Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oscar shindig

Time for my Oscar predictions and commentary!

Best Picture:

I have seen all ten of the films nominated for Best Picture; this is the first time in history I've seen all ten of the Best Picture nominees! For the most part, I think this year's crop of films are better than last year's. (Though I only did see six of the nominated movies last year). Here's how I would rank the films:

1. Black Swan - While this was the darkest film of the bunch, I placed it at #1 (and honestly, you could say the first three films are tied for #1) because this is the movie from the bunch that I'm going to remember the most down the line. From start to finish, I was intrigued with the story and Natalie Portman gives her best performance yet, not to mention it's beautifully artistic. You can read my review here.

2. Toy Story 3 - Two of my favorite movies of 2010 were animated: this one and How to Train Your Dragon. Out of the nominated films, Toy Story 3 was the only one that made me cry. While the film retains its cuteness and silly jokes, it gets pretty dark for a children's film. The ending is bittersweet, but satisfying. You can read my review here.

3. True Grit - I'm usually not a big fan of Westerns, but I really liked this one. All the actors were great and the language sounded authentic, the cinematography and costumes were great, and there was plenty of action and comedy mixed in with the drama to keep me entertained. I would also like to take the opportunity to say that I had predicted the film to get nominated as well as Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. Okay, maybe not a big stretch.... you can read my review here.

4. The Social Network - Solid movie from a great director and great screenwriter. You don't need to have/use/like Facebook to enjoy the movie. You can read my review here.

5. The King's Speech - I wasn't familiar with this based on a true story film, but it made for a good film with great performances from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I didn't really get why Helena Bonham Carter was nominated because she really doesn't do anything, but it was kind of a nice reprieve to see her in something other than a Harry Potter or Tim Burton film. This movie is very Oscar-baity, however, and was only made to win Oscars (which it will). It amused me greatly that I was probably the youngest person in the theaters by a good 30 years. 

6. 127 Hours - I listened to the audio book (and you can read my review of that here at my book blog) so I was familiar with the story of how Aaron Ralston's arm became pinned between a rock wall and a boulder and he had to cut it off to set himself free. I didn't care much for Boyle's stylized directing (it was a good story without all that flash), but James Franco spends the movie pretty much in one spot and he sells it quite well. (The "Gollum" scene (you know what I'm talking about if you've seen it) is especially good). The actual amputation scene wasn't that bad. Obviously, I did cringe (and I think I cringed more when he broke his arm), but I didn't even cover my eyes. Of course it helped to repeat the words fake prosthetic arm over and over in my mind, which is what I did! 

7. The Fighter - Really great performances (Christian Bale was my favorite) and I liked the boxing matches (especially the last one) and the mother and sisters were amusing, but other than that, I could take it or leave it. 

8. Winter's Bone - I was hoping I would love this movie as much as Frozen River, but I couldn't get into it. It wasn't a bad movie, just one I couldn't get invested in.

9. The Kids Are All Right - After reading all the heaps of praise this film was receiving, I was really excited to see it, thinking it was going to be the most amazing movie ever, but I just found this movie to be, well, all right. After watching the film, all I could think was, "That was it?" I think my expectation were way too high.

10. Inception - Again, I think my expectation were way too high because I was really excited to see this movie because the trailer looked so freaking cool. Okay, I think Christopher Nolan is a great director - Memento and The Dark Knight are brilliant movies, but my God I was so bored with this movie! Yes, the visual effects are amazing (and it should win all those technical Oscars), but the movie nearly put me to sleep! It felt sooooo long. It's not a good sign when you keep looking at your phone to see what time it is throughout the movie :-/

So that's how I would rank the Best Picture nominees. We know that Inception, Kids, Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, and Toy Story 3 have no chance of winning because they didn't score a Best Director nomination. As much as I would love for Black Swan or True Grit to win, let's face it, the race is between The Social Network and The King's Speech (and I will be fine with either winning).  TSN won the GG, but TKS won the SAG for best cast and the Bafta (but that's a no brainer since it's a British film). I imagine the older Academy members will go for TKS while the young ones will vote for TSN. I myself am sort of rooting for TSN between the two because it's more of a fresh movie while TKS seems like the type of movie you would see winning an Oscar from the '90s. However, I think TKS will prevail and win.

Best Director:
Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
David O. Russell, "The Fighter"
Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"
David Fincher, "The Social Network"
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, "True Grit"

I have a feeling this will be a year where Best Picture and Best Director don't match. The King's Speech will win Best Picture, but David Fincher will win Best Director. He's already won all the other major awards and I've always liked the way he directs his films (which have always been great for the most part), so it will be a well-deserved win.

Best Actor:

Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"

Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"

Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"

Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"

James Franco, "127 Hours"

I have seen all of these performances except for Bardem's. We all know Firth is winning this. Not only has he won all the precursor awards, but Bardem and Bridges already have Oscars and this is the first nomination for the still young Eisenburg and Franco. Colin Firth is one of my favorite actors and I am pleased he will be getting awarded for a fine performance.

Best Actress:
Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"

Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"

Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"

Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"

Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"

I've only seen Bening's, Lawrence's, and Portman's performances. I am really mystified as to why EW thinks that Annette Bening still has a fighting chance to win the Oscar. Um, no, she doesn't. True she won the GG for Best Comedic performance (which doesn't count anyway), but how is Natalie Portman NOT going to win the Oscar after winning the real GG, the SAG, and the Bafta? I know people are saying that Bening is due, but I really didn't see what the big deal was about her performance in Kids. I thought she was great in American Beauty (but thought Hilary Swank was better in Boys Don't Cry), but with this film...eh, I don't see it. At least with Portman, it's one of her best performances (her best, IMO) she's ever done. Also, she will be the second person born in the '80s (more specifically the early '80s) to win an Oscar (at least in the acting category...I don't keep track of the ages of the people who win Oscars in the other categories!) The first was Anna Paquin. Oh, and how annoyed do you bet Katie Holmes is that (the younger) Michelle Williams now has two Oscar nominations and Katie has zero? Hahaha.

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"

I have seen all of these performances except for Renner's. I thought Bale and Rush did the best job. Bale won the GG and SAG while Rush won the Bafta (even though Bale is British and Rush is Australian, but I guess British movies trump American ones at the Baftas!) While it's possible Rush could upset (and it has been awhile since he won his Oscar for Shine in 1997), I think this one will go to first-time nominee Christian Bale. I was really impressed with him in The Fighter; there were times when I couldn't believe it was Christian Bale because it didn't look like him at all. 

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"

If there are any surprises in the major categories (which is highly doubtful because the Oscars are so annoyingly predictable and when there are surprises, they piss me off, like when Crash won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain in 2006), I hope it's in this category. While it's true Melissa Leo is the frontrunner after winning the GG and SAG, her chances may have dwindled after those frivolous consideration ads where she's dressed in furs and they have nothing to do with her film. Plus there's always the chance she could split votes with Amy Adams. I'm hoping this happens because I'm rooting for Hailee Steinfeld. Not just because she had my favorite performance (although I have yet to see Weaver's), but I really, really want to see a kid win an Oscar. The last time a kid won an Oscar was Anna Paquin (the first person born in the '80s to win an Oscar!) way back in 1994. I didn't start watching the Oscars until '98, so I missed that telecast. I suppose it would have been more exciting to see a kid win an Oscar when I was a kid, but whatever. (Natalie Portman is my age, so it will be cool to see someone my age win). And even though Steinfeld was clearly the lead in True Grit (duh), maybe being placed in the supporting category helps her chances because she wouldn't be able to compete against Portman. Win or lose (and most likely Leo will win), I hope this leads to good roles for Steinfeld - perhaps as Katniss Everdeen? (Sorry, another shameless plug!) Hey, we know what she looks like with a braid at least! 

Best Animated Film:
Toy Story 3
How To Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist

Of course Toy Story 3 will win this; it would be kind of silly for it to be nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the year and not win Best Animated Film. I kind of wish that it and How to Train Your Dragon had come out different years because I really loved them both! Like I mentioned earlier, they will be both going on my top ten movies of 2010 list. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Be Our Guest

Beauty and the Beast
Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Voice Talent: Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers
Released: November 22, 1991

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Silence of the Lambs)
Best Sound (lost to Terminator 2)
Best Song - "Beauty and the Beast" (won)
Best Song - "Belle"
Best Song - "Be Our Guest"
Best Score - Alan Menken (won)

What is it about this beloved Disney film that can still entice audience members of all ages even after nearly twenty years (!!!) of its release? Is it the timeless story of a beautiful girl who befriends a hideous beast? Is it the gorgeous animation? Is it the catchy songs? Is it the fact the Belle is possibly the first Disney princess whose goal in life isn't to marry a prince, but instead actually has a mind of her own? Is it because it's the first animated movie ever to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture? For me, it's all of these reasons.

The Disney version of Beauty and the Beast is the only one I'm familiar with. I know it's a timeless story and there have been a few variations of it, but all of my knowledge comes from what Disney told me. I'm sure there are no talking clocks or candelabras or teapots in the other tellings of the story!  I remember seeing this movie in the theaters, but I don't remember crying during it which is what I did when I recently watched it. I cried about, oh, six different times. I cried when Belle and the Beast fought and she ran away, I cried when they were dancing, I cried when the Beast released Belle, I cried when Gaston tried to kill the Beast, I cried when Belle returned, I cried at the ending. I was just a mass of tears. Thank God I watched this alone. This movie really tugs at the heartstrings.

Even twenty years later, the animation really holds up. It is quite possibly, one of the most beautifully animated movies ever made. The scene that still gives me chills is when Belle and the Beast are dancing in the grand ballroom (and that has to be one of the most spectacular architectural structures I've ever seen, animation be damned!) Obviously that had to be computer animated to get the sweeping and 360 camera effects, but it works to the film's advantage as it makes for an epic scene.

The Academy obviously loved the songs in this film since they nominated three of them for Best Song. Out of all the songs in the movie, they're my favorites. "Gaston" is a clever and funny song, but I don't care for it as much as the others and "Something There" is a nice little ditty (and the only one where the Beast gets to sing), but it kind of reminds me of a Christmas song with the bell sounds. Even though "Beauty and the Beast" is the title song and was made into a pop single, I would say that "Be Our Guest" is probably the movie's best known song. (Yes? No?) In fact, for some reason, I had thought it was the winner of Best Song that year. "Be Our Guest" is a very infectious song and can get stuck in your head for days after listening to it. ("Try the gray stuff, it's delicious! Don't believe me? Ask the dishes!")  Plus Lumiere (the candelabra) sings it and he's my favorite character. "Belle" is a great theatrical song that starts the movie and introduces us to our main character and becomes a grand production by the end. It's a five minute song with both singing and dialogue and I know it verbatim. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this was the first time a Disney film released one of its songs as a single on the radio, being the title song sung by Celine Dion and Peabo Brysan. (In fact, Celine Dion was virtually an unknown singer (in the States, at least) when she recorded this song, that's how long ago it was!) One of the special features on the Blu-ray is a music video of Jordin Sparks singing the song and it is bland and generic. I don't blame it on Jordin, she sounds fine singing it (though, let's be honest, she's no Celine Dion), I blame it on whoever produced it. It's just so white bread bland and Poppy McAutotuned. It doesn't have the grand sweeping sound that the Celine/Peabo version has. Listen to the two versions back to back and you will see that the Jordin one fails in comparison. This is an irritating thing Disney does with a lot of their songs: they make updated versions with pop stars. Listening to Jessica Simpson sing "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid made my ears bleed. It's like Cogsworth says, "If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it!" (I'm depending on all of you to have seen the movie to get that). Alright, I'm done with that little tangent.

Belle has always been one of my favorite Disney princesses because she's not vain and waiting for her Prince Charming to rescue her. In fact, she even refuses Gaston's offer of marriage even though he was (relatively) good-looking and would probably offer her a stable life. Any other Disney princess probably would have taken his offer, but not the strong-willed and independent-minded Belle. I never understood why Gaston just didn't go after one of those three blonde girls who were always swooning over him after Belle rejected him so many times. I know he says that he wants to marry Belle because she's the most beautiful girl in town, but those blondes certainly weren't ugly. Also, it's nice that you get to see the relationship between Belle and the Beast evolve as usually the Disney Princess sees her Prince Charming and it's Love at First Sight! :::gag::: I know there are a lot of haters out there who say that the Beast should have remained a beast and that it's what's on the inside that counts, not the outside. I do get what they're saying, but c'mon. First of all, it's a Disney movie, so he has to turn into the handsome prince. Second of all, the point of the spell was that it would only be broken if he found someone to love him and if he did, he would be able to return to his human self. Third of all, um...bestiality anybody?

Beauty and the Beast made history when it was the first animated movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. True, Up and Toy Story 3 have since been two more animated movies to be nominated in that category, however they were one out of ten movies that were nominated while Beauty was one out of five. If the Academy still had five slots, there's no way those movies would have made it in. Also, there was no category for Best Animated Film back then (and who knows if it still would have secured a slot for Best Picture if there had been), so the fact that it made it in is pretty amazing.