Category Archives: Oscars 2010 Best Picture Reviews

2010 Oscars Best Picture nominee: The King’s Speech

Whew! I never thought I could do reviews of all ten Best Picture nominees. Belive me that it was not easy. Anyways I will end my reviews of the nominees with the heavy frontrunner of this year’s Oscars: The King’s Speech.

The story of King George VI and his speech to England at the start of World War II is the subject of the movie The King’s Speech. What we see throughout the movie is how George had to overcome his stammering to make this speech to all of England. We also see the making of an unlikely friendship.

We start off in 1925 as Prince Albert is to make a speech in Wembley Stadium at the close of the British Empire Exhibition. The speech is to be broadcast to all the nations of the British Commonwealth. He stammers, much to the displeasure of the crowd.

After having no success with the therapists he had seen, his wife the Duchess recommends an Australian emigre Lionel Logue. Albert is surprised at Lionel putting on acting shows for his children. His therapy methods also appear unorthodox. He requests to Albert that they greet each other by their Christian names, a breach of Royal etiquette, and even calls him ‘Bertie’. Lionel also has him say a Hamlet soliloquy while listening to a Mozart record while Lionel records his voice. Albert believes he stammered throughout and quits in frustration. Lionel gives him the record as a keepsake. Years later, Albert listens to the record and is surprised to hear he never stammered.

Albert returns to Logue and resumes therapy. Part of the therapy also includes Albert explaining his past. We learn of his strict father, discomfort of his left-handedness, a nanny who humiliated him in front of his parents, and the death of his younger brother. We also learn his family encouraged mockery of his impediment. As the lessons continue, Alert and Logue develop a friendship. Then Albert’s father, King George V dies. Albert’s brother is heir to the throne and is crowned Edward VIII but Albert is unhappy he plans to marry an American socialite. Edward accuses Albert of wanting to usurp the throne and uses his speech therapy as grounds for suspicion. During the argument, Albert’s stammer returns, as does Edward’s childhood taunt of “B-B-Bertie.” As Albert returns to Lionel following the incident, Lionel makes a joke only to cause Albert to accuse him of treason and mocks Lionel of his humble origins and failed acting career.

Edward does eventually abdicate the throne and Albert is poised to be crowned King George VI. He visits Lionel and apologizes. At coronation preparation, George insists that Lionel be seated in the King’s box. As the Archbishop of Canterbury questions Logue’s qualifications, this prompts another confrontation between the two as Lionel tells of how he treated traumatized soldiers from World War I. Another time, Lionel sits on the throne promoting another confrontation as George criticizes his alleged disrespect to Royal relics, only to have it be a confidence builder for George. The coronation goes well and Lionel compliments George on his speech.

The pressures of World War II start looming as Britain is to go to war against Germany. George has to give a speech to the whole country and Lionel is summoned again. The two go through Lionel’s unorthodox preparations including singing and swearing before going into the studio. Lionel accompanies George in the studio and tells him to go about as if he was talking just to Lionel. As George delivers his speech, Lionel coaches him through every moment. At the end of the speech, George is congratulated by everyone and enters the public balcony as he appears to a cheering crowd.

The movie is more than about overcoming a speech impediment. It’s about a friendship few knew about, and would only be revealed after the men’s deaths. It also includes some surprise facts as well. Just before George makes his speech to the nation, he walks alongside Winston Churchill who tells him “I had a speech impediment myself.” It’s a surprising fact that the two men that gave Britain its most encouraging speeches during World War II had to overcome speech impediments.

 Another thing this film notes is the monarchy’s strictness on order and values. This played into effect how Edward had to abdicate from the throne for marrying a woman who was twice divorced. This comes into important factor now as there will be a royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton this year. Queen Elizabeth is 84 and still on the throne after almost 60 years. She shows no sign of giving it to Prince Charles. Many believe his divorce from Lady Diana Spencer may have something to do with this.

The acting was top notch. Colin Firth definitely gave one of the best acting performances of the year. Playing George with a speech impediment was a huge challenge and he did an excellent job. Helena Bonham Carter was also top notch as the Duchess Elizabeth. Geoffrey Rush was a good scene stealer as Lionel Logue. Guy Pearce and Michael Gambon had small amounts of screen time with their parts but made the most of it.

Director Tom Hooper definitely has to have made his best feature film ever. This is actually his third feature film and is more experienced at directing television. Seeing The King’s Speech, you wouldn’t notice it. David Seidler also did a good job of writing, coming from decades of research. A stammerer as a child, Seidler was inspired by how George VI overcame stammering. The set design and costuming was done to a tee. The music from Alexander Desplat fit the movie well. This was an excellently packaged and very well-produced film.

The big talk is how it will win the Best Picture Oscar, especially since it’s promoted by The Weinstein Company. It has already won the Producer’s Guild, BAFTA, as well as many major guild awards and its twelve total nominations is already making it a heavy favorite. Also if anyone can remember Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar heydays when he ran Miramax, you’d know he knows how to win Academy votes like no other studio exec. His new film company The Weinstein Company, founded not even six years ago, has already amassed two Best Picture nominees in the past two years with The Reader and Inglourious Basterds. It would not surprise me if The King’s Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture. Personally I feel The King’s Speech is deserving of its nominations including Best Picture, but I feel it does not deserve the Best Picture win.  If I had my own ballot, I would vote for The Social Network as it excellent acting, top directing and was excellently-written. That’s my call. However I’m not a registered member of the Academy so I’ll have to wait until then to have my say.

Even though The King’s Speech is not the best movie of the year, it is one of the best and deserves its Oscar acclaim. Even though I feel The Social Network deserves to win Best Picture, I would not be disappointed if The King’s Speech wins. It is deserving with its own merits.

Advertisements

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: True Grit

Personally I feel there are not enough Westerns in the movies nowadays. True Grit is a remake of a past movie starring John Wayne in 1969.With remakes, there’s always a question of will it succeed or will it fail to stack up to the original? Also a question for remaking is if the Coen Brothers are an ideal fit for direction. To the surprise of many,  the Coen brothers do their own version of the movie with excellent results.

The movie is told through the adult Mattie Ross. When she was fourteen, her father was murdered by hired hand Chaney who also made off with his horses and two California gold pieces. Mattie pursues a US Marshall to track down Chaney. Of the three choices, she chooses Rooster Cogburn because he’s the most merciless: with ‘true grit’.

Cogburn frequently rejects Mattie’s requests to be hired. At the boarding house where Mattie is staying, she meets Texas Ranger Laboeuf who is pursuing Chaney for his own reason: a murder in Texas. He proposes that he, Mattie and Rooster team up in pursuit because they know of his whereabouts in Chocktaw terrain. Mattie rejects because he wants Chaney tried for the crimes against her, instead of against Laboeuf. After Cogburn finally agrees, he tells Mattie to meet him in the morning to start the pursuit, only to leave Mattie behind with a note saying he’s after Chaney and for her to go home.

Despite it all, Mattie is determined to catch up to Laboeuf and Cogburn. She even rides her swimming horse across the river when refused onto a ferry. Upon learning the two men plan to split the reward, Mattie threatens Cogburn with arrest for fraud because the agreement was that she come with them.  He reluctantly allows Mattie to come along but Laboeuf disagrees and splits to pursue Chaney alone. Mattie and Cogburn spend overnight in an isolated shack, only to come across two outlaws who suddenly turn on each other. Cogburn kills the older outlaw and the dying younger outlaw reveals that ‘Lucky Ned’ Pepper were planning to return later that night. Cogburn and Mattie stay in the shack, expecting Chaney to be with Pepper’s gang.

Laboeuf however rides up to the shack ahead of the gang.  Once they arrive, they lasso him and drag him behind a horse. Cogburn then shoots three to death and accidentally wounds Laboeuf. He ends the night getting drunk on whiskey. The next night, he and Laboeuf have another argument and Laboeuf departs on his own again. The following morning, Mattie spots Chaney. She shoots Chaney but is unable to kill him. Chaney drags her back to the gang whom Ned plans to use as a hostage to get Cogburn to ride off. She’s hostile to Ned at first but calms down when he promises he doesn’t hurt children. Riding off to pursue Cogburn, Ned leaves Mattie in care of Chaney so that he can drop her off in a safe colonized land later.

Chaney does try to attack Mattie but Laboeuf knocks him out with his rifle end. He explains he encountered Cogburn the night before and hatched a plan. Both watch above a cliff as Cogburn takes on Ned and three other gang members. He shoots two dead and mortally wounds Ned, but his horse is shot from under him. As the dying Ned tries to shoot Cogburn, Laboeuf shoots Ned dead. Chaney tries to kill Laboeuf but Mattie shoots Chaney dead, only for the recoil to knock her into a rattlesnake-filled mineshaft where she is bitten in the arm. Cogburn rescues Mattie and carries her off for help. He arrives at a village late in the night and in time.

The movie fast forwards to Mattie: 25 years later and her bitten arm amputated from the acquired gangrene. She received an invitation from Cogburn to see him perform at a travelling Wild West show, only to learn at the site he died three days earlier. She has his body moved to the family plot. A final honor to the man that helped her.

The direction and writing of the Coen brothers is top notch. You’d think that doing a Western movie isn’t something to expect from the Coen brothers but they do a surprisingly excellent job. You could tell they put in a lot of detail into this. The movie captured the Wild West environment well. It portrayed the lawlessness of the times well. It also showed things like public hangings in excellent detail. Even the police system and courts of law were done to a tee. Those who never grew up during a time when Western movies were frequent would be surprised at the times and the happenings. Even frequent references to God in people’s speech would surprise many that these were a time when referring to God meant something.

As for the acting, Jeff Bridges did an excellent job as Rooster Cogburn. Matt Damon did a good job with a pretty lightweight role as Laboeuf. However the true star of the movie has to be young Hailee Steinfeld. Although she’s nominated in the Supporting Actress category, there’s no question that she was the lead performance and she was excellent. While all the other adult characters were foolish, she was one that meant business and she could put those foolish adults to shame.

The technical aspects of the movie were also excellent. Roger Deakins always does a top job of cinematography and this was no exception. The sets, both natural and constructed, were top notch and fit the time frame well. Costuming was also top of the line. Carter Burwell’s music fit the movie perfectly. Overall this was a masterpiece of a Western.

Some people might compare this version to the original 1969 version, directed by Henry Hathaway and starred John Wayne and Glen Campbell. I don’t want to compare it with the original in terms of its quality. Some notable differences are: the new version left out the murder of Frank Ross at the hands of Chaney; Mattie is still fourteen in the original but is played by Kim Darby who was 20 at the time of filming Laboeuf dies from head injuries in the original; and Cogburn is still alive at the end of the original when he agrees to Mattie about being buried next to the Ross family plot. The most I’ll critique in terms of quality is say that Jeff Bridges is no John Wayne. Interesting that the 1969 version wasn’t nominated for Best Picture and John Wayne won Best Actor.

The remake of True Grit goes above and beyond expectations. John Wayne fans may not be completely pleased but fans of Westerns will be delighted. The Coen brothers were given a heavy task when they took this on and they delivered.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: The Fighter

I’m sure that once you hear about the movie The Fighter, the first thing you’ll say is “Not another boxing movie.” It’s more than that. It’s about real people with a goal. It’s about a real-life boxer who wanted to win a title and won it. It was also about other battles he had to face along the way.

The movie starts in 1995 when Micky Ward is a 30 year-old unsuccessful boxer. He’s managed by his mother Alice and trained by his brother Dicky, who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard as a rising talent. Micky has unfortunately established himself as a fighter other boxers defeat to raise their standings. Dicky has turned to a life of crack addiction.He frequently visits a crack house where his girldfriend, a prostitute, stays.  He thinks HBO is filming a documentary about his comeback and allows them to film everything, including his crack smoking.

Micky becomes disheartened with his career after losing a match against a last-minute replacement for his original opponent who fell ill. Upon retreating from the world, he meets Charlene, a bartender who was a former college athlete. They soon become a pair. However this does not go well with the family. After Micky turns down a fight offer Alice made, Alice and Micky’s seven sisters feel that Charlene demotivated him. They start calling her things like ‘MTV’.

Micky however has been given an offer for better training in Vegas, but the family has a strong mistrust from offers from outsiders. They feel people other than family, especially Vegas people, try to use fighters. Dicky tries to match the offer by claiming he can get the money. Dicky then fixes up a prostitution arrest heist to steal a car only to be foiled. As Micky sees Dicky being tackled by the police, Micky jumps in to stop the police beating, but Micky is beaten and arrested himself. At the trial, Micky is released but Dicky is sentenced to prison.

While in prison, Dicky is shocked that the HBO documentary he was filmed in was about crack addiction in Lowell. He and his family watching at home are humiliated that it documented his downfall into crack addiction and crime. Micky’s father tries to motivate him back into boxing. It works as his father assembles a new trainer and a new manager and explains to Micky that his mother and brother will no longer be involved. They place him in minor fights to regain his confidence and is soon placed in an HBO-televised title fight against a rising young talent.

Micky visits Dicky in prison and Dicky gives him advise before the match. Originally Micky dismisses it, feeling Dicky just wants to bring back his failed career. During the fight, Micky is overwhelmed but takes his brother’s advice late into the fight. It works for the better as Micky earns a surprised win. This puts him in a match against an English fighter for a World Welterweight title.

Before the match, Dicky is released from prison. He is free from drugs; motivated by the humiliation of that HBO ‘special’. He and his mother go to see Micky train. At the gym, Dicky is met with the unfriendly news that he is no longer to be involved with Micky. Charlene and his trainer leave in disgust, unhappy to see Dicky and his mother back. Micky then gets into a violent fight with Dicky at the gym, leaving him injured. Dicky goes back to the crack house but opts to say goodbye. He then talks with an angry Charlene and points out to her that she shouldn’t call him a failure when she’s a college drop out. He tells her that Micky needs them both and to work together. Everyone is brought back together in time for the fight in London. Like the HBO fight, Micky takes a lot from his opponent at the beginning, but later comes on strong to knock his opponent out. He achieves his World Welterweight title. Years later, Dicky credits Micky for his own success.

Some would immediately dismiss it as another Rocky, but it’s too premature. The fact that Micky Ward had to succeed as a boxer and overcome a lot of family problems is what makes this story unique. Also surprising how two sets of people who were completely against each other had to come together for the World title fight. That was another battle Micky had to deal with on his way to the top.

That had to be the most notable thing about this movie. ‘Irish’ Micky Ward was fighting as many battles outside the ring as he was fighting inside the ring. In addition to the family problems and rivalry between training groups, it also appeared he was fighting time taking away his athletic prime, the negative rap of his family, and the bad name his town of Lowell has received over the decades as an industrial town gone downhill.  Mark Wahlberg, a native of Massachusetts himself who also grew up in a large working class family, is both a fan and friend of Micky Ward and considers him a local hero. It’s no wonder that playing him would be an honor.

Another thing this movie reminds us is how much poor areas, in both developed countries and developing countries, value athletes. There have been many athletes from around the world in many sports who came from the poorest areas and the biggest slums to athletic greatness. They play a role to the youth, the community as a whole, and even a nation in showing that there can be a way out of the hard times. Boxing is one of those sports where many have come from rough upbringings and have gone on to athletic greatness. Some of the biggest names in boxing have grown up in the slums or in poor conditions.

Mark Wahlberg was impressive in playing Micky Ward. He also prepared very well physically to have a boxer’s body. However it’s the supporting performances that steal the show in the movie. Christian Bale was excellent as Dicky. It appeared he studied Dicky’s mannerisms and voice to a tee. He even had to lose a lot of weight to get the right look of a crack addict. Melissa Leo was also marvelous as Alice. Both actors were excellent in getting the right Boston accents and right physical mannerisms of their characters to master the roles. Amy Adams will surprise many as the sexy but feisty Charlene. The group of seven sisters also had their scene stealing minutes. My favorite was when Alice and the sisters were furiously rushing over to Charlene’s house and it looked like this ‘army of big hair’. You had to see it to love it! David O. Russell did by far his best directing job. He has directed film before like Three Kings and I Love Huckabees but nothing as remarkable as this.

So if you think that The Fighter is just another Rocky, you’re wrong. This really happened. Micky Ward and his family did go through all this. Seeing what Micky and his family went through in order to win the title makes one appreciate what he went through and why Mark Wahlberg is an admirer.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: The Social Network

It’s surprising to know that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire before he could turn 30; the first self-made billionaire to achieve that feat so young. It’s also ironic he’s this young and already has his own Citizen Kane style story. It all started with the book The Accidental Billionaires and it led to the movie The Social Network.

The movie starts with Mark, a student at Harvard, on a date with his girlfriend Erica Albright. It ends in a breakup. Returning to his dorm in a drunken rage, Mark blogs negative defamatory comments about Erica and then gets Harvard students to rank female students by their attractiveness. His internet activities cause so much traffic within Harvard, most of the system is brought down.

He pays a price: six months academic probation and the male most hated by the Harvard females. He also gains from it as twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and their business partner Divya Narendra take an interest in him and want him to program their dating website for Harvard students only. Mark then tells Eduardo of his idea of a social network for Harvard students only called ‘theFacebook’. Eduardo lends money and even distributes the link to Eduardo’s social connections at his Harvard final club and it becomes a hit.

When word hits the Winklevosses and Narendra of ‘theFacebook’, they become furious and want to sue at first. Cameron Winklevoss recommends instead settling out of court ‘like Harvard gentlemen’. As ‘theFacebook’ grows in popularity and expands to more schools across the US, it further infuriates the Winklevoss twins and Narendra. Cameron decides to have Mark accused of violating Harvard’s Code Of Conduct only to be dismissed by the president of Harvard.

Later Mark, Eduardo and his girlfriend are introduced to Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster. Eduardo is suspicious of Sean’s personality and past activities cause suspicion in Eduardo but Mark is impressed with his ideas. Upon Sean’s suggestion, Mark moves the company to Palo Alto and changes the site name to ‘Facebook’ while Eduardo remains in New York seeking advertizing support. The Winklevosses learn after a rowing competition at Henley regatta that Facebook has even expanded to British universities and it’s there they finally decide to sue.

Meanwhile Eduardo is unhappy to learn of Sean living at Mark’s house and making decisions for Facebook. After an argument with Mark, Eduardo freezes the company’s bank account and returns to New York. After learning the deal he signed with Sean’s investors would dilute his share of the company to .03%, he confronts Mark with the intention to sue: right on the day Facebook hits its 1,000,000th member. Parker and some other Facebook interns are later arrested at a party for cocaine possession.

One unique thing about the movie is that it frequently shift back and forth from the days of Facebook’s creation and growing success to the separate lawsuits filed against Mark Zuckerberg from the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo. The back and forth throughout the movie adds to the intrigue on how this all happened. At the end, Mark’s junior lawyer tells him there will be a settlement with Eduardo because of the sordid details of Facebook’s founding and Mark’s own personality.

Many have compared this movie to Citizen Kane. Some have even called it Citizen Zuck. However it shows a theme that when creativity and a computer meet in this internet age, a lot of innovation can happen. A lot of negativity can come out too. Often one who can do such activity with a computer, especially a hacker, can get a false sense of invincibility or even a ‘God complex’. Some may feel that they’re either above the law or they can crush the law in the future with their cyberwisdom. Even for those that create legitimate sites, there’s that pursuit or drive to go for the biggest of the big. As George W. Bush once said, in America there are ‘haves and have-mores’. When one has a computer and an idea, the drive of being one of those have-mores is there. It’s all whether they play it out right.

The movie also shows how much the internet has changed the way one does things and also how ugly it can get. Nowadays there’s more fraud than ever. Defamatory posts like Mark’s of Erica are everywhere and widespread. Hackers are sometimes seen as heroes. Even seeing how Facebook changed the word friend from being a noun only to being a verb as well. One can even question whether the human race can now tell what a friend really is because of Facebook. Some only invite friends not necessarily to keep up with them but so they can compete against others for the most Facebook friends. Yet this movie presents a unique story how the person who practically revolutionized the word friend was lousy at being a friend.

 There’s a lot of debate to the truth of this movie. Mark Zuckerberg and others say this movie is false. There’s even question whether Eduardo was really a friend of Mark’s. Don’t forget it was based upon the book The Accidental Billionaires which also is facing its own questionings of truthfulness. Fact or fiction, the movie was well played out and kept one intrigued. There was rarely a dull moment as it would keep one wondering what will happen next or how did Eduardo stop being friends with Mark.

The script written by Aaron Sorkin was excellent in all that it placed out, whether it be true or not. Often throughout the movie, it shows the trials and would get one wondering how it happened. The history from its start would tell how it all happened. David Fincher did a top notch job of directing, if not the best of the year. Jesse Eisenberg was a perfect fit for Mark Zuckerberg and played him out well. Andrew Garfield also was good as Eduardo and Armie Hammer did a good job of mastering his twin role as the Winklevoss twins. Is it just me or did the Winklevoss twins come across as Twiddle Dum and Twiddle Dee? Justin Timberlake was impressive as Sean Parker and really captured the egotism and God-complex of a computer hacker and site founder quite well. Rooney Mara made the most out of what little screen time she had as Erica Albright, the one woman who could bring Mark back to reality. The editing was excellent in shifting back and forth from the frame of Facebook’s creation to the lawsuits against Mark. It added to the intrigue of the film. The score from Trent Reznor fit the movie just perfectly with its climactic moments. The addition of other music also added into the film as well. Overall this had to be one of the best films of the year, if not the best, and I find it the most deserving of the Best Picture Oscar.

Very rarely does a film with good acting, good writing and good directing win over a big young audience. The Social Network delivered and gave us a masterpiece for our young century.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: 127 Hours

Imagine you’re stuck in a canyon with your hand crushed by a heavy boulder and holding you stuck inside. Think that couldn’t happen to you? It happened to Aron Ralston in 2003. His story became the subject of the movie 127 Hours. It doesn’t sound like a movie that would catch your eye but it will surprise you.

SPOILER WARNING: This review will have some spoilers of the movie’s plot and even the ending.

The movie starts with Aron Ralston cycling in Utah’s Canyonland National Park. This is a favorite past-time for the avid 27 year-old mountain climber who had learned to love nature ever since he was a boy. He spots some young girls hiking the canyon for the first time and plays a tour guide. He even leads them to a part of the canyon where one can let go of their grip and fall into a canyon lake. Aron videotapes it all. After they leave him and tell of a party later on, he heads into more terrain of the canyon. One cliff has a boulder between the two edges. Aron puts pressure on the boulder while crossing the edges but the boulder comes loose. Aron falls and as he hits the ground, the boulder crushes his right hand and leaves him stuck in a desolate area 15 feet below the cliff. He can’t free himself. He has no cellphone with him. He told no one of his whereabouts. He knows he will die.

During the time down there, he takes out from his backpack whatever vital items he feels necessary, like a sandwich wrap, water bottle, digital watch to clock his time down, the one pocketknife he has, plastic container and a video camera. With the video camera, he videotapes his ordeal often speaking what his thoughts are. He confesses of his carelessness before the trip of not telling anyone where he’d be going. He confesses to his family about not fully appreciating them while alive. He has constant visions and recollections about his past: the good times and the mistakes he made. He even has a premonition of a young boy on a sofa.

During the whole time there, he has to eat and drink enough to keep him alive, such as eating the sandwich wrap, drinking a small amount of water at a time and even drinking his own urine he conserved. It isn’t until five days later he moves his arm out where there’s a free boneless area. He makes a crucial decision to amputate his arm with the dull knife. Finally after braking free, he descends from the canyon wall, drinks a dirty puddle of water and runs eight miles to the nearest help. His ordeal makes national news. At the end of the film, we see the real-life Aron with his wife and holding his son. The premonition of the boy came true.

The movie doesn’t sounds like something that would be entertaining but director Danny Boyle managed to turn it into a watchable entertaining movie. Inclusion of the flashbacks and even other film parts make it entertaining. The amputation scene has to be the hardest to watch. Some viewers who saw it at its debut at the Toronto Film Festival fainted when they saw it. However Danny Boyle insisted that it had to look realistic. Makeup Artist Tony Gardiner worked with medical professionals to make the amputated wound look as medically accurate as possible.

Danny Boyle succeeded again in making an excellent film. James Franco did an excellent job in playing Aron. A.H. Rahman also did an excellent job with the original music. Cinematography of the natural landscape was also excellent.

127 Hours isn’t for everybody and definitely not the faintest of hearts. Despite whatever gruesome details I revealed here, I have to say it was a deep and excellent triumph of the human spirit. It will leave one walking out of the theatre moved.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Black Swan

I don’t know all that goes on in ballet. I’m sure some dancers can have a better knowledge of all that happens, like rehearsals and backstage secrets. Black Swan is the story of an insecure dancer who receives the role of a lifetime in Swan Lake and works to achieve it, despite what possible tragedies lay ahead.

We first meet Nina Sayers: a young insecure aspiring dancer of a New York ballet company. Her mother, who’s a failed dancer and now an amateur artist, loves Nina and supports her but is very controlling of her. One important note: Nina has many psychotic symptoms like delusions and colorful hallucinations. She also purges herself at times. The director Thomas Leroy announces he’s putting a new twist on the production of Swan Lake. In this production, a virginal pure girl is trapped in the body of a swan only love can free. She falls for a prince but her evil twin, the Black Swan, tricks him and seduces him. Devastated, the white swan jumps off a cliff and find freedom in death. In this production, they’re looking for a new dancer that can play both swans.

There are auditions for this and there is a lot of rivalry between the girls.  For so long, they all aspired to replace Beth McIntyre who has been the ensemble’s top dancer for so many years. Beth herself is devastated by the news and wrecks her dressing room in the process. During practice Thomas points to Nina that she’s perfect in the technical aspect in her dancing but lacks grace, and points to a dancer named Lily as an example of grace. The results are then announced that Nina is cast as the swan.

This should make Nina happy but is given harsh words from a drunken Beth at a benefit gala where Thomas promotes Nina. Days later, Beth attempts suicide by throwing herself into a car. Thomas tries to get Nina to loosen up for her role as the Black Swan. He even kisses her with power and recommends masturbating. Nina sees a suspicious rash coming on her shoulders. She even suspects Lily, who’s cast as her understudy, is trying to take her role away from her.

One night Lily arrives at Nina’s door and takes her for a night on the town. She meets Lily’s gay friends and takes drugs Lily offers her. The two then have sex at Nina’s house after an enraged argument with her mother. Waking up alone, she arrives at the rehearsals with Lily standing in as the Swan Queen. Furious with Lily not waking her upon, Nina argues only to learn sleeping with Lily was just a drug-induced illusion.

 The night before opening, Nina rehearses late and experiences more delusions like lily and Thomas having sex. She visits Beth in the hospital only to see Beth stab her face with a nail file. Upon returning home, she sees her mother’s paintings mocking her, pulls a black feather from the rash on her back, her eyes turn into swan eyes and her legs contort into swan legs. Upon steadying herself, she falls and knocks herself unconscious.

The morning of the opening performance, she wakes up to find out her mother locked her in her room and let the company know she can’t make it because she’s not well. Nina forces her way out violently and arrives at the company to prepare for the White Swan. The first act goes well until Nina is distracted by another image and a lights glare; the Prince drops her during an overhead lift. Nina returns to the dressing room to see Lily dressing as the Black Swan. Lily then turns into Nina whom Nina fights and even stabs with a broken mirror. Nina then hides Lily’s bloody body in the closet. Nina returns to the stage as the Black Swan. It is during her performance that the rash on her back sprouts black swan feathers and becomes wings as she dances flawlessly and gracefully. The audience gives her a standing ovation and she kisses Thomas with power.

Back in her dressing room, Lily comes in to congratulate her. She then learns she never fought Lily but the stabbing from the mirror glass was not only real, but she stabbed herself as the White Swan. For the final act, Nina dances gracefully as the White Swan. At the end where the Swan is to jump to her death off the cliff, Nina sees her mother in the audience crying. Nina jumps and the audience erupts in applause. The cast, especially Lily, is horrified to see blood from Nina’s stab wound but Nina lays dying and happy that she everything she could to achieve the perfect performance.

 Despite it showing some truths about the ballet world, ballet is not what Black Swan is mostly about. Nor is it about the dark truths of the ballet world. It’s mostly about life imitating art as the director gives a new twist to Swan Lake and it imitates Nina’s own life from her trying to impress Thomas to loosening herself with Lily to dying in order to free herself from her mother. It’s about delusions and it either interfering with reality or sending a message. It’s about whether it’s better to fade down or end on top. It’s about people in the arts world that have either this freeness or extremeness about them. It’s also about dying for one’s art. All these themes are present in Black Swan which is what makes it unique, frightening and even beautiful.

The biggest highlight of the movie was the acting and the dancing of Natalie Portman. This was a role of a lifetime and Natalie mastered it. Also excellent was Mila Kunis as the loose, confident Lily. Barbara Hershey, who played the mother, did a lot with what little screen time she had. Darren Aronofsky did an excellent job in directing this in what is only his fifth feature. His previous work The Wrestler showed that bigger things was going to come from him and they have.  The trio of scriptwriters also did an excellent job in writing a clever but haunting script. This has to be one of the best films about dance ever made.

Black Swan has been a darling of film critics and awards juries. Black Swan has also done well at the box office so it’s nice to see it’s also succeeding commercially. Black Swan may confuse some at first but one would understand it more as the film progresses. I don’t know if it will win Best Picture but it is surely deserving of the Oscar and all of its nominations. Definitely worth seeing.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: The Kids Are All Right

It’s funny how the comedy The Kids Are All Right comes at a time when there’s a lot of bad news about what happens to sperm bank children when they grow up. Just as ironic is that there’s a T-Shirt out now that says “My daddy’s name is Donor!” The movie however offers an alternative look at a pair of sperm bank kids that turned out all right, while the adults…

The movie starts with what appears to be an orderly family unit that differs from convention: a married lesbian couple who both had a child from the same sperm donor. While the family is unconventional, it functions as well as your typical family unit. Nic and Jules are in love with each other despite being opposites: Nic being the orderly one while Jules is the laid back one.  Their children are well grounded: daughter Joni is smart and bound for a top college and son Laser is an anti-social type who’s smart enough not to pull punches and leave a friend gone bad.

Laser is eager to find out who his father is and relies on Joni, to help because she’s 18 and he’s 15. They first make phone contact with the father, Paul, an organic restaurant owner. Joni’s thrilled to meet him and Paul is thrilled to learn of his children. The children want to keep this a secret from their parents but they find out from Laser.

They invite Paul to a dinner where Jules reveals her desire to start a landscaping business. Paul gives Jules an opportunity to landscape his garden despite Nic’s discomfort. Jules loves how Paul gives the appreciation for her work that Nic never really gave and impulsively kisses him, leading on to an affair. Meanwhile the children are spending more time with Paul to the displeasure of Nic and even doing things Nic forbids, like Joni riding on a motorcycle. Nic is unhappy with Paul’s lax attitude towards her discipline. After a heated argument with Jules, they decide to have a dinner at Paul’s house. Things appear to ease up between Paul and Nic until she notices Jules’ hair in his bed and bathtub. At home Nic admits to the affair and the family tension grows, right before Joni is to go to college. Paul later offers Jules to move in with him which Jules turns down. Jules confesses to the family about why she gave into the affair and begs forgiveness. Nic angrily confronts Paul with all the damage he’s done and that he doesn’t deserve to be a part of the family. The movie ends with the family with Paul gone taking Joni to her new university. As they drive off, Laser suggests that the two don’t break up because they’re ‘too old’. They then hold hands.

Despite the specific types of people characterized, the movie itself did not appear to try to represent any particular types of people. Nic and Jules aren’t basically saying that lesbian couples watch gay porn and have affairs with men. We should remember not all lesbians are alike. Nic and Jules only represent Nic and Jules. Paul isn’t intended to portray sperm donor fathers as irresponsible or best kept completely out of the family. I’m sure there are many donor fathers that live responsible lives. Paul is Paul. In fact director/writer Lisa Cholodenko herself is a lesbian who has mothered a child via donation and she’s interested in meeting the father, even though laws protect the identity until the child turns 18.

The top theme is primarily about the family unit functioning. Nic and Jules have a family unit that some would call unorthodox or unconventional and some could even disapprove of, but it’s theirs the way they want it. They put years into making their family unit and they want it kept that way. They go through the same triumphs and the same struggles conventional families go through. I believe the message was specifically whether the couple is gay or straight, whether the children are theirs naturally or otherwise, whether one has been a family member or years or just suddenly finds themselves in it, each member has to know their role and function within that role and only within that role for the family unit to function. If they don’t function 100% or go out of bounds, they will fail big time and the family could fall with them. Paul could have been the father the kids never knew or a proper family unit but he blew it by interloping with the adults and almost wrecking the home.

Another surprising thing is that for the first time in years, we have a critically renowned film that shows the potential harm and hurt of extramarital affairs. In past years, there have been many cases where movies have shown adultery as something that’s there, fine when kept secret, the nature of love, okay when you’re spouse is not yours to lose or a ‘reason’ why marriage doesn’t work. When I first saw the affair between Paul and Jules, I thought to myself “Not another film showing extramarital affairs as normal.” Finally it shows the hurt and harm it most likely causes, especially to long-established families.

 It’s arguable who the better of the two actresses was: Annette playing the orderly one or Julianne playing the looser one. Both were very good at keeping the comedic feel of the movie as well as playing the more dramatic parts right. However I’ve seen better performances from both in stronger movies. Mark Ruffalo was an excellent scene stealer as the easy-going free spirit who just doesn’t know his boundaries. Mia Wasikowska was good as the daughter if not great and Josh Hutcherson did a fine job with a role that was limited. Lisa Cholodenko presented a unique story that was intriguing to watch. The script she co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg was clever and well-written, even though I felt the ending was cut short. Overall the movie had a lot of strength and some small but noticeable flaws, but it was a little film that went a long way. This film was a surprise hit at Sundance 2010 and went on to become this year’s surprise indie hit.

The Kids Are All Right may not have what it takes to deserve the Best Picture Oscar but it’s full of surprises. It may not be a movie for everyone but it’s a small film that goes above and beyond its expectations to entertain and even get people thinking.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Inception

Ever have an interest in what happens in your dreams? My dreams fascinate me and I often wake up the next day wondering what the dream I had was about or telling me. It seems like your dreams is the one place where humans can’t have any effect on.  In Inception, it presents a scenario where a con artist is able to steal ideas from a Japanese CEO’s dreams. He is to be dead the next day but the only way to cheat death is to incept an idea in another CEO’s dream. How does that work, especially on screen?

The story opens where we learn about Dom Cobb’s corporate espionage he has performed on a Japanese CEO named Saito. Cobb’s only awareness of knowing where’s he’s in the dream world or in real life is through a ‘totem’ he carries: a metal spin top. Cobb also has the obstacle of his wife’s death interfering with his own espionage efforts. After making a phone call learning he’s arrested, Saito gives him a job to incept an idea into the head of an ailing CEO’s son to clear himself of murder charges surrounding his wife and reunite with his children back in the US.

This is no easy task as he would have to create a shared dream with him, the ailing CEO’s son Robert and part of his team. His team includes his espionage partner Arthur, an identity forger, a chemist who concocts sedatives for the layers of shared dreaming, and an architecture student to design the labyrinth of dreaming. Robert’s estranged CEO father has died and his body is being transported on the plane with Robert riding. He is to be sedated with the other members involved in his layers of dreams. Through the dreams, the identity forger plays the role of Robert’s grandfather, the chemist drives a van to cause dream effects while others remain in one’s dream in a hotel where each level represents the layers of dreams. Complicated, right?

 At first things go rocky as Saito is shot dead and this sends the dreamers into the limbo of the dream. The various dream locations experience friction created by the van’s jerking, Cobb’s deceased wife appears in a dream and shoots Robert dead, thus causing Cobb and the architect to choose to enter limbo to revive the two men. The chemist then sends the van with Cobb’s team falling off a bridge into a river to ‘kick’ the dreamers back to reality. During the time of the fall, Cobb confronts his deceased wife in limbo and confesses responsibility to her suicide: to help her get out of the shared dream-limbo state and wake up. Cobb then searches for Saito and the identity forger revives Robert and has him connect with his estranged father on his deathbed.  Robert swims up from the submerged van and decides to split up his father’s empire. Cobb then meets the elderly Saito and confirms their arrangements.  All of the team then awake as the plane lands. Saito arranges for Cobb to get past US customs and he arrives home to see his children.

One thing about Inception was that this maze of dreams-within-dreams is complicated to understand but works in the end. This does get confusing and would require most audients to see the movie a second time around in order to make better sense. I myself remember that I was confused when I saw it the first time but I saw it a second time intending to map the whole story out as I saw it and it made better sense. That was a smart tactic of creating a movie that made people see it a second time. Hey, anything for moviegoers uninterested in making a TwiHard of themselves.

As I said, Christopher Nolan did an immense job creating a unique movie concept, intertwining multiple dream settings and making it work onscreen. He did a top notch job of writing and an excellent job of directing. Writing and directing a movie that complex was not easy at all and he did an excellent job. Back in the summer when I saw it, I had the feeling it was going to be a top Oscar contender. The acting, from Leonardo di Caprio and his supporting players was also very good. If anyone could steal the movie from Leonard, it was Marion Cotillard who played his wife. The score by Hans Zimmer fit the movie in all its scenes perfectly. The visual effects were excellent, if not the best of the year. Overall it was the best 2 ½ hours you could spend in a movie theatre this summer.

I would have to say that Inception is one of the most deserving Best Picture nominees. It was a unique story that was excellently written, directed, and acted, and still managed to win big at the box office. It gave most of us a sigh of relief that excellent writing, directing and acting can win big at the box office. Very worthy of the Best Picture win, despite a tough rivalry this year.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Winter’s Bone

A girl in the Ozarks attempts to find her father dead or alive, even if it means risking her life. This doesn’t make for the most attention-getting of movies but this is the story in Winter’s Bone. The movie itself is a mystery bound to keep you intrigued.

It all starts when a teenage girl names Ree is told by the police that her father posted the house as bail for a drug trial and unless he shows, the family will lose it all and be split up. This is hard to do for Ree in their poor settings as she not only has to tend to her mentally ill mother but be the parent figure for her younger brother and sister. She knows her father’s in the drug trade and has been gone for a year but is determined to find him. Attempting to find him puts her own life in danger as she tries to search for him in a house that burned down from a meth explosion and faces death threats from villagers and even distant family members. Her father’s brother tells her he may be dead but she continues on. She finally gets the answer she’s after through bizarre circumstances in the end.

The biggest theme of the movie is about Ozark life and about keeping secrets. Through watching the film, you learn of the difficulties growing up in the Ozark and that the villagers have secrets to hide. The teen parents whom Ree is friends with shows how growing up in the Ozarks stars early.  Over time you witness what Hillbilly life or Ozark life is like and you’d see why Ree would best serve the role as parent for her siblings. The film is an adaptation of a 2006 novel and director/writer Debra Granik did an excellent job of showing the story and portraying Ozark life’s significance to the plot. Even the addition of Ozark country music added to the atmosphere of the story. Young Jennifer Lawrence was excellent in portraying Ree in her grittiness and inner strength. Those that saw the movie would know that her role was very physically demanding. John Hawkes was also excellent as the brother with secrets to hide, despite how much they haunt him.

This film was a hit at the 2010 Sundance and did moderately successful as an indie hit film. If you have the chance, I recommend you rent the DVD of Winter’s Bone. It’s a thriller for all its mystery and bizarreness is worth it.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Toy Story 3

Hi. With every Academy Awards, I usually review all the Best Picture nominees and give my feedback on them. So begins it this year. This year, we again have ten nominees for Best Picture. They range from big budget blockbusters to arthouse or filmfest pictures. From live action to animation. From timepieces to movies in current settings. From Hollywood to England.  From summer hits to the usual end-of-year serious lineup. I really can’t complain about this year’s set. With that in mind, I will start off with probably the most popular nominee of the year, Toy Story 3.

The first Toy Story, released back in 1995,  has to rank as one of the best animated pictures ever. Before the first Toy Story, there was no real 3D animation feature that was created. As Toy Story was released, that all changed. It not only was a hit but made a name for the Disney/Pixar collaboration and paved the way for many more 3D animation movies to where now 3D is the cream of the animation crop. As Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs made film history as the first ever feature-length animated film, Toy Story made history as the first ever 3D animated feature. Toy Story 2 proved that the Toy Story fever can happen again and even compete with live action. Eleven years later, we have the third and final installment of the groundbreaking series, Toy Story 3.

SPOILER WARNING: This review will have some spoilers of the movie’s plot and even the ending but I don’t think it should matter; assuming most of you have seen it already anyways.

It starts as the toys act out Andy’s toy fantasy as he plays with them while still a kid. Fast forward to the present, we see Andy’s all grown up, college-bound and hasn’t played with Woody, Buzz and friends for years. The toys face an uncertain future, unsure if they’ll be given away to those in need or trashed. Andy keeps Woody to take to college while bagging the rest for Sunnyside Daycare. The mother mistakes the bag of toys as trash and puts them to the side of the road. They manage to escape thanks to Woody and find themselves at Sunnyside. They’re first introduced to the place by Lots-O’-Huggin’-Bear, or ‘Lotso’, and it seems fine until they’re played with by, or should I say abused by, two year-olds. To make matters worse, Lotso has the place run like a toy prison and convinces all they were thrown away.

Meanwhile Woody is picked up by a toddler named Bonnie and decides she’d be best for the gang. He also finds out what happened to his friends from a clown named Chuckles and of how Lotso became the sinister toy svengali he is. Woody helps plan an escape for all the toys until Lotso cuts the escape short. He takes Woody to the dump truck with him and the toys all follow Woody to the dump where they find themselves on an incinerator leading to the furnace. Lotso attempts to help, only to trick them all into saving himself and leading them all to the furnace. All are spared a fiery demise as the squeeze toys rescue them through the claw they were fascinated by. All escape and return to Andy’s house while Lotso is strapped to the grill of a garbage truck for life.

Upon returning to Andy’s house, the toys place themselves in a box and Woody posts a note to be given to Bonnie. Andy gives all the toys except for Woody to Bonnie, but Woody does get her attention. Reluctant since Woody is his most prized childhood toy, Andy eventually does hand it over to Bonnie where he spends his last time with Woody playing with Bonnie. In the end, Woody and the gang are played with again by Bonnie and the Sunnyside tots and things work for the better as Sunnyside is no longer a prison and become beloved by the kids.

Overall this movie was excellently written and succeeds in becoming a surprise tearjerker. In animated movies, a script has to be top notch in order for it to succeed on screen and it does just that. Just as important is having top notch animation. Pixar is known for having graphics in their movies perfect to the minutest detail and they keep up their excellent work with the graphics in Toy Story 3. The voices and characters retain their original charm and the new toys are given a charm of their own. We even see a unique twist in Buzz Lightyear as he’s often reverted to Spanish mode. Overall the movie is completely enjoyable and will please Toy Story fans all over again.

Hard to believe the first two Toy Story movies were out when there was no Best Animated Feature Oscar. The first Toy Story was nominated for the 1995 Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical and in three Oscar categories including Best Screenplay. Director John Lasseter was even awarded a special Oscar for creating the first ever computer animated feature. Toy Story 2 scored a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and won the 1999 Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical. The Academy only had the heart to give it a single Best Original Song nomination for ‘When She Loved Me’. The Best Animated Feature category was introduced at the 2001 Academy Awards, two years after Toy Story 2.  A win for Toy Story 3 in the Best Animated Feature category would not only be a win for the movie itself but an excellent ‘last hurrah’ for the groundbreaking series.  Not to mention the first Toy Story movie to win an Oscar. Toy Story 3 has already won the lion’s share of Best Animated Feature awards however it was dealt a shocker at the recent Annie Awards when it lost to How To Train Your Dragon. I doubt if there will be a shocker like that at the Oscars. Disney/Pixar movies have won five of the nine Best Animated Feature Oscars and it looks like Toy Story 3 will be #6. As for Best Picture, knowing the Academy, I don’t think Toy Story 3, or frankly any animated movie ever, will get Best Picture.

If you’re one of the many who saw Toy Story 3, consider yourselves satisfied to know you saw one of the best movies of 2010. A perfect ending to arguably the best animation series in film history.