one-liners, and every last second of it is pure bliss.
  9. Toy Story 3 There hasn’t been an official confirmation that this will be the last Toy Story film. But if it is, it’s probably the most graceful conclusion to any trilogy ever, coming full circle, full of memorable moments, of huge laughs, of meaningful tears. A beautiful film that ranks amongst Pixar’s best.
  10. 127 Hours A really powerful film, this one is. James Franco delivering the best performance of his career for director Danny Boyle, who entrusted him with portraying Aron Ralston, the real life man who was trapped when a boulder crashed his arm in a Utah canyon. The result is really breathtaking, with a stunning performance by Mr. Franco, sharp directing and writing by Mr. Boyle and some really gorgeous cinematography.
  11. True Grit – The Coen brothers are at it again with True Grit, continuing the ridiculous string of stunning films. They also have a wonderful cast full of amazing veterans in Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin and found in Hailee Steinfeld one of 2010’s coolest new stars, who clearly has a very bright future in front of her. If you liked Intolerable Cruelty, and manage to ignore that underwhelming The Ladykillers then you just might say the have a perfect body of work.
  12. Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik creates a very bleak and somber atmosphere for her film about the Ozarks, and found in Jennifer Lawrence the perfect actress to bring Ree to life, and carry and bring a speck of hope to the film. This is a real starmaking turn from her, and what lies in her future is just amazing to think about.
  13. The Town – The film that proved to us that Ben Affleck really is a fantastic director. A film that was extremely entertaining and full of spot-on performances by a cast that included Mr. Affleck himself, as well as Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively and Chris Cooper.
  14. The King’s Speech – If you exclude Black Swan this is the best-acted film of all 2010, the sort of thing you can write “Oscar bait” on, everyone delivering some truly masterful performances, directed by Tom Hooper from a fantastic script. If Black Swan was a very polarizing film, this is one I cannot see anyone not really falling in love with, if anything just because of how amazing Colin Firth is in it.
  15. The Fighter – Yes, this is another rather predictable boxing film, but the real-life story and people in it make it a very very compelling family tale. This is not a boxing film with a human story in it, but a human story with boxing in it. The performances here are just amazing, with Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg all doing wonders with their characters.
  16. Let Me In – The fact that this film ended up being nearly as perfect as the original Swedish one is the biggest compliment one could give it. This is the perfect definition of a good remake, one that never once tries to lose the essence of the original, but that adds enough spice of its own to separate itself from it in order to be judged on its own.
  17. Greenberg – Noah Baumbach yet again delivers a darkly comic script and amazing directing chops to a small little film that deals with the intricacies of an offbeat character. That character is played by Ben Stiller in what might be the performance of his career, a nuanced portrayal that was perfect in all the best ways. Not to mention that it was also the film that introduced us to Greta Gerwig, and she’s all sorts of lovely.
  18. Kick-Ass – A very fun film to watch, one that honors its graphic novel roots, isn’t afraid to show a cursing thirteen-year-old or hugely graphic and gnarly violence. This really is a treat for the eyes, one that has Nicolas Cage in full-on spectacle mode being awesome, and in Chloë Moretz one of the best finds of the year.
  19. Animal Kingdom – The stunning portrayal of the Australian criminal underground world. The performances here are just stunning to watch develop, the script is really clever and the film is just intensely plotted and structured to deliver a really thrilling ride.
  20. Biutiful – This is a very powerful film, one that’s many times hard to watch, but one that’s extremely rewarding to watch as well. Bursting to life by a beautifully raw performance by Javier Bardem and confident filmmaking by Alejandro González Iñárritu, it’s strong stuff, but compelling, too, and one that will have you leaving the theater and really thinking deep about what you just saw.

How I Think the Oscar Nominations Will Look Like (in alphabetical order)

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • Inception
  • The Fighter
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • The Town
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit

The Town and 127 Hours are the wildcards for me here. The other 8 I think are guaranteed to score an invite to the big race. I named both The Town and 127 Hours as hypothetical candidates, but I could actually see either one of them being bumped off the shortlist in favor of Winter’s Bone, we shall wait and see what happens Tuesday morning.

OscarWatch: Best Director

24 Jan

Since the Academy Award nominations will be announced bright and early Tuesday morning (!) I thought I’d do seven OscarWatch posts for the main races: Screenplay (encompassing both Original and Adapted), Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Director and Picture.

In them I’ll detail my thoughts on the given race and how I think things are starting to shape up considering we have now seen most of the precursor awards and count with BAFTA and SAG nominations. I’ll give my personal Top 20, with a brief paragraph on each, for any given race and detail which I think will be the nominees for the Oscars come Tuesday. In this post I’ll tackle…

Best Director

I’ll give my Top 20 picks for best job at directing a film in 2010, my brief thoughts on each and then I’ll say how I think the Oscar nominations for the category will look once they’re announced on Tuesday.

As for the state of the race, I actually would stop calling it a race at all anymore. This award, no matter the outcome of the Best Picture one, will end up in David Fincher’s hands for sure.

Personal Top 20

  1. Darren Aronofsky (for Black Swan) – Yes, the award will go to David Fincher, but Darren Aronofsky is my personal pick for an inch. And that’s because Black Swan was my favorite film of the year by so much more than an inch. This is a masterpiece, a magnificent triumph in filmmaking, and Darren Aronofsky did a perfect job handling the reigns of it.
  2. David Fincher (for The Social Network) – David Fincher is the real deal, you look at his filmography and the titled you see are spellbinding: Fight Club, Se7en, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac. This is a guy who has made some of the definitive films of the last decade and a half, and this may just be his crowning achievement, just an amazing job by him.
  3. Christopher Nolan (for Inception) – The smartest film of all 2010, the kind of film that had you really working to keep up with it, and craving a repeat viewing to see what you may have missed. This was all executed to perfection by Christopher Nolan, who also wrote the film and was in charge of making “Did it stop spinning?” one of the most asked questions of all last year.
  4. Derek Cianfrance (for Blue Valentine) – I kind of fell in love with this film when I saw it, and it had a lot to do with the two lead performances. And those performances were directed to perfection by Derek Cianfrance, who also co-wrote the film and crafted a gorgeous look at a painful marriage.
  5. Edgar Wright (for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) – I’m a massive fanboy of Edgar Wright, and I’m also a massive fanboy of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. When I first heard he was the one to be put in charge of bringing them to life I thought that if anyone was to succeed at that task it was probably going to be him. And sure enough, he created one of the most original and fun films of 2010 with a marked imprint of his very unique vision.
  6. Lisa Cholodenko (for The Kids Are All Right) – This is a wonderful film and it the woman handling the reigns, and also the one who co-wrote it, is at ease here, exploring very complex human emotions and situations. An exemplary piece of work.
  7. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (for True Grit) – I’m starting to think there should be a campaign to name the Coen brothers the definitive American filmmakers of our time. They always tackle very different topics, eras, and genres, and they always produce work of the highest of qualities. Here they go forth an make a western, the genre you’d never suspect would fit to their artistic sensibilities, and yet the wonderful language of the book they adapted, as well as the perfect group of actors they got made it look easy for them to craft a seriously great film.
  8. Tom Hooper (for The King’s Speech) – This is probably the most prestigious film of 2010. Everyone loves it, it marries to perfection the historical biopic film aspects with mass appealing themes, and it has Tom Hooper sitting firmly on the director’s chair, working with a bunch of very talented and recognized thespians. He did a truly amazing job here, and if Fincher wasn’t such a lock to win the Oscar I’d call Mr. Hooper his biggest threat.
  9. Sofia Coppola (for Somewhere) – I’ll forever be a lover of everything Sofia Coppola does. And Somewhere is no exception, coming back from the larger scaled Marie Antoinette to return to the quiet, patient and beautifully observant films she does so well. Marie Antoinette was actually pretty amazing, but this is a return to her comfort zone, to where her aesthetic lies and where she can excel at telling small but beautiful stories.
  10. Ben Affleck (for The Town) – Here was the film that confirmed to everyone that Ben Affleck as a director is most certainly the real deal and not a one-hit-wonder who got lucky with the sublime Gone Baby Gone. He directs an all-star cast to some spectacular performances (I gave five of the film’s performances mentions in previos OscarWatch posts, including the one Mr. Affleck gave himself), and creates a bank heist movie that feels really fresh and doesn’t abuse any of the many genre clichés that would have been so easily to fall into for any lesser talented filmmakers.
  11. Danny Boyle (for 127 Hours) Slumdog Millionaire, his Oscar-winning previous effort, was going to be a tough act to follow. And Danny Boyle traded the very busy and loud streets of Mumbai and its many characters for a canyon in Utah in which his single character would be trapped for most of the film. And it paid off tremendously, with Mr. Boyle adding a very different and yet equally deserving film to his outstanding resumé.
  12. Debra Granik (for Winter’s Bone) – This was one very very cool cinematic experience for me in 2010, and how Debra Granik portrayed this very tough and very real region of the U.S. was just impeccable. Anchored by some awesome performances from breakout star Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes this was just a sensation film.
  13. Mark Romanek (for Never Let Me Go) – The music video director went back to feature films for the first time since One Hour Photo, and the result is the film that I have been calling the most underappreciated movie of 2010 in pretty much every OscarWatch post yet. This really was a beautiful adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, full of pitch-perfect performances and able to create a very unique and fitting mood.
  14. Lee Unkrich (for Toy Story 3) – Pixar keeps its perfect streak alive with Toy Story 3, as the film managed to tell a story about growing up, about the blows life may deal us with, about friendship and love. It had huge laughs, great adventures, tearful moments, and everything else one could have wished for.
  15. David O. Russell (for The Fighter) – I loved The Fighter, and a lot of it had to with how David O. Russell chose to tell this story. Not using the many familiar themes and motifs that were available to huge extents, but using them as a backbone to tell a story that we all knew how it would end and still making it exciting and getting amazing performances from every single member of his cast.
  16. Mike Leigh (for Another Year) – There’s probably not a single living director who’s better at exploring the human psychology during everyday tasks than Mike Leigh. And Another Year is another prime example of why that is, this is just one very very good film, with a trio of awesome performances and a great overall feel.
  17. Noah Baumbach (for Greenberg) – Noah Baumbach is a guy I think can do no wrong. Greenberg is an exquisite exploration of its main character, a guy who’s not that easy to love, but who’s actually very easy to relate to and really care for. The situations created and explored by Mr. Baumbach and his cast, all of whom are uniformly excellent (especially Ben Stiller and the lovely Greta Gerwig), are just terrific to watch.
  18. Clint Eastwood (for Hereafter) – I know some people didn’t love Hereafter, but I thought it was tremendous. And that was mostly because of Mr. Eastwood, who got some very fine performances from his cast and dealth with a very interesting topic in a very interesting way. Why some people weren’t so fully on board with this film is something I won’t ever really understand.
  19. John Cameron Mitchell (for Rabbit Hole) – This was a very difficult film to really manage. And yet the result was something spectacular, with John Cameron Mitchell dealing with the hard material wonderfully, directing Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart to some perfect performances in the process.
  20. Matthew Vaughn (for Kick-Ass) – Last spot in the rankings goes to Matthew Vaughn, who directed one of the funnest films in all 2010 and captured to perfection the graphic novel style of it all, crafting memorable characters and scenes, not to mention that this was what sparked Chloë Moretz’s career, so we have him to thank for that.

How I Think the Oscar Nominations Will Look Like (in alphabetical order)

  • Darren Aronofsky (for Black Swan)
  • David Fincher (for The Social Network)
  • Tom Hooper (for The King’s Speech)
  • Christopher Nolan (for Inception)
  • David O. Russell (for The Fighter)

I think Aronofsky, Fincher, Hooper and Nolan are all 100% sewn up to get nominations. And the fifth slot is a battle between David O. Russell and the Coen brothers for True Grit, but with the latest precursors indicating that the former holds the advantage in that square-off.

OscarWatch: Best Lead Actress

24 Jan

Since the Academy Award nominations will be announced bright and early Tuesday morning (!) I thought I’d do seven OscarWatch posts for the main races: Screenplay (encompassing both Original and Adapted), Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Director and Picture.

In them I’ll detail my thoughts on the given race and how I think things are starting to shape up considering we have now seen most of the precursor awards and count with BAFTA and SAG nominations. I’ll give my personal Top 20, with a brief paragraph on each, for any given race and detail which I think will be the nominees for the Oscars come Tuesday. In this post I’ll tackle…

Best Lead Actress

I’ll give my Top 20 performances given by actresses in a leading role in 2010, my brief thoughts on each and then I’ll say how I think the Oscar nominations for the category will look once they’re announced on Tuesday.

As for the state of the race itself, I’d very much like to call it a lock and say Natalie Portman will no doubt win this one. However, I don’t think we should count Annette Bening out just yet. I mean, I’d call it an 85% certainty that Ms. Portman will win this one, but Ms. Bening has already lost twice in this race (and I’m guessing that on both occasions she came in second in voting) so she’s due, and actors and audiences both love her, so an upset may occur.

Personal Top 20

  1. Natalie Portman (for Black Swan) – My favorite film of the year, my favorite performance of the year. I would love to see Annette Bening win because I thought she was robbed that first time she lost, but considering this performance by Ms. Portman then I’ll be sorry to tell her she should brace herself for a third loss.
  2. Michelle Williams (for Blue Valentine) – Michelle Williams I think I’ve never seen do a single bad thing. And she, alongside Ryan Gosling (who I ranked 3rd in my Best Lead Actor rankings), is just dynamite here. Providing a brutally honest and painful look at a very troubled marriage.
  3. Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right) – She’s undeniably great here, and she’s an awesome woman. The dinner scene at Paul’s house, from her singing that Joni Mitchell song, to finding out about her wife’s cheating and the expressions in her face, that’s all unbelievable acting from a woman who’s incredibly good at picking the right projects and is one of the best in the business.
  4. Jennifer Lawrence (for Winter’s Bone) – One of the breakout stars of 2010, she carries her little film to absolute greatness with a remarkably grounded performance which gives a speck of hope to a horribly bleak film.
  5. Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole) – Nicole Kidman hasn’t been this good since The Hours. This was her passion project, she helped produce it and she stars in it, giving a gut-wrenching performance as a mourning mother.
  6. Julianne Moore (for The Kids Are All Right) – She goes head to head against Annette Bening in here, as her character goes through an emotional rollercoaster which she conveys to perfection.
  7. Carey Mulligan (for Never Let Me Go) – And I’ll say it one more time, Never Let Me Go, my official selection for the most underrated film of 2010. Carey Mulligan comes off her stellar star-making performance in last year’s An Education to star in this one, and she’s just amazing in it too.
  8. Lesley Manville (for Another Year) – Mike Leigh’s films are always an actor’s dream if the actor is willing to shed off any sort of vanity they may have and just lay it all on the line for the amazing director. Lesley Manville does just that, and the performance we end up seeing is a thing of beauty.
  9. Tilda Swinton (for Io Sono l’Amore) – I’m a big fan of Tilda Swinton, who already has an Oscar, and the work she did in this gorgeous Italian film is amazing, I seriously doubt a nomination will happen, but, much like Javier Bardem’s in the Best Lead Actor race, it would be kinda nice to see a foreign language performance get an acting nod.
  10. Noomi Rapace (for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – She’s generating some very nice buzz for her role in this one, the first entry in the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novels, and it’s all well deserved. She has a toughness that’s just brilliant to watch develop.
  11. Anne Hathaway (for Love and Other Drugs) – This film is one I thought was severely underrated, and Anne Hathaway’s performance was truly amazing here. She won’t get nominated, but this only builds up her string of amazing acting in very solid films, and I can’t help but think she’ll get one of those golden men in the future.
  12. Kirsten Dunst (for All Good Things) – Consider this mention my official “welcome back” card for Ms. Dunst. We hadn’t seen her in anything for quite some time, so just the sight of her was something I cherished, the fact that she went on and delivered a very good performance was just additional icing on an already very sweet cake.
  13. Sally Hawkins (for Made in Dagenham) – Though this wasn’t as amazing as her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky (which the Academy failed to recognize) it was still buzzing with the charismatic energy Sally Hawkins has, and the film is a lighter than most Academy baits so it has that fresh appeal going for it.
  14. Annette Bening (for Mother and Child) – A double-honoree in my rankings here, this was a film I thought was seen by too few people and was also full of impeccable performances. Ms. Bening’s was the finest of the bunch, as is usually the case.
  15. Naomi Watts (for Fair Game) – To go toe to toe with Sean Penn, and actually manage to out-do him is something very few actors can accomplish. Naomi Watts does just that in Fair Game, a film in which she gets to play Valerie Plame and does some incredible things with the role.
  16. Diane Lane (for Secretariat) – This film was supposed to be much more an awards bait than it eventually turned out to be. But I still thought it was a very very good inspirational film, anchored by a very nice performance by Ms. Lane.
  17. Chloë Moretz (for Let Me In) – 2010 was also the year in which we discovered Chloë Moretz, first in Kick-Ass and then in Let Me In. The latter was the one in which she delivered her better performance, and, even though the film was well-received, very few people actually saw it. If you haven’t done so, please watch it, it’s nearly as perfect as the original Swedish film on which it’s based, and has Ms. Moretz bringing her A-game.
  18. Kristen Stewart (for Welcome to the Rileys) – You just have to watch Ms. Stewart’s non-Twilight roles to really see how great an actress she actually is. Yes, her style of acting may be the same in all her films, kind of fidgety and quiet, but that gives each of her characters something rather unique. In Welcome to the Rileys she plays a troubled girl to tremendous results, going head to head with James Gandolfini in some really tough scenes.
  19. Gwyneth Paltrow (for Country Strong) – The film eventually wasn’t as amazing as it first seemed it would be. But Gwyneth Paltrow was still amazing in it. I’ve heard a lot of people say she’s way overrated, but I disagree, I think she’s pretty damn awesome in everything she tackles.
  20. Amanda Seyfried (for Chloe) – As always, the final spot of my Top 20 goes to a sentimental favorite of mine. Here it’s Amanda Seyfried, who does wonders with the titular role in Chloe, having some electrifying scenes alongside Julianne Moore.

How I Think the Oscar Nominations Will Look Like (in alphabetical order)

  • Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right)
  • Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (for Winter’s Bone)
  • Natalie Portman (for Black Swan)
  • Michelle Williams (for Blue Valentine)

First time in my OscarWatch for the acting races that the five nominations I imagine the Academy will name matches five-for-five with my five favorite performances of the year. Natalie Portman and Annette Bening are the mortal locks, with the award itself being a fight between the two of them, a fight in which Ms. Portman currently has the edge. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lawrence also look like very strong bets. As for that fifth slot, there’s a few ways in which that one could go, Michelle Williams I think will make the cut, and if she doesn’t I’d say it won’t happen because the voters will have put Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit as Lead instead of Supporting and she ended up bumping Ms. Williams off the shortlist.