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Five 2011 Academy Award Upsets We’d Like to See

It should be stated for the record that while the editorial ‘we’ was used for the title of this column, the truth is that these are my picks and solely my picks. Let the first person speak begin.

The Academy Awards have become a bit of a bore in the last few years. There have been next to no surprises in the major categories, except for perhaps Marion Cotillard winning Best Actress in 2008 for “La Vie en Rose” or Alan Arkin winning Best Supporting actor in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine.” For the most part, it’s decided pretty early who’s going to win, which totally sucks, if you ask me. Of course, there are categories where there is a performance that clearly stands out above the others, but in many instances, people win their Oscars not because they’ve delivered something otherworldly, but because it’s their time, and they’re due, or other such nonsense. These aren’t lifetime achievement awards, and this isn’t a welfare system. If you give the award to the worthy party the first time around, there will be no need to “pay them back” later (cough, Al Pacino and Denzel Washington).

Take Tilda Swinton, for example. Do you know why she won the Academy Award for Supporting Actress? It’s because the voters knew that “Michael Clayton” was going to be shut out in every other category, so they threw Swinton a bone just so the movie walked away with at least one award. What the hell kind of logic is that? Did she really give the best performance or not? She was perfectly fine in the movie, but there was nothing extraordinary about it, certainly not compared to her hilariously stone-hearted harpy in “Burn After Reading.” Needless to say, the Academy’s predictability of late has led me to rebel, which is why on Sunday, I’d love nothing more than to hear the following five names be read instead of what we will probably hear.

Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, “Inception

Current Frontrunner: David Seidler, “The King’s Speech”

“The King’s Speech” is a wonderful little film. It was #7 on my list of top movies of 2010. But that story has been done many, many times before, while “Inception” was so layered that it took 10 years for Christopher Nolan to finish it. Small stories are good stories, but when someone dares to, pardon the pun, dream like Nolan did here – and better yet, pull it off, which he does in spades – that should be rewarded. It would also serve as a warning shot across the bows of every action movie director that story matters, damn it, and to get rid of the jive-talking robots.

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Friday trailer: “Soul Surfer”

The fact-based story of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm to a shark, has a PG rating, so you know it’s no “127 Hours“-style survival tale, but a story about overcoming adversity aimed at young girls and their parents.

Not to sound too cynical, but this could be an interesting blend of the “girl power” genres and the overcoming-disability biopic, or not. At least it has some very good people in the cast.

H/t THR/Risky Business.

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Box office preview: Will the devilish hijinks of “The Rite” defeat both a king and a mechanic?

I’m going to be brief tonight, but don’t confuse my brevity with lack of interest. The results this weekend will be modest but may be surprising.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in
What’s intriguing this time around is that, at least according to Ben Fritz, there’s a small chance that the chart topper will be that top-nomination gathering Oscar contender from award-meister Harvey Weinstein’s house, “The King’s Speech.” Along with fellow awards contender “127 Hours,” it is expanding into hundreds of new theaters and will be in enough locations for a box office coup.  However, the more likely cash champion is the very non-acclaimed new supernatural horror thriller from Warner Brothers and starring Mr. Scary Face Anthony Hopkins, “The Rite.” The religious themed, PG-13 thriller is expected to earn something in between the “mid-teens” to $20 million according to both Fritz and THR’s Pamela McClintock, with Fritz being slightly more bullish.

The other major new release, “The Mechanic” from CBS Films, is expected to do less well despite actually getting significantly better reviews than “The Rite.” I’ve been covering it here and had fun at its junket, but I have to say I find the R-rated action-heavy hitman thriller a pale reflection of the 1971 original. It wasn’t precisely a great film, exactly, but its honesty about the evil of its protagonists makes for oddly hypnotic viewing. The new version, however, has got two strong leads in Jason Statham and Ben Foster and that, plus some heavy-duty action, will apparently be enough to earn it as much as $10 million, say the gurus.  It really looks like this is one weekend where blockbusters really aren’t dominating at the box office.

Jason Statham and Ben Foster in

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Academy nominations stay truer to form even than usual

In a funny way, the most surprising thing about this year’s batch of Academy Award nominations was how strongly they stayed true to Oscar’s long-held habits — even a Film Drunk could see it this year. At least in terms of sheer numbers of nominations, the Academy was most generous to a historical/inspirational costume drama from England over a somewhat edgier and less traditionally fashioned tale ripped from today’s business headlines.

academy-awards

The King’s Speech” led the nominations with 12, followed by “True Grit” with 10, and just eight for “The Social Network” — still very much the front-runner in my opinion — and “Inception.” Though Anne Thompson sees the momentum shifting in a more royal direction, I think it’s a big mistake this time around to read too much into sheer quantity. For example, I would be surprised to see a huge number of non-”technical” awards for “True Grit” or “Inception.” (Roger Deakins’ “True Grit” cinematography and the amazing effects of Christopher Nolan’s team being very likely winners).

Considering where most of the awards have gone so far, the only thing really going for “The King’s Speech” and against the previously prohibitive favorite, “The Social Network,” is aforementioned traditional Oscar genre prejudices and the inevitable backlash most highly acclaimed and award winnings films get. However, outside of infantile attention-hog critic Armond White, I actually haven’t noticed a huge anti-”Network” backlash though there were some off-target feminist complaints. (A movie about an almost literal boys’ club is going to depict a boys’ club atmosphere.) In any case, the rather enormous and still ongoing on- and off-line backlashes against “American Beauty,” “Crash” and “Titanic” clearly didn’t hurt those films’ Oscar prospects one bit.

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2010 Year End Movie Review: David Medsker

No year in recent memory got off to as slow a start as 2010 did. In the end, it turned out to be a pretty damn good year – especially once I compare this list of movies to my picks from 2008 – but there were some rough patches early on, where nearly every movie we were seeing wasn’t merely mediocre but downright bad. The difference between this year and other years was the event movies; no one expects them to be award-winners, but it makes such a difference when they’re at least good (“Iron Man,” for example). This year, with a couple of exceptions, they were not good (“Iron Man 2,” for example).

People like to put down movie critics for being cranky sourpusses, but the truth is most of us want to like the movies we see. “TRON: Legacy,” “Salt,” “Due Date“… I wanted those to be awesome. They weren’t.

Luckily for me, there were just over 10 movies that were awesome, which means I have enough for a list, yay! And here they are, along some movies that were most decidedly not awesome. Happy new year, everyone. Now let’s all close our eyes and pretend we don’t see the 3D. Maybe, that way, it will go away.

Best Movies of 2010

1. Black Swan
The beauty of Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller about a fragile ballet dancer is that there is rarely a point where you know whether you’ve swallowed the blue pill or the red pill. The mirror work alone demands repeat viewings, if you’re brave enough.

black swan

2. The Social Network
Where Jesse Eisenberg officially stops being ‘that guy who acts like Michael Cera’ and puts on a showstopping performance as the brilliant but socially inept Mark Zuckerberg. Rooney Mara, meanwhile, is on screen for about six minutes, but makes every second count. And she’s right about the Internet – everything’s written in ink.

social network 3

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The most wildly entertaining movie I saw all year. From the dialogue to the editing to the on-screen sound effects, I had a stupid grin plastered to my face from start to finish. Even better to see Chris Evans and Brandon Routh poke fun at their superhero images. And I want to swim in Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s eyes.

scott pilgrim 2

4. Inception
There is a backlash growing against Christopher Nolan. I do not understand why. His movies are well-plotted, well-acted, smart and gorgeous. What’s not to love? Yes, “Inception” was chatty, but pardon the pun, it dared to dream, and I love movies that go for it. And so did a lot of other people, as its $290 million box office take will attest.

inception

5. Toy Story 3
There isn’t a movie out this year that touches the last 10 minutes of “Toy Story 3″ in terms of emotional impact. Terrifying one minute, heartbreaking the next, and armed with a bittersweet yet pitch-perfect ending. I still can’t make it through the ending, or even the beginning, without crying.

toy story 3

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2010 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

Every year has its share of good movies and bad movies, but in 2010, the good ones were especially good and the bad ones sucked more than they usually do. And then there were the ones that fell somewhere in between – films that a lot of us were looking forward to seeing that didn’t pan out quite like we’d hoped. But there was nothing more destructive to cinemas this year than the onslaught of 3D, with studios hell-bent on trying to convince moviegoers that it was the future of movies. Sorry to say, but it was a gimmick in the 50s, a gimmick in the 80s, and it’s a gimmick today, not to mention a giant scam. Nevertheless, the good far outweighed the bad, with new films from innovative directors like Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright and Danny Boyle, and what’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting Best Picture races in years. That’s not to say that all of my choices are necessarily award-worthy, but in a perfect world, they would be.

Best Movies of 2010

1. “The Social Network

It might sound a bit contrived to say that a movie can define an entire generation, but in the case of “The Social Network,” I honestly believe it. There have been plenty of films made about corporate empires built on ruined friendships, broken promises and massive egos, but never has one hit so close to home as the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook. It’s not just a product of our time, but something that directly affects the everyday lives of people all around the world. Interesting stuff no matter how you spin it, but David Fincher takes what could have been a boring courtroom drama and turns it into a wildly entertaining character study filled with some of the zippiest and cleverest dialogue that Aaron Sorkin has ever written. There’s not a weak link in the cast – from major players like Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer, to Rooney Mara’s brief (but important) appearance as one of Zuckerberg’s pre-Facebook girlfriends – but it’s Jesse Eisenberg’s star-making performance as the socially inept whiz-kid that makes “The Social Network” the year’s most enthralling film.

the_social_network

2. “Inception

It’s hard not to be envious of a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan, because the guy is only 40 years old, hasn’t made a single bad movie yet, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Though it might have seemed virtually impossible to outdo “The Dark Knight,” Nolan’s seventh feature is better in just about every way – from its incredibly complex and original mind trip of a story, to the stunning visual effects and outstanding ensemble cast. “Inception” is the kind of film that only gets better with each new viewing, and though everyone may have their own theory about the ending (you could ask just about anyone whether or not it fell and they would immediately know what you were talking about), the real delight is watching the journey that leads us there. There are so many memorable moments that it’s hard to keep track, but the last 40 minutes are particularly spellbinding as Nolan manages to juggle four different dream states without tripping once. Can we just give the man his Oscar already?

inception

3. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Edgar Wright wasn’t exactly a household name prior to directing “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” but that will hopefully all change with this wildly ambitious action-comedy that pretty much rewrites the rules on comic book movies. It’s been said that mimicry is the highest form of flattery, and if that’s the case, then Bryan Lee O’Malley must be blushing, because the film adaptation of his six-volume comic series is not only incredibly faithful to the story, but its quirky humor and breakneck pacing as well. The ensemble cast is terrific (from a pitch-perfect Michael Cera in the title role, to bubbly newcomer Ellen Wong), the fight sequences are playfully unique, and you’d need a Rolodex just to keep track of all the clever pop culture references that are crammed into the script. It’s like dying and going to geek heaven.

scott_pilgrim

4. “127 Hours

Aron Ralston’s incredible story of survival may not exactly sound like the feel-good movie of the year, but despite all the attention that was placed on the dreaded amputation scene, there’s a really positive message coursing throughout the film. It’s not necessarily something you’ll notice the first time you watch it, either. In fact, while I was engrossed by Ralston’s perseverance during my first viewing (his know-it-all selfishness may have gotten him into the mess, but it’s also what got him out of it), it wasn’t until I saw it a second time that I truly appreciated how much the film is bursting with life. There aren’t too many actors that could have played Ralston without coming off as smug, but James Franco brings an Everyman quality to the role that wins you over immediately. And if he’s the heart and soul of the movie, then Danny Boyle is the brain, interweaving memories/daydreams/hallucinations of Ralston’s family and lost love as he tries to free himself from the boulder. This could have been a really dull film, but under Boyle’s direction, it’s an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind experience.

127_hours

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L.A., New York online, and Boston Critics speak and “The Social Network” is the word + the AFI’s Top 10 (updated)

Jessie Eisenberg in

Three major critics groups gave out their awards on Sunday and, while there were differences, the common thread isn’t going to give Facebook boy billionaire Mark Zuckerberg any relief for his PR agita. The awards also have some good news for Best Actress contender Natalie Portman and possible Best Supporting Actor shoo-in Christian Bale. Among the Best Actor possibilities, however, it was a split with between actors portraying Zuckerberg and his fellow real-life guys turned movie characters, Aron Ralston, and King George VI.

Simply because of geography, the Los Angeles Film Critics is probably the most influential group. The awards here, however, were the quirkiest of the three, with a split of sorts between “The Social Network” and this year’s cinephile cause celebre, “Carlos,” which may well be shut out of the Oscars altogether for a number of reasons. Though a shorter cut of the reportedly action-packed-yet-thoughtful multi-lingual French film about the real-life left-wing terrorist of the 1970s has been playing to general plaudits, a 5.5 hour television version of the film by Olivier Assayas has had shorter but successful engagements here at the American Cinematheque and is much on the mind of many of us film geeks (I just blew another chance to watch it all in a theater and I’m not happy about it.)

079

Assayas and “Network” director David Fincher tied while Fincher’s movie won Best Picture with “Carlos” as the runner up and also the Best Foreign Film winner. Aaron Sorkin won for his “Social” screenplay while Colin Firth won best actor for “The King’s Speech,” the first runner-up in the category was Edgar Rameriz for playing Carlos, yet another real life person.  Kim Hye-Ja from the cinephile-approved Korean thriller “Mother” and Niels Arestrup from France’s violent “A Prophet” won in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor categories. While those awards are unlikely to be replicated by the Oscars, Jacki Weaver’s hopes for a possible Oscar nomination and even a win for the Australian critical and festival hit, “Animal Kingdom,” are looking up ever more with another Best Supporting Actress award. The LAFC site has the complete list of winners.

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Okay, now we can talk about the Oscars…

…Because the somewhat mysterious organization that mysteriously somehow sets the stage and begins the momentum for the awards season, the National Board of Review, has given its awards. Perhaps not so unexpectedly, the big winner appears to be “The Social Network” which earned awards for Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), and, most interestingly, earned a Best Actor nod for Jessie Eisenberg, making him suddenly something of a frontrunner for Best Actor, which is not to say that the award makes him some kind of a sure thing.

Jessie Eisenberg and I'm not sure who in

At 27, if Eisenberg does wins for his thoroughly on-target performance, he’ll be the youngest winner in that category yet, beating 29 year-old Adrien Brody for “The Pianist.” Still, he’ll likely be facing stiff competition from 50 year-old Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), 70 something Robert Duvall (“Get Low“), 30 something co-host James Franco (“127 Hours“) and, perhaps, 60 something Jeff Bridges (“True Grit,” a bit less stiff since he won last year and Oscar likes to spread the love around).

The Best Actress prize was equally interesting. Lesley Manville won for her extraordinary work in the upcoming “Another Year.” I’ve seen (and will be reviewing here), the latest from Mike Leigh. There’s no doubt that Manville did an absolutely remarkable job but her supremely needy, depressed, alcoholic character is often irritating to the point of distraction, on purpose. It hits closer to home because I think most of have known or have actually been (hopefully temporarily) people very much like her. Still, sometimes people tend to blame actors for playing characters they dislike or are made uncomfortable by. Regardless, she’s been noticed. At the press day, I half-jokingly suggested to Ms. Manville that she should work on her American accent.

Jacki Weaver's back in Another heretofore far from world-famed actress who might consider studying up on U.S. dialects is Australian veteran performer Jacki Weaver. She was nominated for her magnetically squirm-inducing crime grandma in the effective thriller, “Animal Kingdom.” It’s the first time she’s been in a film to make a splash stateside since Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” back before Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco were yet born.

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Midweekish movie news

It’s oh so late (or early) as I write this, but let’s see how much I can cover before my very late dinner and maybe a cocktail.

* I woke up to this morning the realization that Netflix has become a liberal cause celebre. It has to do with Comcast attempting to charge Level 3, a provider of Netflix’s streaming, a fee which the company says would effectively block access by cable companies to the interwebs and threaten the net neutrality that allows a site like this one to be readily usable. Brian Stetler at NYT has the details.

* Not sure how the Deadline team got scooped on this, but some lesser known sites have word that Tom Hanks‘ next acting gig, after wrapping directing duties on the upcoming “Larry Crowne,” will be in the new drama from the team that brought us “The Hurt Locker,” writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow. It’s the Latin America set “Triple Frontier.”

* Two categories of people get to say exactly what they want: the elderly and universally beloved film stars who took a creative risk and essentially made a franchise. Johnny Depp isn’t quite yet at the early bird dinner stage of his life, but he had some interesting things to say about Disney executives’ initial reaction to his Jack Sparrow — really, the only thing I ever liked about the “Pirates of the Carribean” franchise, other than the ride. They hated Depp’s performance, and for some rather disturbing juvenile reasons.

Johnny Depp runs for his life

* Nikki Finke claimed her “toldja” this morning over the actually really smart choice of having this year’s Oscar telecast hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Both clearly have comedy chops, Hathaway can sing, as she showed a couple of years back during the “Frost/Nixon” gag in Hugh Jackman’s opening number, and best of all, they’re not satirists like Jon Stewart and Chris Rock and therefore probably won’t perturb Hollywood’s well-manicured egos. The egos must, above all, be maintained. (H/t Anne Thompson for the Jackman vid.)

* The Independent Spirit Award nominations were announced today. Not too surprisingly, some of the biggest nominees were “127 Hours,” “The Black Swan,” “Greenberg,” “The Kids Are All Right,” (directed by Lisa Chodelenko, interviewed here by Ross Ruediger) “Rabbit Hole,” and “Winter’s Bone,” which already collected some Gotham Awards a day or so back.

* I’m sure the role of the U.S. Secretary of State in “X-Men: First Class” isn’t huge, but anything that keeps Ray Wise onscreen, where he belongs, works for me.

* RIP director Mario Monicelli, who passed on a day or so back at age 95. I have no excuse for having never seen “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” I fear.

Okay, that’s all for tonight. The gods of sleep and hunger have just about claimed me.

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Box office preview: Harry Potter and the potentially record-breaking weekend

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in

Like Stephen Colbert’s frequently posed query about George W. Bush, the question for this weekend is: will “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One” have a great box office weekend, or the greatest of all time — not adjusted for inflation, of course. Short of the kind of the Hitlerian magic-driven apocalypse that Harry, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley try so hard and so emotionally to avert in the final Potter volume, there is certainly no way it doesn’t top the weekend. “Hallows” has already sold out a bunch of midnight shows already happening nationwide as I write this, according to Ben Fritz. With decent-to-good reviews and the legions of Potter fans still growing, the $400 million total gross figure posited by jolly Carl DiOrio seems more than reasonable. As for the totals of the 3D second half of the conclusion of the saga coming this summer, the sky appears to be the limit.

Russell Crowe in The only other major release that dares to rear its head this weekend is a potentially canny bit of counterprogramming. The very grown-up oriented, if not necessarily all that grown-up, “The Next Three Days” is a sort of character-study-cum-prison-break tale starring Russell Crowe and written and directed by Paul Haggis (“Crash“). It’s getting ho-hum reviews both over at our linked-to-above sister-site and elsewhere. DiOrio’s talking “teens” as in millions, not viewers.

Among limited releases, this weekend sees significant expansions of two bits of prime Oscar bait based on real life ordeals. Taking a look at the Box Office Mojo theater count, we have “127 Hours,” about a guy who sawed off his own arm and “Fair Game,” about a power couple whose (metaphorical) legs were cut off by the Bush-Cheney administration, adding a number of screens. Meanwhile, this weekend also sees the 3-screen debut of that ultimate rarity — a feel-good movie about politics showing that, sometimes, ordinary people really triumph in a democracy. What will a disbelieving world make of “Made in Dagenham“?

Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, and Geraldine James in

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