Posted by: Jeff | January 24, 2011

Academy Award Nominations

Oscar nominations come out tomorrow, so we’ll soon get an opportunity to buzz over the best films and performances of the past year.  In anticipation of that, however, I thought I’d offer my own five favorite films of 2010(ish) as hopeful nominations.  I can’t claim to have seen everything released this year, but I saw many of those favored at the Golden Globes, at least, and have my own personal preference about the best even though there are a few left that I do still want/need to see (Winter’s Bone and Inarittu’s Biutiful at the top of the list).  Here are the seven I’d be happy to see nominated:

7. The Town

Ben Affleck came into his own as a director this year, building on the gritty realism of Gone Baby Gone and adding both depth to character development and dynamic action sequences in the best action film of the year.  He also showed that, despite Gigli, he’s still a pretty good actor in his own right.  Great performances from Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper and Jeremy Renner added a lot of depth, despite the annoyance of having to watch multiple scenes featuring Blake Lively.  Hamm, in particular, was a lot of fun to watch as a sleazy and arrogant federal agent pursuing the everyman Affleck.

6. True Grit

A remake that remains consistent with the original is perhaps not very ambitious, but in the capable hands of the Coen Brothers, even a retread feels vibrant.  Jeff Bridges in a role made famous by John Wayne was a stroke of brilliance, even if it did feel at times as if The Dude had stumbled into a time machine and landed in turn-of-the-century Arkansas.  A witty and sharp script with a beautiful backdrop of mountains and snowy woods made for a beautiful film, punctuated by a brilliant turn by Matt Damon and a promising debut on the big screen by Hailee Steinfeld, who did more than anyone else to distance the new film from its progenitor.

5. The King’s Speech

This film surprised me more than any other this year.  I went to this film knowing only the basic premise – a king with a speech impediment – nervous that it sounded rather boring.  It’s not.  In fact, it is far funnier than I imagined, carried by the wit and charisma of Geoffrey Rush in a defining role, and made intimately human through an inspired performance by Colin Firth.  This is a film hoisted on the backs of these two actors, and they deliver a wonderful testament to the courage and perseverence of a king.

4. Toy Story 3

Animated films don’t often generate much buzz as films of the year, relegated so often to the sub-category of animated films.  But if ever there were an animated film capable of standing toe to toe with the best live action films of a year, it would be this one.  Sequels of sequels so regularly disappoint that it was all the more surprising that Toy Story 3 was such a great film.  Set against the backdrop of a child’s coming of age (and subsequent move to college), it’s a tale of loss and remembrance as the gang of toys led by Woody and Buzz redefine both home and identity.  The whole thing ends with one of the most touching moments ever affected by inanimate objects, a testament to how well this film connects with the young and old alike.

3. Inception

One of the most highly-anticipated films of the year, Christopher Nolan’s latest builds on his reputation as a psychological master.  Delving into the world of dream, Nolan builds worlds equally as vivid as his Gotham City in The Dark Knight.  This is a film that spirals out of control as layers upon layers of fantasy are added to an increasingly elusive reality.  As Leonardo DiCaprio and company descend deeper and deeper into dream, it seems as if the whole thing will unravel in confusion and implausibility, but somehow Nolan’s capable hands take us to the brink and back to the surface in a stunning finale of expert craftsmanship and storyboarding.  This is as taut a psychological thriller as I’ve seen, and with a grandiose score and vision to match.  A truly great film.

2. Black Swan

Where Inception announced its psychological forays with bombast, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan did so with twisted subtlety and grace.  Combining themes of his most recent films – the struggle toward perfection of The Wrestler and the struggle for control of fate and reality of The Fountain – Aronofsky finally realizes his vision in the person of Natalie Portman, whose turn as a dedicated and obsessive ballet dancer in New York City is breath-taking and far and away the best performance of the year.  Aronofsky unveils the dark side of performance art and obsession slowly, offering glimpses into Portman’s psyche well before it grows to consume her.  Reality and fantasy increasingly blend together, framed by the overture of Swan Lake and parallel to Portman’s desperate efforts to transform – literally and figuratively – into the black swan, triumphant and perfect.  In the end, transformation comes at the price of disfiguration, and as the screen fades to black the audience can finally exhale.  This is a thrilling and intelligent work of art, one that meshes horror film tropes with high-brow psychological experimentation.  The result is a career achievement for both Portman and Aronofsky.

1. The Social Network

A film that ultimately says more about a generation than any of the characters it features, David Fincher’s The Social Network is propelled forward by one of the best scripts ever produced, a masterful exercise in writing and exposition that addresses a generation’s obsession with technology, fame, and success while tackling the place of trust, friendship, and honor in life today.  By capturing the life of a person who epitomizes entrepreneurial success and casting his professional achievements in the light of his personal failings, Sorkin questions the values of an entire era.  Is it more important to be successful and popular than good?  Is it possible to be both?

As I wrote after seeing the film for the first time: “This film is all of those things, and perhaps more: it is an incredible artistic work featuring top-notch performances, well-paced direction, and a magnificent script.  It is a film that deserves equal recognition for content and form, and will doubtless accumulate many awards for its achievement.”

Picks for Other Categories:

  • Best Director: Christopher Nolan, Inception
  • Best Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
  • Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  • Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
  • Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Best Supporting Actress: Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

I might take some flak for that last one, but Watson has been pretty brilliant throughout the Harry Potter series and in this latest effort she showed some real depth that nobody could have predicted when she was cast as a kid for the first film.  Each of the three – Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint – have been great, but Watson stands out as the best of the bunch.  The series might be pulp fiction and the films themselves sometimes feel off-mark, but there have been some great performances that strangely never get noticed.


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