Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Oscar Reviews 2010

The Oscar Award nominations were announced on January 25, 2011, and so begins my annual quest to see as many as possible before Oscar Night. Fifty-six (56) films were nominated in 24 categories. On the day of the announcement, I had already seen 12 (23%). By the time the Oscar show aired, I had seen 34 (61%). I could have seen one more on iTunes, but I hate watching films on my computer.

The hardest films to see are always the shorts. There are fifteen: five short films, five short animated films and five short documentaries. Fortunately, the Hollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon shows the five short films and the five short animated films every year for the price of two tickets. This year I took my 8-year-old daughter with me. She had a great time. I don't know why they don’t' show the documentary shorts.

  1. 127 Hours: nominated for best picture, best actor, film editing, best score, best song ("If I Rise") and screenplay. This is the true story of how one plucky young man goes hiking in the mountains alone and has to cut off his arm in order to get back home again.
  2. Alice in Wonderland: nominated for art direction, costume design and visual effects. It totally deserves all these nominations. It is a very beautiful film. Anne Hathaway was probably my favorite. Johnny Depp was also wonderful, but I really liked Anne Hathaway as the white queen. Her makeup, costume and acting were such that, at times, I wasn't sure it was her. And, I loved it when Alice appeared in her suit of armor. She looked just like Joan of Arc! (03/05/2010)
  3. Animal Kingdom: nominated for best supporting actress (Jacki Weaver). This is an Australian film about a crime family. It starts with a teenage boy calling his grandmother letting her know that his mother just overdosed and died. He moves in with her and his uncles and tries not to get involved in their crimes, but he really can't escape. Weaver's character reminds me of Nurse Cratchet.
  4. Another Year: nominated for best original screenplay.
  5. Barney's Version: nominated for best makeup.
  6. Biutifulnominated for best actor (Javier Bardem) and best foreign language film (Mexico)
  7. Black Swan nominated for best picture, best actress, cinematography, director and film editing. I wasn't sure at first if I liked this film. The nail breaking scenes are really hard to watch, and the dancing is not filmed very well, but the story of this young ballerina's psychotic break is fascinating. The special effect when Natalie Portman's arms turn into wings was stunning! Mila Kunia and Winona Ryder were just as wonderful as Portman (01/23/11).
  8. Blue Valentine: nominated for best actress (Michelle Williams).
  9. Confession, The: nominated for best live short film. A boy is preparing to make his first confession. Something very bad happens. The boy seeks out his priest early, but he can't bring himself to say what has happened. The priest recognizes his anguish, and grants him absolution, assuming he knows the kind of thing he needs to confess. It was sad because the boy really needed to confess. The priest guessed that he needed absolution, but the boy seemed just as anguished. Confession is good for the soul. Absolution lures us to the confessional, but I might be reading too much into this. (02/20/11)
  10. Country Strong: nominated for best song ("Coming Home").
  11. Crush, The: nominated for best live short film. This is a lovely, light, humorous film about a second grader in love with his teacher. When he discovers that she is engaged to someone who is not good fr her, he challenges him to duel. When he shows up with a real gun, it gets very tense, but it all ends well. If you can find this film, I think you will enjoy it. (02/20/11)
  12. Day & Night: nominated for best animated short. This film plays as a lead into Toy Story 3. It features two characters: Day and Night. When they first meet, they don't like each other, and they quarrel, but as they spend a little time together, they come to appreciate what each has to offer. In the end, they get to switch places (06/18/10)
  13. Dogtooth: nominated for best foreign language film (Greece) . This film is very beautifully shot, but the story is so strange that I do not recommend it. It's about a couple with three adult children who have never been allowed to leave the house. They live in a large house with a large yard and a high fence. They have been taught that it is dangerous outside, and they will not be prepared to leave until they loose a dogtooth. There is no explanation for why the children have been raised this way. It's just weird for weirdness sake (01/31/11).
  14. Exit through the Gift Shop: nominated for best documentary feature. Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, is obsessed with film. He films everything. When he becomes interested in graffiti artists, he films them constantly, but he doesn't actually know how to make a film, so he leaves his footage with Bansky, the preeminent graffiti artist, and he makes some art himself. He's not very good, but he is very successful. (01/31/11).
  15. Fighter, Thenominated for best picture, supporting actor (Bale), supporting actress (Adams & Leo), directing, film editing and writing. I didn't expect to like this film, and I didn't. First of all, it was boxing. I don't like boxing films. They always show the fighters all beat to hell. This film was not exception to that standard. The characters in this film were such deeply flawed individuals that it was just hard to watch, sad. The one bright spot was that Mark Wahlberg (who isn't nominated) is really very easy on the eyes, and his character is really quite likable, too. (12/17/10)
  16. Gasland: nominated for best documentary feature. Exploring the wisdom of replacing coal with natural gas. Apparently drilling for natural gas poisons the water table. Hundreds of thousands of wells have been drilled through the rural west. There are plans to drill in Pennsylvania and New York where millions of people receive their water from a single enormous unfiltered aquifer. I had to write my senator after viewing this film. (02/09/11)
  17. God of Love: nominated for best live short film. This is a very nice little film. A talented dart thrower prays to God for the love of a woman. Instead, God sends him a box full of magic darts. He tries to get the girl to fall in love with him, but it turns out he's a lot better at matching up other people. (02/20/11)
  18. Gruffalo, The: nominated for best animated short film. This is a lovely little film that maintains the language of the children's book is based on, narrated by a mother squirrel voiced by Helena Bonham Carter - perfectly charming - a bit slow of pace. (02/20/11)
  19. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: nominated for art direction and visual effects, and deservedly so. This movie looks great! It's probably the best installment of the franchise. I think it struck just right balance between details and pace, and I think Emma Watson steals the screen from her costars. (11/19/10)
  20. Hereafter: nominated for visual effects.
  21. How to Train Your Dragon: nominated for best animated feature and best score. This was truly delightful film. I have small children, so I see a lot of animated films every year. This was truly a bright spot. It's well drawn, but nothing fancy. The dialogue is very witty. My kids quote it constantly. And, it includes some really poignant life-lessons. The lead character is a young Viking who is very clever, but not very strong, so he doesn't really fit in with his friends. The people are deeply prejudiced against dragons based on a tragic misunderstanding. (03/26/2010)
  22. I Am Love: nominated for costume design. This is an Italian film starring Tilda Swinton. The costumes are a beautiful collection of Italian fashion, but the story is completely confusing. A woman with adult children falls in love (inexplicably) with her son's friend. When her son finds out, he freaks out, hits his head and dies, but she still runs away with her lover, abandoning the rest of the family in their grief. I don't get it. (01/25/11)
  23. Illusionist, The: nominated for best animated feature/
  24. In a Better World: nominated for best foreign language film (Denmark).
  25. Incendies: nominated for best foreign language film (Canada).
  26. Inception: nominated for best picture, art direction, cinematography, music, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects and writing. This was a great film. It's about a spy who travels inside people subconscious while they are dreaming to steal corporate secrets, and just like the Matrix, I left the theater wondering if I was awake or asleep. (07/16/10)
  27. Inside Job: nominated for best documentary feature.
  28. Iron Man 2: nominated for visual effects. This film is a first-rate action film and a first-rate comic book film. It looks great. The story is solid. Robert Downey, Jr. is brilliant. I was disappointed that they had to recast the character of War Machine, and I thought that the villain was far less interesting than the heroes. Scarlette Johansen was delightful surprise. Her fight scene was totally cool. (09/28/10).
  29. Kids Are All Right, The: nominated for best picture, actress (Bening), supporting actor (Ruffalo) and writing. I was very disappointed with this film. It was billed as a film about two children raised by two moms on a quest to find their biological father, but it turned out to be about two middle-aged lesbians who had lost the spark in their marriage. It's nice to have something lighter in the best picture category, but the characters and relationships were not very convincing or interesting. (2/2/10)
  30. Killing in the Name: nominated for best documentary short.
  31. King's Speech, The: nominated for best picture, actor (Firth), supporting actor (Rush), supporting actress (Carter), art direction , cinematography, costume design, directing, film editing, music, sound mixing and editing. This is a beautiful story, beautifully told, well deserving all of its accolades, full of priceless moments. At the end of the story, I was struck by the fact that this man, King George VI, found himself in such terrifying circumstances: at war with fascist Germany, but the thing that frightened him most was the rather ordinary fear of public speaking. (2/5/10)
  32. Let's Pollute: nominated for best animated short film. This is probably the shortest of the short films. It's only 6 minutes long. Of course it is trying to discourage people from polluting by pretending to encourage it. My 8-year-old daughter was thoroughly confused, but the other adults in the audience with me laughed in all the right places. (02/20/11)
  33. Lost Thing, The: nominated for best animated short film. This was really charming - lots of imagination in this film. A boy finds a thing on the beach. It's alive but cannot speak. Its about 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide and very friendly. It looks something like a teapot crossed with an crab. Anyway, over the course of the film, he tries to find the thing a home. (02/20/11)
  34. Madagascar, a Journey Diary: nominated for best animated short film. I did not like this film. It started out interestingly enough: lots of beautiful pictures in lots of different animation styles, but it never stopped switching styles, so when it finally tried to tell a story, I kept getting distracted, but it didn't try very hard. This film comes off as a student showing off how many different ways he knows how to draw a film. (02/20/11)
  35. Na Wewe: nominated for best live short film. This film was terrifying - lots of tension and drama, but ultimately much ado about nothing. It is set in Rwanda. A military patrol stops a van full of people and tries to sort out the Hutu from the Tutsi. (The Tutsi will be executed). The comedy or absurdity of the situation is finally revealed as each person tries to explain their complicated family background. (02/20/11)
  36. Outside the Law: nominated for best foreign language film (Algeria).
  37. Poster Girl: nominated for best documentary short.
  38. Rabbit Hole:nominated for best actress (Nicole Kidman).
  39. Restrepo: nominated for best documentary feature. This film is about an outpost in Afghanistan. As a documentary, it doesn't really tell a story, but as a snap shop of the war in Afghanistan it presents our soldiers as completely incompetent.
  40. Salt: nominated for best sound mixing. This is Angelina Jolie as an action hero and everything that you would expect from that, no disappointments. The story is that Jolie's character, Salt, works for the CIA, and she might be a sleeper spy for Russia. Half the fun of the film is trying to answer that question: who is Salt? And there are several twists to keep that interesting. The film excels with disguises, so it’s a shame is wasn't nominated for makeup, but the action films always seem to show up in the sound categories. (01/30/11)
  41. Social Network, The: nominated for best picture, actor (Eisenberg), cinematography, directing, film editing, music, sound mixing and writing. This is the story of how Mark Zuckerberg invented facebook. It's mostly a character study. It's really, really good - a lot of fun to watch. Highly recommended. Don't miss this one. In the story there is a conflict between two characters about putting advertising on the site. Ultimately they don't put advertising on the site, but they never explain how they make billions of dollars with this website (02/12/11).
  42. Strangers No More:nominated for best documentary short.
  43. Sun Come Up: nominated for best documentary short.
  44. Tangled: nominated for best song ("I See the Light"). This is a completely delightful film. I can't imagine why it was denied a nomination for best animated feature (along with Despicable Me). My favorite thing about this film is that animal companions do not steal the scenes from the human characters, and the prince doesn't upstage the princess. She got to be the hero of her own story, and that is important to me. I credit the addition of John Lasseter to the production teams at Disney Studios to the superior quality of work coming from that studio in recent years (11/24/10).
  45. Tempest, The: nominated for costume design.
  46. Town, The: nominated for best actor in a supporting role (Jeremy Renner). This film is about a bank robber who falls in love with his hostage. Renner turns in a first class performance, and its fun to see films set in Boston. The story and the characters are interesting but not captivating. This is a great film to see, but it is not a must-see film. (02/15/11)
  47. Toy Story 3 : nominated for best picture, best animated feature, best song ("We Belong Together"), sound editing and writing. This was a very sentimental film. The toys' boy, Andy, is going to college, and they worry about being thrown away, put into storage, or donated. The great adventure surrounds their accidental donation to a day care facility and subsequent quest to return to Andy's house. It's the perfect conclusion to the greatest animated trilogy in film (06/18/2010).
  48. Tron: Legacy: nominated for sound editing. This film was visually spectacular, but I did not find the story, characters or even the world particularly compelling or interesting. I did love the way they were able to cast a young (12/17/2010).
  49. True Grit: nominated for best picture, actor (Bridges), supporting actress (Steinfeld), art direction, cinematography, costume design, directing, sound editing, sound mixing and writing. I liked this film very much. This is one of those rare gems in which a very young protagonist is very well written. Steinfeld plays a young girl who hires a Marshal to hunt down her father's killer in the Wild West. She delivers a spectacular performance, at least as good as Anna Paquin in The Piano (1993). I was also impressed with the way in which the west was portrayed as a very rough, no-nonsense place (01/23/11).
  50. Unstoppable: nominated for sound editing.
  51. Warriors of Qiugang: nominated for best documentary short.
  52. Waste Land: nominated for best documentary feature.
  53. Way Back: nominated for best makeup.
  54. Winter's Bone: nominated for best picture, best supporting actor (Hawkes), best actress (Lawrence) and writing. It was really good. The trailer had filled me with dread, but the fate of our heroine was not nearly as bad as I had imagined. This film is about a 17-year-old girl taking care of her 12-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister when she finds out that her father put up the house for his bond, and if he doesn't show for court, they will be evicted. She sets off looking for him, and she finds a lot of trouble, but eventually, she finds the truth, and the solution to her problem. (2/2/10)
  55. Wish 143: best live short film. This is a cute little film about a boy with cancer who makes a wish. It's a British film, so he's not talking to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but a similar organization. What he really wants is to loose his virginity. What follows is hilarious and heart breaking all at the same time. (02/20/11)
  56. Wolfman: nominated for best makeup. This film really does have great makeup, and a great cast, and great sets, but the story is time-worn, and I did not find the characters compelling. I could not bring myself to care one way or the other about their fate. (02/15/11)

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