The Double O’ Nothing Oscars Special

Posted on February 26, 2011


Well, it’s that time of year again. The stars of the silver screen, and the artists and technicians that put them there, are celebrated for their achievements in the industry by the Academy. In short, it’s Oscar time again.

As a lover of cinema, I thought I’d take a look at this years Oscar nominations, cover the big top-four categories (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress) and pick my favourites to win. First up:

BEST FILM (Best Motion Picture of the Year)

Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky is on top form with this film about duality, identity and transformation, intended to be a companion piece to 2008’s The Wrestler. Despite some rather obvious motifs and a narrative that owes much to the werewolf genre, this is actually a taut and involving thriller, brilliantly directed with a first class cast and possibly the best central performance we’ve seen in a long while from Natalie Portman. Aronofsky’s trademark sense of discomfort permeates the film, whilst subtle homage is paid to Roman Polanski. Criticisms have been leveled at Aronofsky for lifting elements of the Japanese anime film Perfect Blue for Black Swan, but that does not detract from the brilliance of this film.


The Fighter: The first in this list of Oscar hopefuls to be based on real life events, The Fighter charts the chequered career of Wahlberg’s welterweight boxer “Irish” Micky Ward as he makes a bid for the World title. Christian Bale puts in an Oscar nominated turn as Wahlberg’s drug-addicted brother and trainer.


Inception: Who says you can’t have an action thriller that operates on many levels and encourages you to think? WithInception Christopher Nolan accomplishes this balance with seeming ease. On the surface this is a taught heist film with sci-fi elements. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover there’s far more going on. Not since The Usual Suspects has a film posed so many questions on the nature of what it is we’re actually being shown. The film borrows heavily from the writings of Louis De Bourges and manages to bring many of the complex ideas of his writings to the screen. Leonardo DiCaprio is on top form here, taking us on a journey of repressed fears and psychological obsession. If he hadn’t already done pretty much the same thing in Shutter Island, this would have been the stand out performance of his career. Some level accusations of pretention, but this is far more than a bookish Total Recall. This is a rare film that is genuinely open to interpretation that survives, nay demands, repeat viewings and will have you asking questions and formulating your own conclusions for as long as the top keeps spinning.


The Kids Are All Right: This film stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple whose two children from artificial insemination seek out their biological father. Whilst that is the premise, it really does not do justice to this surprisingly good film. The central performances from Bening and Moore are truly first rate and their relationship in the film is believable, touching and fractured. A breakout hit at Sundance, this film also picked up the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, which is interesting as it is neither a musical or a comedy. It would be so easy to view this as a film based on a PC gimmick, but that is far from what is on offer here. Bening is as good as she was in American Beauty, and there is something of that film in here, with perhaps a dash of Little Miss Sunshine. Not just one to watch for the Oscars, but just simply one to watch.


The King’s Speech: The film focuses on the relationship between Prince Albert, who suffered from a stutter, and his unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Set during the Abdication Crisis of 1936 when Edward VIII renounced the throne, it shows how Prince Albert and Logue worked together to overcome his affliction. As the Prince becomes King George VI and is faced with the prospect of imminent war, his ability to speak to the people with clarity becomes all the more important. Despite one or two historical inaccuracies, The King’s Speech is a thoroughly enjoyable film, full of wonderful supporting performances, beautiful production design, and with the relationship between Firth’s King George and Rush’s Logue its beating heart.


127 Hours: There’s really not much to commend this film on paper. First of all, you know what’s going to happen. This is based on a real life event and, unless you’ve been living under a rock (pardon the pun), you’ll know that James Franco’s character gets trapped in a canyon and must cut off his own arm to free himself. Secondly, there’s little to compel most people to watch a man cut off his own arm. Frankly, most people would rather cut off their own…well, you know what I’m saying. Thirdly, Franco’s character is fairly unlikeable and we’ve got to spend pretty much the whole film with just him. So, why should you watch it? The answer is because this is actually rather brilliant. Danny Boyle isn’t everyone’s cup of tea as a director, but he manages to absolutely hook you in and elicit a very powerful performance from Franco, who is, deservedly, up for Best Actor.


The Social Network: Who remembers a time before Facebook? Before status updates allowed half the world to know what you had for breakfast and unflattering pictures of yourself could be viewed by literally millions of people? How did we manage to inform people of our relationship status or organise events before Facebook came along? It may seem ridiculous that a website such as Facebook should deserve a film based upon its creation, but the fact is that this “social utility” has become so ubiquitous that it is simply impossible to ignore. And, at its heart, the story of its precocious founders is utterly compelling and entirely fascinating. You should “like” this film.


Toy Story 3: It has to be said that I have a soft spot for Pixar. They’ve given us some of the most heart-warming and life-affirming films of recent memory, allowed us to feel like kids again whilst we enjoy their modern fairytales that deliver a message that is blissfully free from the usual Hollywood heavy-handed, saccharine flavoured moralising. So, it is wonderful to watch the last installment of the film that started it all: Toy Story. This film takes us full circle and is a fitting end to an almost perfect trilogy of films.


True Grit: The Cohen brothers take on the Western with their adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel. Full of their usual gallows humour (often literally) and with the occasional nod to Peckinpah, True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, a young girl with surprising maturity and sass, seeking to avenge the murder of her father by Tom Chaney, one of his hired hands, played by Josh Brolin. She hires a merciless U.S. Marshal (an Oscar nominated performance from Bridges) to track the man down. Matt Damon’s smug Texas Ranger, who wants Chaney for a prior murder, joins them on their quest. This is as good as No Country For Old Men, but more forgiving and with more heart.


Winter’s Bone: This isn’t an easy watch, but it is brilliant cinema. It tells the story of a young girl (Jennifer Lawrence in an Oscar nominated role) who must find her meth-addicted father who has skipped bail, before the family home he put up as collateral is lost. This film explores the notion of family and the terrible effects of methamphetamine on a poor socio-economic section of society.


My pick: It’s a tough one, but I’ll go with The Social Network.

BEST DIRECTOR (Achievement in Directing):

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) Aronofsky is one of my favourite directors, possessed of a truly unique style. Whilst he’s had a miss (The Fountain) he’s mostly found hits with films like PiRequiem For A Dream and The Wrestler. He manages to infuse his films with a genuinely disturbing sense of unease and populate them with gruesome, yet strangely believable characters. Black Swan is nothing short of his masterpiece, so watch this space.

David O. Russell (The Fighter) – Russell has quite a reputation, and not necessarily a good one. Notoriously difficult to work with, Russell came to (literal) blows with George Clooney on the set of Three Kings and stormed off set after a tirade of verbal abuse at Lily Tomlin (calling her “the worst word you can use”) on I Huckabees – a film that was not a critical or commercial success. Russell dropped off the radar for a while, however, with The Fighter, Russell is back and at his very best. This is his first nomination for Best Director.

Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) – Hooper is really the wild card in this line-up. A relatively unknown director, Hooper is perhaps best remembered for last year’s The Damned United. Despite this,The King’s Speech is brilliantly directed and Hooper draws on his experience of British television costume dramas to deliver a stylish and believable vision of the period. Despite a slew of nominations for best director, The King’s Speech has yet to pick up a single one. So, even though the direction is excellent, don’t hold out too many hopes for Hooper walking away with the Best Director statuette.

David Fincher (The Social Network) – Fincher is a favourite for Best Director having picked up that award at the Golden Globes (traditionally a very good indicator of how things will go come Oscar night.) Fincher, best known for the dark tone he brings to his films, has yet to scoop up an Academy Award and this could just be “his time”.

Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit) – The Cohen brothers took the Best Director award for No Country For Old Men in 2007 and Joel was nominated for Fargo in ’96. True Grit is their reverent, Peckinpah influenced, take on the Western. They are a versatile duo, able to tackle both seriously dark drama and lighthearted humour with equal skill.

My pick: David Fincher for The Social Network.

BEST ACTOR (Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role)

Javier Bardem (Biutiful) – Bardem picked up the award for Best Actor at Cannes for his performance of a cancer afflicted single father living in the underworld of Barcelona. A nomination for Best Actor for the Oscars seemed certain, despite it being the first time that an entirely Spanish language performance has been nominated. It’s a powerful turn from Bardem and there’s every chance this could be a win for him.

Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) – Eisenberg has been nominated for a whole host of awards for this performance, including the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors’ Guild Award and, obviously, the Academy Award. It’s always harder to play a real person, but Eisenberg is utterly convincing as Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook. He may be the youngest in the line-up, with arguably the weakest CV, but that certainly shouldn’t rule him out of contention for the top prize.

Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) – Oscar Favourite Firth could easily walk home with the statue having already scooped up a Golden Globe. Firth is as engaging as ever as the stuttering King and, after last year’s A Single Man, he really should be recognized for the fantastic actor he is and not just the slightly dull one from Bridget Jones.

James Franco (127 Hours) – By rights, Franco should win. Whether this film succeeds or fails really is down to Franco’s performance and it is testament to his ability that he manages to make a film where you ultimately know what happens, both compelling and engaging.

Jeff Bridges (True Grit) – Bridges won the Oscar last year, so he probably won’t get it this year, too. Having said that, I could watch Bridges in anything, and this such a full and enjoyable performance from him that you can’t help but smile. Whether that alone is deserving of an Academy Award is debatable, but it is certainly one of the more entertaining performances up for the statue. The role proved to be Oscar gold for The Duke back in ’69. Will it prove to be so for The Dude?

My pick: The Dude. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

BEST ACTRESS (Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role)

Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right) – This is simply the best thing we’ve seen Bening in and that’s saying something. She really is quite an incredible actress, but here her performance is so genuine, so touching. There is no attention grabbing Oscar bait here, only a moving performance from a talented actress at the top of her game.

Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole) – An emotionally complex turn from Kidman, playing a mother whose young son is killed in a car accident. She is a three-time nominee for best actress and one time winner forThe Hours in 2002. She has long since proven herself as a credible actress and far more than simply the former Mrs. Tom Cruise.

Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) – Lawrence is a virtual unknown, with her previous work being in television. However, here she delivers a mature and extremely capable performance.

Natalie Portman (Black Swan) – This is Natalie’s film. She utterly owns this performance. This is where she comes of age, truly shrugs off her “little girl” image and delivers a performance that should make the Academy sit up and take note.

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) – This is Williams’ second Academy nod after being nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain. In Blue Valentine she gives us a powerful, emotionally complex performance spanning the life of a marriage from its romantic and spontaneous beginnings to its tragic ending.

My pick: Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Pure brilliance; a performance utterly deserving of the statuette.

So, that’s it. All that remains is to slip on the dinner jacket, pop the bubbly and sit back and see if the predictions come true. Check back here next week to see how I did.