American in Spain

Movie Reviews: The Academy Award Best Picture Nominees for 2010

January 28, 2011

oscar statue - hollywood,californiaTaking advantage of a surplus of free time this week, I endeavored to watch all of the films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award for 2010. Previously, I think I've never gone into the Oscars having watched more than two nominees, so this is something of a feat for me. They were all good films in their own ways. Some, like the nerdy one about a college hacker appealed to me more than the western or the one about boxing. I made no effort to be objective in my evaluations, valuing honesty over impartiality. Take away from my reviews what you will. You can't really go wrong spending two hours on any or all of them.

The Social Network

I enjoyed this film a lot, partly because it's about an entrepreneur software nerd like myself, and partly because it's just a really well told story. The "flashback from deposition" format worked really well. More movies should be made in that format.

The best special effects are those that you don't even notice are special effects, and I think most viewers probably finished the film with no clue that the role of the Winklevoss twins was played by one actor. Arnie Hammer (named after a baking soda?) looks as if he was designed specifically for some future role as Prince William.

Am I the only one that confuses Jesse Eisenberg with Michael Cera? The whole movie I thought, "Man, this guy I hate from Juno and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which I turned off after 15 minutes, can really act!"

I really hate discovering that people as talented at singing and dancing and with as much charisma as Justin Timberlake can actually act well, too. I'm still not watching the Yogi Bear movie.

I also must confess that I paused the movie to check a notification on Facebook.


This has to be the most visually stunning and creative of the Best Picture nominees. It was recommended to me by my single-serving German friend on this infamous voyage with the warning, "You have to pay close attention or else you won't understand it." Never have truer words been spoken about a film. Inception is quite complicated, and if you don't understand the rules governing the dream universes in the film, it won't make any sense whatsoever. I can appreciate the liberty of the dream setting for a filmmaker, since any flaws in continuity can't really be criticized. I do recall having several "WTF?" moments, despite my close attention. I think Inception was definitely the most innovative and groundbreaking film of the year, and I would not be at all surprised if it won Best Picture, despite none of its actors being nominated.

Toy Story 3

It's been months since I saw Toy Story 3, but I recall it being one of the most entertaining and moving animated movies I'd ever seen (although Up might be tied for first). How rare is it for the third of a trilogy to be better than its predecessors? The story was so good that I forgot that I was watching a computer animation of toys for a good portion of the film. It's nice of the Academy to nominated it for Best Picture, but I don't think we're ready for an animated film to take that top title quite yet...but the day will come, for sure, probably from Pixar.

The Kids Are Alright

Wow, what a non-stop stream of intensely uncomfortable situations! My friend, Simon, warned me that it contained "frank scenes of a sexual nature and unapologetic depictions of 'alternative' sexuality and lifestyles." That's a pretty apt description. It's very nice to see homosexuality treated in a serious manner, and not as a source of comedy. Bening's character reminded me an awful lot of her nagging, perfectionist wife character from American Beauty, but she played it well. It's pretty clear to me that Mia Wasikowska has a bright career ahead of her. Ruffalo was excellent. He's a familiar face, but I couldn't directly recall any of his previous roles. If you can bear nailbitingly uncomfortable adult "dramedy", The Kids Are Alright is pretty good.

127 Hours

This movie details a worst nightmare, one that I'm certain I share with many other people. If you can watch this movie without flinching, you are not human. I'm a big fan of single-actor sanity-stretching isolation films like Cast Away and Moon; I think it gives an actor an ideal platform to demonstrate acting abilities, and James Franco doesn't let anyone down in 127 Hours. He was a guest on The Daily Show the day after getting the Best Actor Oscar nomination, and he told the story of how he got news of the nomination, did a quick satellite interview with The Today Show, and then immediately attended his poetry class at Yale, turning down an offer to go to New York City for more interviews. 127 Hours is a fascinating true story about one man's survival skills in the Utah desert. I actually remember the media attention about Aron Ralston back when it happened in 2003, but I pictured it entirely differently from the actual setting. It's a great film, but it's seriously hard to watch.

True Grit

I've never been a fan of westerns. True Grit wouldn't have been worth much at all if it weren't for Jeff Bridges' character, who was quite a hoot. I don't know if anyone has won an Oscar for Best Actor two years in a row, but I'd bet against him in 2010 simply because he won in 2009. Matt Damon was not bad, but nothing special. Hailee Steinfeld is a name to watch in the coming years. Good grief...she was born when I was a freshman in college!

The dialog was a bit strange. Maybe it was appropriate for the period represented, but the lack of contractions made everything a little "off". By the way, a trick to sounding foriegn is not using contractions, as no modern day native English speaker ever says "I am going to" in five syllables. The storyline was okay, but I couldn't connect with any of the characters; a pretty mediocre film in my opinion.

Black Swan

I'm not a big fan of ballet, but Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite composers, and I am a fan of stories where the protagonist slowly goes insane. I'm not sure what to make of the ever increasing trend of Hollywood actors to radically change their appearance for roles, and Natalie Portman is definitely more attractive with a few more kilos than she had in this role, but the acting was flawless. It's one thing for Jesse Eisenberg to spout some hacker slang, click some keys, and show some PHP code, but Portman really did an awful lot of actual ballet dancing. It also must be mentioned that the camera work for the dance sequences, while dizzying at times, was truly amazing, and it must have been at least as choreographed as the dancing itself. I was wholly prepared to not like this film, but by the end, it was quite moving and beautiful.

Winter's Bone

I remember watching this trailer when I first got my Apple TV and was browsing through trailers, and it didn't look like a movie I'd enjoy. I'm not a big fan of the whole "life sucks for poor people" extreme realism genre that is so popular with The Academy. Perhaps in the novel things made more sense, but the story seemed shallow to me. I felt no emotional connections to any of the characters. Jennifer Lawrence may be nominated for Best Actress, but her character seemed fairly emotionless to me...but then I couldn't stand The English Patient, so what do I know about Academy Award predictions?

The Fighter

Has it really been six years since Million Dollar Baby swept the Oscars? I guess we're ready for another boxing film. The Fighter was good, and I'm a fan of Bale, Wahlberg and Adams. I think Bale's got a good shot at the Best Supporting Actor award, and if Hailee Steinfeld hadn't been so awesome as the protagonist of True Grit, I think Amy Adams might have a shot at Best Supporting Actress, but I think that's all Hailee's. The Fighter was entertaining and I did start to care about the primary characters, but it's certainly not the best of the year. I liked Cinderella Man better.

Prognostication Alert: Amy Adams wins Best Actress in 2012 for her role as Janis Joplin.

The King's Speech

Oh bloody hell! I wrote all of the above immediately after watching each film, and I had all the winners chosen, and then the one I least wanted to watch blew me away!

In college, I wrote a paper for my film appreciation class on Good Will Hunting, which I saw in the cinema four times in preparation to write the paper. For the rather lame thesis of my paper, I chose one film technique we'd learned about in class and rambled on and on – until the paper looked long enough – about how GWH used it to such effect. The technique I wrote about was that of using the extreme closeup to make the audience feel more intimate and connected with a character. When you see The King's Speech, you'll understand just how well it works and why I was reminded of my college paper.

As a sufferer of a speech impediment myself, which I have almost entirely outgrown finally, this movie resonated strongly with me. King George VI surely experienced the worst possible scenario for a stutterer, that of speaking live to millions of listeners who all expected him to be great and strong and profound. What utter hell!

I was previously quite certain that my vote for Best Actor belonged to James Franco of 127 Hours, but I think Colin Firth deserves it more. He totally nails what it's like to not be able to get a word out of your mouth. And Geoffrey Rush takes first place by a wide margin for Best Supporting Actor. I cared more about the characters in this film than about those of any of the others. What a fantastic film to end on!


Here is how I would rank the nominees for Best Picture of 2010:

  1. The King's Speech
  2. The Social Network
  3. Inception
  4. 127 Hours
  5. Black Swan
  6. Toy Story 3
  7. The Kids Are Alright
  8. The Fighter
  9. True Grit
  10. Winter's Bone

If I were in charge, the winners of the other top Oscars for 2010 would be:

Best Actress In A Leading Role: Natalie Portman Best Actor In A Leading Role: Colin Firth Best Actress In A Supporting Role: Hailee Steinfeld Best Actor In A Supporting Role: Geoffrey Rush Cinematography: Black Swan Directing: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech Music (Original Score): Inception Sound Editing: Inception