Monday Morning Quarterbacking on the Oscars

Time for a brief break from reporting on the Middle Eastern uprisings to discuss the Academy Awards.  No, this is not a joke–by which I mean the break will be brief.  But for now, I’ll just post the basic results (minus a few categories such as shorts in which I happen to have less personal interest), plus a few thoughts below.

The Academy Awards 2011 (Abridged Results)

Best Picture

Black Swan

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids are All Fight

The King’s Speech

127 Hours

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter’s Bone

Best Director

Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky

The Fighter: David O. Russell

The King’s Speech: Tom Hooper

The Social Network: David Fincher

True Grit: Joel and Ethan Coen

Best Actor

Javier Bardem, Biutiful

Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

James Franco, 127 Hours

Best Actress

Annette Benning, The Kids are All Right

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Fighter

John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone

Jeremy Renner, The Town

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Fighter

Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Adapted Screenplay

127 Hours, Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufroy

The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin

Toy Story 3, Michael Arndt.  Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

True Grit, Joel & Ethan Coen

Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Best Original Screenplay

Another Year, Mike Leigh

The Fighter, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson.  Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson

Inception, Christopher Nolan

The Kids are All Right, Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg

The King’s Speech, David Seidler

Best Editing

Black Swan, Andrew Wiesblum

The Fighter, Pamela Martin

The King’s Speech, Tariq Anwar

127 Hours, Jon Harris

The Social Network, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Art Direction

Alice in Wonderland, Robert Stromberg (Production Design); Karen O’Hara (Set Decoration)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Stuart Craig (Production Design); Stephenie McMillan (Set Decoration)

Inception, Guy Hendrix Dyas (Production Design); Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (Set Decoration)

The King’s Speech, Eve Stewart (Production Design); Judy Farr (Set Decoration)

True Grit, Jess Gonchor (Production Design); Nancy Haigh (Set Decoration)

Cinematography

Black Swan (Matthew Libatique)

Inception (Wally Pfister)

The King’s Speech (Danny Cohen)

The Social Network (Jeff Cronenweth)

True Grit (Roger Deakins)

Costume Design

Alice in Wonderland (Colleen Atwood)

I Am Love (Antonella Cannarozzi)

The King’s Speech (Jenny Beavan)

The Tempest (Sandy Powell)

True Grit (Mary Zophres)

Best Original Score

How to Train Your Dragon, John Powell

Inception, Hans Zimmer

The King’s Speech, Alexandre Desplat

127 Hours, A.R. Rahman

The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Best Sound Editing

Inception, Richard King

Toy Story 3, Tom Myers and Michael Silvers

Tron: Legacy, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague

True Grit, Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey

Unstoppable, Mark P. Stoeckinger

Best Sound Mixing

Inception, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick

The King’s Speech, Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley

Salt, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin

The Social Network, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten

True Grit, Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Best Visual Effects

Alice in Wonderland, Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi

Hereafter, Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky and Joe Farrell

Inception, Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb

Iron Man 2, Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Best Animated Feature Film

How to Train Your Dragon, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois

The Illusionist, Sylvain Chomet

Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich

Best Foreign Language Film

Biutiful (Mexico)

Dogtooth (Greece)

In a Better World (Denmark)

Incendies (Canada)

Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) (Algeria)

Best Feature Documentary

Exit Through the Gift Shop, “Banksy” and Jaimie D’Cruz

Gasland, Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic

Inside Job, Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs

Restrepo, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

Waste Land, Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

I agree with the Academy in giving the win for Best Original Score to The Social Network (though I’m surprised Tron: Legacy wasn’t nominated for its excellent score by Daft Punk, which led even the film’s fans to say it probably would have been just as good presented like the current cut of Fritz Lang’s silent classic Metropolis, silent aside from its breezy industrial rock).  Inception has a marvelous, epic main theme by Hans Zimmer, but The Social Network has a great film score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that with visible ingenuity evokes a variety of dark moods.  The Liberal Ironist is a big fan of the distinct electronic tones, the rigorous execution, and the ironic pessimistic philosophy Trent Reznor put into Nine Inch Nails, and is glad to see that if popular music has clearly lost one of its brightest (if also darkest) stars, at least another part of our popular culture can clearly be said to have gained talent.  For similar reasons, I’d edge Best Director to Fincher over Nolan (with all due respect to Tom Hooper) even though I personally enjoyed Inception better.

If Inception’s writer-director was robbed this year (and point-of-fact, he surely was), it was for Best Original Screenplay.  As one of my friends put it during the cermony, it’s weird to think that Inception cleaned up with awards for execution (Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects) while failing to win acclaim for the concept those effects brought to life.  On this same note of integration in execution, I think a lot of Zimmer’s theme’s power to inspire in Inception comes from its balance with action, especially when you consider that the last several scenes are widely-separated in time, space, the sorts of characters present and even the states of consciousness involved–and yet they are essentially accompanied by that resolute theme right up to the end–hence its wins for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

The King’s Speech, I think is more of a “Best Picture”-type film than either The Social Network or Inception, but this is the award I’d more-readily grant Inception because I think its power is more in the relationship of its concepts to the effects than in its direction. Then again, a lot of people felt that Nolan was cheated out of a win for The Dark Knight at the 2009 Academy Awards–and they were right.

The Best Actor win for Colin Firth in The King’s Speech and the Best Actress win for Natalie Portman in Black Swan were widely-anticipated; they were also spot-on.  Interestingly, both leading wins went to portrayals of characters who lived a straightjacketed existence, trying to perfect a rarefied form of performance art they have been carefully-groomed for, but at the cost of their capacity to express themselves freely.  The King’s Speech is the more-understated (and its protagonist certainly the more-mature) of the 2, but many of this year’s good wide-release movies features protagonists contending with one or another kind of splendid desolation.  In Firth’s Prince Albert we see a man worthy to be king but blocked by deep-seated inhibitions because of cruelties confronted in childhood; Natalie Portman’s Nina is unable to be childlike without also being childish, maintaining a devotion to ballet that is so innocent that she cannot even see how harsh and unsustainable her artistic ambition is because it is so simple and pure.

There is something oddly-fitting about the much-deserving Hailee Steinfeld being passed over for Best Supporting Actress for her (lead?) role as Mattie Ross in the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of True Grit.  The young nominee greatly exceeded the much-older winner in elegance, sense of fair play, and for those who caught the Oscars ceremony last night, circumspection.

Regarding the Best Documentary win, I only saw 2 of these documentaries, Gasland and Restrepo.  Gasland is a disturbing account of the horrifying deterioration of groundwater quality in the wake of natural gas drilling in the American interior (notably in rural Pennsylvania).  It is a troubling account of the often almost-invisible rural poor and the ravages of an energy industry that comes dangerously close to writing its own regulations.  Speaking of writing one’s own regulations, Charles Ferguson apparently sought in Inside Job to expose what he interprets willfully-criminal behavior of the banking and hedge fund executives.  To my mind, however, the 2008 Financial Crash isn’t really the result of a crime, but rather good old-fashioned hubris–as I discussed months ago in my review of Scott Patterson’s book The Quants.

The only other of the 5 documentary nominees I’ve seen yet (and the one I would have preferred to win) was Restrepo, a strangely-funny, occasionally jarring, always riveting account of about a year’s tour of duty at a hastily-constructed combat outpost in one of the most-dangerous postings of our military’s mission in Afghanistan.  The documentary is less than 90 minutes but somehow feels much longer in a good way, giving an account of every sort of experience to be had in the Taliban-contested valley, from the pervasive locker room-type antics inside the fortified combat outpost, to calls from Afghan villagers whose loyalties are simply opaque, to mission briefings, to phone calls home, to a battle with casualties, seen from headcam perspective.  It’s unpretentious yet outstanding.

Inception, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network happen to be my favorite of 14 wide-release films that I saw in 2010 that I thought were very good or great.  You might have noticed that they are all about people trying to shape humanity through the mastery of a powerful new medium: This year, film rose to the occasion of portraying the inner lives of those shaping forces greater than it.  It was a great year for movies.

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7 thoughts on “Monday Morning Quarterbacking on the Oscars

  1. Steve

    I’d like to add a powerful congratulations to Luke Matheny, winner of Best Short Film, Live Action, for his short “God of Love”.

    I worked with Luke and most of the people he thanked in his acceptance speech last year on his wife’s NYU thesis film. And his mother graciously worked Craft Services on that one too!

    It was pretty surreal and inspiring to behold.

    Reply
    1. liberalironist Post author

      Of course, both of my comments and the awards I paid attention to reflect a consumer’s rather than a producer’s perspective on movies and the oscars. What did you think about the wins for the various directing, editing and effects awards this year? I loved The King’s Speech, but by now I feel Fincher and Nolan have been overlooked for their consistency in both vision and style.

      Reply
      1. Steve

        What stood out the most to me was that Inception won high praise for several technical awards, while the man who is responsible for the vision that put it all together was entirely ignored by the Academy. I’m not sure why they appear to disdain Nolan’s writing and directing talent, but the man should have at least picked up a nomination for Best Director.

        I still haven’t seen The King’s Speech so I can’t really comment on Hooper’s directing vs. that of Nolan or Fincher.

      2. liberalironist Post author

        The King’s Speech was an understandable choice for best director, but there were only a few times when I felt Hooper gave his scenes the sort of energy that Fincher regularly gives his.

  2. J-Doug

    I was also surprised to see King’s Speech win for best original screenplay over Inception, but there is no doubt it was the best technical movie of the last year, or last several years.

    As for Ms. Steinfield, the real failure was her nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role rather than Best Actress in a Lead Role. The BAFTA’s got it right with the nomination, but the Academy did not. That said, she wouldn’t have beaten Natalie Portman, either.

    Reply
    1. liberalironist Post author

      That was precisely why I thought Steinfeld would win Best Supporting Actress. I figured she had an inside track for it. I haven’t seen The Fighter, but Melissa Leo’s Oscar acceptance speech made me wish even more than Steinfeld had won it. It was the only time a winner personally made me feel that way last night.

      Reply

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