The Best Picture Project – 2010

Loyal readers of this site are no-doubt familiar with my quest to see all 82 Best Picture winners, otherwise known as The Best Picture Project. So far I’ve seen 33 of the 82, with The Deer Hunter and Gandhi the next on tap.

Because this is the Best Picture Project it only makes sense that at Oscar time I weigh in on this years nominees for Best Picture.  And, in the spirit of the Academy’s move towards the preferential voting system I’ll go ahead and rank my choices as well, from highest to lowest.

The poster for the film shows Natalie Portman with white facial makeup, black-winged eye liner around bloodshot red eyes, and a jagged crystal tiara.1.  Black Swan, Dir. Darren Aronofsky

None of the movies I saw for Best Picture this year were perfect – all were somehow flawed.  Some were emotionally cold, some were overlong, some were just a bit too slight. Black Swan’s flaw, strangely enough, is the screenplay.  For a movie in the Best Picture race, it’s script is a bit thin around the edges, demanding many of the characters to be little more than flat caricatures, especially Winona Ryder.

Despite the flaw, though, no film I saw from 2010 was quite as haunting to me than Black Swan.  For days I was left trying to make sense of a movie that seemed to defy classification. It’s not a straight thriller, and yet it’s not a straight-laced theater drama in the vein of All About Eve either.  While it seems to have much in common with classic films as The Red Shoes – particularly the weird madness of ballet – it also owes much to the dreaminess of the films of David Lynch, particularly Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive.  Because it refuses to be one thing or the other, it stuck with me, and I continue to puzzle over it.

What really works about the movie, though, and what makes it what it is, is Natalie Portman’s performance.  Because she’s in virtually every scene of the film it either lives or dies with her and while I’ve found her tiresome in other places, her unique brand of brittle intensity is pitch perfect here.

Favorite scene: At the urging of her the company director, Portman’s character wakes up one morning and decides to take matters into her own hands, if you get my meaning, only to roll over and spot her mother asleep in the chair next to the bed.  Quel horreur.

 

 

2.  The Social Network, Dir. David Fincher

Before the SAG, PGA and DGA bestowed their love on The King’s Speech, The Social Network marched into awards season as the favorite to win the big prizes.  Part of me blames the stumble with the guilds on a backlash, that The Social Network was too loved and therefore needed to be dropped a peg.  The other part of me blames it on the old fogies at the Academy who still haven’t figured out this whole internet brouhaha – after all, these are the same people that loved Forrest Gump over a little film called Pulp Fiction.

Both reasons may be valid in explaining how The King’s Speech suddenly became the front-runner, but I think the real reason it didn’t get the love it deserved was because, no matter how well-crafted The Social Network is, there’s hardly a hero to be found.  For the most part, everybody is a greedy jerk, and those that aren’t, come across as overly principled assholes.  This, of course, is quite unlike The King’s Speech, where the king is humanized by his affliction and therefore seems just like one of us.

For the record, I loved The Social Network.  What could be a dull movie about a bunch of nerds staring at computers is made compelling by the genius direction of David Fincher and script by Aaron Sorkin.  It’s acerbic, wry, quite witty, and Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake were fantastic.  Though, to be fair, Jesse Eisenberg seemed to be doing something of a retread of Zombieland, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

In my own list this might have been the top movie of the year but as good as it was, it just didn’t stick with me the same way Black Swan did.  Maybe if it had a lesbian make out session, then…

As a note, the score for The Social Network was co-written by Trent Reznor, of the world-famous musical-group, Nine Inch Nails.  Fun fact: my son’s name is Trent.  I wonder if they are connected.

 

A man in a suit with a gun in his right hand is flanked by five other individuals in the middle of a street which, behind them, is folded upwards. Leonardo DiCaprio's name and those of other cast members are shown above the words "YOUR MIND IS THE SCENE OF THE CRIME". The title of the film "INCEPTION", film credits, and theatrical and IMAX release dates are shown at the bottom.3. Inception, Dir. Christopher Nolan

After the nominations came out this year I had a feeling that a whole host of fanboys and non-fanboys alike looked in their bathroom mirrors and asked themselves the same question: what does Christopher Nolan have to do to be nominated for Best Director?  Sure, he’s snuck into the Screenplay list a couple of times, and managed to score a Best Picture nom this year, but otherwise he’s not even had the chance to be a bridesmaid in the Director race.  That’s hardly a just result for a man who’s made two of the most mind-bending films of the last decade and completely reenergized a tired superhero franchise.

By my count, Nolan’s been left out of the Director race four times in the last decade over competition that was far weaker.  In 2001 Ridley Scott gets in for Black Hawk Down, but Nolan can’t get any love for Memento.

In 2006 he directs a genius film called The Prestige and has to sit still while the director of Babel gets into the race for a dreadfully earnest film.  To be fair, though, nobody but me clamored for the nom.

In 2008 he directs The Dark Knight, a juggernaut commercially and critically, but is still not enough to overcome such heavy hitters as Steven Daldry and his instant ‘classic’, The Reader.

No surprise, 2010 worked out the same.

Inception is much like Black Swan.  Both had a slippery handle of reality and both plagued me to solve its riddles.  For the record, the happy ending has Cobb’s top stop spinning, but I know in my heart it never does.  Unfortunately, for all its clever visuals, Inception leaves me a little emotionally cold and was why it rates only third on my particular ballot.  In any other year, though, it might easily be at the top.

 

4. True Grit, Dir. The Coen’s

It’s strange that, 15 years ago we thought the Coen’s were these filmmakers always working a bit off-kilter, that their films always had this cockeyed way about them that would forever peg them as outsides.  Fifteen years on, though, and with their third film in four years sneaking into the Best Picture race, the right question seems to be whether the Academy has moved to meet the Coen’s taste, or if they’ve moved their taste to meet the Academy.

Whatever the answer to the question, it was good to see their take on True Grit.  The John Wayne version might be considered a classic but there was something about how clean its old west looked that put me off, as did Glen Campbell’s ‘acting’.  All around True Grit is an improvement on the original movie and on the source material, and hews closer to what I envisioned of the characters when I read the book.  It may be sacrilege to say so, but Jeff Bridges better captures the spirit of Rooster Cogburn than the Duke ever did, and Hailey Steinfeld is a better Mattie Ross.

Still, while it’s a better take on the material, it does have its own problems to overcome.  The first is that it’s supposed to be a story about a manhunt, but doesn’t have a whole lot of manhunt.  The second is that endless moonlight ride at the end.  One of those problems comes from the source material, the other from an editorial choice and both could have easily been solved but alas, weren’t.

Still, I’ve got my fingers crossed hoping Roger Deakins finally gets his Oscar for some exquisite camerawork.

 

Many toys all close together, with Buzz Lightyear and Woody holding the top of number 3.5.  Toy Story 3, Dir. Lee Unkrich

Because animated films have their own category I’m tempted to not rank Toy Story 3 here and leave it to its own little ghetto, but that would be unfairly pushing aside a great movie and a near-perfect cap to one of the most beloved trilogies in movies.

However, it’s sadly rated only fifth on my ballot, and largely for two reasons.  The first is that for all the fun and ingenuity of TS3, it is almost-relentlessly menacing and grim at times, and the huge fireball at the end of the conveyor-belt at the garbage dump seemed far too much, even if it paid off with a nice gag from ‘the claw.’

The second is the relentless sentimentality.  Pixar movies aren’t content merely to touch our hearts – sometimes they have to bash it in with emotion.  TS3
is no different, skipping over the organic ending of having Andy drop the box off with the little kid and drive away, in favor of letting him go on and on about each toy, just to make sure we cry.  I’m cynical, so I rolled my eyes.  But even if I wasn’t cynical I quickly realized that in ten years time, when this girl
was Andy’s age, the toys were going to find themselves right back in the same position, of worrying they were going to be thrown away and incinerated.  You’re supposed to cry when Andy drops the toys off but remember, the toys aren’t being saved from execution – this arrangement is only a temporary stay.

 

6.  The King’s Speech, Dir. Tom Hooper

It might be the juggernaut of 2010 with 12 nominations, and it might have won at the SAG, PGA and DGA awards – such a juggernaut that Helena Bonham Carter got the Catherine Keener in Capote nomination otherwise reserved for favored actresses in less-than-thrilling parts in darling movies – but for me The King’s Speech can never be Best Picture.  Yes, I enjoyed it, and Colin Firth was good, but it really offered nothing new to me.  It was just another movie about manners and furs and pearls– and how many of those have we seen before?

In a nutshell the movie was just so meh.  I mean, it’s a movie about a guy triumphing over some impediment, but really, when you think about it, he does’t triumph over it.  He spends the midsection of the film as a brooding ass until he finally figures out how to give a speech without a stutter, only to have the speech be so stilted and jittery he might as well stutter.  It’s like a later-day My Left Foot.

Now, to be fair, I’ve been partial to other films by Tom Hooper, particularly The Damned United, and know he’s got talent to spare, but The King’s Speech was almost staid and well, dull, by comparison.  If not for the fact that I thought Geoffrey Rush stole the show – by the way, he was outstanding – I’d have left it completely off the ballot.

 

Unranked

The Kids Are All Right, Dir. Lisa Cholodenko

127 Hours, Dir. Danny Boyle

Winter’s Bone, Dir. by Debra Granik

There are a variety of reasons I couldn’t rank any of the three films above on the ballot, the most obvious being I didn’t think they were worthy of Best Picture.

The Kids Are All Right had many enjoyable parts, and I laughed my ass off more than once, but it came across as too-TV movie-ish for my taste.  Besides, while Annette Bening got the attention and the Oscar nom, Julianne Moore was far better in the film and got shafted out of a Best Actress nom by the fact that Bening wound up in the leading race when she rightfully should be playing in the Supporting Actress sandbox.

127 Hours was a movie I watched and admired but couldn’t actually love, even if I appreciated the accomplishment of it and James Franco’s bravura performance.  It’s somewhat like Requiem For A Dream – a good movie that was not fun to watch.  I’m actually surprised it even made it in the race, considering what the climax of the film has in store, but I guess that was the point of expanding the nominations to ten, so that challenging films could get a look.

Winter’s Bone was a film I just didn’t get.  Watched it, couldn’t get into the story, and got distracted that one of the main characters was played by Patty The Daytime Hooker from My Name is Earl. It might have been some sort of festival fave, but it wasn’t mine.  Although, it is worth nothing that between Winter’s Bone and 127 Hours, the Best Picture race 2010 features three severed hands.

Unseen

The Fighter, Dir. David O. Russell

Hey, I have no excuse for not seeing this film – I just didn’t.  But because I don’t think that all Academy members voting for Best Picture saw every movie made this year, it’s not a big deal that I missed one.  Besides, having seen 9 of 10, I’d say that’s close enough.

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