Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My 2011 Academy Award Predictions - Part III

We are less than a week away from Hollywood's annual celebration of the year in films. And I am now on the third and final part of my predictions for the top awards at the ceremony. The past two posts were devoted to the acting awards and I still stand by my predictions (if not too firmly on some of them) that Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo will be making their way to the Oscar podium in their respective categories. Now, it is time to talk about the top 2 prizes that everyone REALLY cares about: Best Director and Best Picture.

And the Nominees Are:
Darren Arronofsky, Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

Who Will Win?:
Though he did not win the Director's Guild Award (more on that in a bit), David Fincher is still the favorite to take the Best Director prize on Sunday. His masterful eye was put to excellent use in the flow of The Social Network. He used a lot of the same tricks he used in some of his more avant garde films like Se7en, Fight Club and Panic Room. He also does have a previous Oscar pedigree. Though he was never nominated for any of the aforementioned films (a crime by many film-goers standards), he WAS nominated in 2009 for the emotionally stirring (yet critically rejected) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. To many, Fincher is due for Academy recognition.

Would Not Be Surprised If...:
With all that being said about David Fincher, his main competition is the man who beat him to the Director's Guild top prize: Tom Hooper, the British director of The King's Speech. It is widely looked at (by most critics that is) that Hooper's DGA win was an anomaly and just the Hollywood community voicing their love for The King's Speech. But, if the Academy feels that the emotionally powerful period piece should win several of its 12 nominations (in addition to Best Actor, which it deservedly is destined to win), Hooper (like Supporting nominees Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter) could get caught up in the sweep leaving Fincher and his Social Network team in the dust.

What About the Other Nominees?:
All five (technically six) of these nominees (at one point or another in their respective careers) were considered Hollywood outsiders. Fincher did not get Academy love until Benjamin Button. And Hooper worked for BBC films and primarily directed TV films (like the award-winning HBO films Elizabeth I starring Helen Mirren and John Adams starring Paul Giamatti). As for the others: Darren Arronofsky, like Fincher, has had acclaimed films that have not been recognized by larger award bodies (The Fountainhead, The Wrestler). David O. Russell has often been accused of being temperamental and such a perfectionist that he has clashed with cast members of his previous films (like George Clooney on Three Kings and Lily Tomlin on I Heart Huckabees). And the Coen Brothers seem to have invented (and sometimes perfected) that of the Hollywood outsider, especially with their early films like Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing. All that being said, Arronofsky and Russell are currently too far outside Hollywood's "In Crowd" and the Coens recently triumphed at the Oscars for what many say was their greatest film (in 2008 with No Country For Old Men). This race is between David Fincher and Tom Hooper. Much like their films are vying for Best Picture (but we'll get to that in a bit!).

And WHERE is Christopher Nolan?:
When the nominations were announced on January 25, there was a cry on the blogosphere heard pretty much around the world: Where is Christopher Nolan's Best Director nomination for Inception? To many (and I am certainly included), the summer blockbuster was one of the most inventive, daring and mind-blowingly provocative films of the year and director-writer Christopher Nolan was largely responsible for its artistry. Unfortunately, his name was NOT amongst the nominees for Best Director. Conspiracy theories filled the blogosphere saying that the Academy does not like genre films, especially genre films that make a lot of money, like Inception. And while that may be true, I would like to give voice to a theory I heard from very few critics but I believe is the real reason behind the snub. While Inception was an artistic wonder from left to right (even in its stellar cast!), compared to the five films that DID get Director nods, Inception is more visually driven than it is character driven (something which all five films nominated are). I realize I may be upsetting several of my fellow fans of the film by saying this, but I would remind them that I believe Inception was one of the best films of the year and no matter how you look at it: Christopher Nolan was snubbed!

And the Nominees Are:
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Intro to Category Breakdown:
Like last year, the Academy has retained the expansion of the category from 5 films to 10. And all 10 of these films were widely acclaimed either by critics or audiences (or both). Unlike last year, where the category's final prize was a wide open race until the final weeks leading up to the ceremony, this year's race has been narrowed down to basically two films contending for the top honor. And either one can take the prize (depending on which pundit you choose to ask!)...

The King's Speech vs. The Social Network
When it comes to this year's Best Picture race, it is contemporary computer geeks versus pre-World War II British royalty. The two films could not be more different, yet they are very similar. Both are films about real life people and both films' "truths" have been called into question by various people. Plus, both films are about men who have difficulty communicating: one through a debilitating stammer and the other through his personality and social demeanor (or lack of one).

When the various critics groups started giving their awards out back in mid-Fall 2010, The Social Network was doing the unthinkable: winning every Best Film prize in sight. Usually the critics are very divided on what is the best film of the year (in 2009, both Up in the Air and eventual Oscar winner The Hurt Locker had the critics groups almost evenly split). But by January 2011, The Social Network seemed unstoppable winning both the Golden Globe and the Critics' Choice Award in the process. And then, overnight almost, the wind changed. The Producer's Guild of America, usually the best barometer to see which film might end up Oscar-bound, chose The King's Speech as the Best Film of the year. Hollywood pundits sat slack-jawed as the British period drama also picked up the Director's Guild award (for Tom Hooper) and the Screen Actor's Guild award for Best Ensemble Cast (that ceremony's top award). As the pundits picked themselves up, the Academy announced their nominations and The King's Speech received the most nods with 12 nominations (same amount of nominations previous Best Picture winners Mrs. Miniver, On the Waterfront, Ben-Hur, My Fair Lady, Dances With Wolves, Schindler's List and The English Patient each received). The Social Network, the clear critical favorite, received only 8 nominations.

With this turn of events in Hollywood, the signs have begun to point towards a possible sweep for the period piece (a genre that was often favored by the Academy in the past, though not in recent years interestingly enough). You see, while critics may carry weight in Hollywood throwing their reviews around as if they were judgments from on high, they alas are not voting members of the Academy (only a few high-profile critics retain that honor). The various Guilds, however, make up for more than 90% of the Academy's voting members. Therefore, the lines have been drawn and it has come down to the inevitable Critics Vs. Hollywood. We've seen this before (in 1995 when Forrest Gump swept Pulp Fiction aside and in 1999 when Shakespeare In Love surprised everyone in defeating Saving Private Ryan). It is the emotionally stirring film that may have struck a chord with the Academy and so, The King's Speech is the strong frontrunner to take the Best Picture prize (though The Social Network could still pull off a win that will both upset and delight many).

The Rest of the Category
With the expansion to 10 films, there are at least 3 films that we can safely say would NEVER have been nominated if the category were its "more traditional" 5 films. Though very acclaimed, 127 Hours, The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone fit that bill. Moreover, summer blockbusters like Toy Story 3 and Inception (my personal favorite!) most likely would have had a hard time getting into a smaller category because they are genres that normally have NOT been recognized by Oscar in the past (save for The Lord of the Rings in 2004!). The other three nominees (Black Swan, True Grit and The Fighter) would have had better shots in weaker years. Unfortunately, they are dwarfed by the competition from the two films that have (together) swept all the awards.

What does all this mean? I mean, I could be wrong. Annette Bening and Hailee Steinfeld could find themselves with Oscars on Sunday. The Social Network and The King's Speech could end up cancelling each other out and Inception wins in a sympathy sweep (that would be OK with me!). What it means is that predicting these awards is not an exact science, which I believe is the way many members of the Academy like it. They like keeping their picks secret and they enjoy that shock and awe as the winners are announced on Oscar night. So I, like the rest of you, will watch the ceremony Sunday night and (hopefully) be pleasantly surprised by what the Academy has in store for its worldwide audience.

MY FINAL PREDICTIONS (for the major awards)
Best Picture: The King's Speech
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 3
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler, The King's Speech

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My 2011 Academy Award Predictions - Part II

Here we are in Part II of my 2011 Oscar Predictions and we are still in the acting categories. This years Leading Actor and Actress awards are filled with big names, nuanced performances and top-notch films. So let's dig right in, beginning with:

And the Nominees are:
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Who Will Win?:
If Colin Firth does NOT win this year, there is a serious miscarriage of justice going on in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (Am I not being clear where my loyalties are this time?). To put it plainly, Firth gives one of the most passionate and empowering performances by a Leading Actor that I have seen in quite a while (and isn't that the whole point of the category?). In his role as the Duke of York, Prince Albert George, who is forced by circumstances to become King George VI, Firth gives the father of England's current monarch a vulnerability needed to portray the man who struggled with a debilitating stammer. Watching his hard work with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Supporting Actor nominee Geoffrey Rush) or being loved by his supportive wife Elizabeth (Supporting Actress nominee Helena Bonham-Carter), is so inspiring and one cannot help but root for the King as he leads his people into World War II. Firth has racked up so many pre-Oscar awards from the Golden Globe to this past weekend's BAFTA (British Academy) that his mantle will seem so empty without the Oscar he is destined to collect come February 27th.

What About the Other Nominees? (There have been upsets before, people!):
Jeff Bridges, who is brilliant as the Coen Brothers' re-imagining of John Wayne's role of Rooster Cogburn, just won this award last year for an equally dynamic (if not better) performance (beating Firth in the process). Even Bridges himself says he plans to just sit back, relax and do the honor of presenting the Best Actress Oscar. James Franco (this year's Oscar co-host), who has won a share of critics' prizes for his role as hiker Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle's powerful yet disturbing 127 Hours, has been really proving himself with real meaty roles like this (Milk, etc.) so it is safe to say he will return to the Oscars someday. Same goes for Jesse Eisenberg, who played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with admirable aplomb. Both he and Franco are part of what is now being dubbed "Young Hollywood" and their presence at future awards is inevitable. As for Javier Bardem, his nomination alone for the beloved Spanish-language film was a welcome surprise and he, like Bridges, recently won an Oscar (albeit Supporting) for another chilling performance in a very buzzworthy movie (No Country for Old Men in 2008).

And the Nominees are:
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Who Will Win?:
Natalie Portman has been raking in almost all of the major pre-Oscar awards and many of the critics have stated that her performance as the tortured ballet dancer in Darren Arronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan is one of the most emotional and dramatic performances of the year. Even famed critic Roger Ebert said that because she runs a gamut of emotions in the film, Portman gets to "act more" and therefore will be rewarded so. Portman also has the privilege of being young and pretty (something Oscar in this category as really loved in the last decade: Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Marion Cotillard, etc.). And, on top of that, she is currently pregnant with her first child (yet another thing Oscar loves: a good photo-op!).

Would Not Be Surprised If?:
There is one thing that could trump a good photo-op of a pregnant Portman picking up her Oscar (good alliteration!), and that is the venerable career Oscar. Annette Bening, who won several early critics' prizes for her role as a firm lesbian parent in The Kids Are All Right, is now enjoying her FOURTH Academy Award nomination (her third as Best Actress) and, by several accounts, is due for her moment in the sun as an Oscar winner (especially after losing Best Actress twice to Hilary Swank!). Bening has also been making her rounds on the old standard Oscar campaign trail (Academy lectures, luncheons and, of course, the talk show circuit). Sometimes showing a presence to the Academy is enough to get those votes for marvelous performance.

What About the Other Nominees?:
Nicole Kidman gives what many critics say is a poignant and emotional "comeback" performance and is quite deserving of the nod. Kidman, who won Best Actress in 2003 for her performance in The Hours, suffers from problem that Rabbit Hole is ONLY nominated for Best Actress and it doesn't happen very often for an actress to win this award for the film's ONLY nomination. Michelle Williams, who is beloved by the critics for her performance in Blue Valentine, suffers from the same problem Kidman does (much to the critics' and possibly Ryan Gosling's chagrin). Jennifer Lawrence, like her co-star and Supporting Actor nominee John Hawkes, is just happy to be at the party for her gritty performance in Winter's Bone (a definite critical favorite).

So those are my predictions in the acting categories. Firth and Portman have been collecting every major pre-Oscar award. While it is possible for an upset (more likely in Best Actress), the signs are pointing at the inspiring royal and the damaged dancer to be "crowned" Oscar's best this year. Next week, I will discuss my predictions for the top two prizes at the awards: Best Director and the extremely coveted Best Picture.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My 2011 Academy Award Predictions - Part I

10 FAVORITES is taking a short break and will return in March. In the meantime, let's get ready for the Oscars!!! For the next three weeks, I will give you all my predictions for the six major categories at Hollywood's annual celebration. 2010 was a great year for movies and the 10 nominees for Best Picture were all on a lot of people's Top 10 lists. We'll get to Best Picture in a while, but for now we shall begin with the acting categories. First up, the categories for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

And the Nominees are:
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

Who Will Win?:
Christian Bale seems to be the clear frontrunner for his gut-wrenching portrayal of the junkie brother of the title character in The Fighter. He has won most of the major awards (the Golden Globe, the Screen Actor's Guild, the Critics' Choice, etc.). Plus, thanks to his role in Christopher Nolan's Batman films, he is one of the more popular actors of today and has yet to receive a major acting award (this is his FIRST Oscar nod). He also lost a lot of weight to take on the role of the drug-addicted ex-con Dicky Eklund and actors have won in the past after changing their physical features dramatically (i.e. Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, etc.).

Would Not Be Surprised If...:
The only thing standing between Bale's chance at Oscar gold is the Hollywood community's clear embrace of The King's Seech. If it is in the fates for the British period drama to sweep the awards, then Geoffrey Rush could win for his enigmatic portrayal of King George VI's speech therapist Lionel Logue. Rush is a favorite with the Academy (this is his fourth nomination and he won Best Actor back in 1997 for Shine) and his work in The King's Speech has not gone unnoticed by critics and audiences alike.

What About the Other Nominees?:
While Mark Ruffalo is slowly becoming one of Hollywood's hardest working actors, his performance is not the emotional center of The Kids Are All Right (we'll get to that in Best Actress). Jeremy Renner's performance in The Town is gritty and thrilling, but his is the only nomination Ben Affleck's much hailed film received this year. And while Winter's Bone has been praised on the "Indie" circuit, it's four nominations (including John Hawke's supporting nod) is the reward.

And the Nominees are:
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Who Will Win?:
This is probably the toughest of all the acting categories to predict (and I am not the first to say so!). If one were going by the numbers and the amount of pre-Oscar awards collected, then Melissa Leo is in the best standing for her riveting performance as the tough, Machiavellian manager mother in The Fighter. Leo has long been considered one of the best character actresses on both TV and in independent films (she was previously nominated for Best Actress in 2009 for Frozen River). And tough-talking, ruthless mothers tend to do extremely well, especially in this category (see Mo'Nique last year!).

Would Not Be Surprised If...:
There are two other nominees that I could foresee spoiling Leo's chances: Hailee Steinfeld and Helena Bonham-Carter. Steinfeld, who is really the lead in the Coen brothers' remake of True Grit, gives one of the finest performances of the year and is also young. This category loves them young (see Patty Duke, Tatum O'Neal and Anna Paquin). But (as I said in the Supporting Actor category) if a sweep is inevitable for The King's Speech, then Helena Bonham-Carter (who showed a lot of versatility this year appearing in Speech, Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland and the seventh Harry Potter film) could benefit for her touching portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II's mother (a.k.a. Queen Elizabeth).

What About the Other Nominees?:
Amy Adams, who is enjoying her third Best Supporting Actress nomination, is really outshone by her co-stars Christian Bale and fellow nominee Melissa Leo. If voters went for her, she could cancel out Leo's chances and Steinfeld or Bonham-Carter would benefit. Australian character actress Jacki Weaver earned several early critics' prizes for her domineering performance, but the Aussie film is so low on the radar of many voters that the nomination is really reward enough.

So, those are my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Both of them, ironically, are from the same film (The Fighter), but I did give scenarios where neither Bale nor Leo could win (especially if The King's Speech sweeps). If both Bale and Leo win (or both Rush and Bonham-Carter win, for that matter), it will be the first time one film as won BOTH Supporting awards since 1987 (when Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest both won the first of their two Oscars for Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters). Next week, Part II of my Oscar predictions will go over the Best Leading Actor and Best Leading Actress categories (where the frontrunners might just be a little clearer).

Don't forget to vote in the poll on the side for the Best British Sitcom of All-Time!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

10 FAVORITES (22) - Best Britcom

Hey folks! Sorry about not posting last week. Technical difficulties and health problems (cold and flu season!) got in the way, but I am now back on track. As promised, I am beginning my month-long nod to the Academy Awards (which will be handed out at the end of this month on February 27th). The rest of the month will be devoted to my various predictions in the major categories at the Academy Awards. But today, I decided to give out my own award and YOU get to participate! I will place a poll on the side of this blog and we shall see which nominee shall obtain the most votes. The winner will be announced sometime at the end of the month. Now, in order to vote, you must know what you are voting for. And I think I've picked something pretty special. One of my favorite things growing up: the Best British Sitcom, or BRITCOM!!!

British comedy has been influencing US culture (and the Entertainment world!) for decades. The British Music Hall gave birth to American Vaudeville. Monty Python inspired the gang at Saturday Night Live. Several UK TV and radio programs have been redone American-style (All In the Family and Three's Company are among the most notable). Growing up in the United States, I was exposed to the world of the BBC Comedy through what they would show on PBS. And there were several favorites! So, it is time I leave this question up to my readers. And what better month to do it in than the month where Hollywood is a-buzz with Awards fever?

Below, in alphabetical order, are the nominees for:

This iconic "Britcom" follows the adventures of two daffy women as they enjoy life's excesses and believe they truly are, well, you can guess by the title. Played to over-the-top perfection by Jennifer Saunders (who co-created the series) and Joanna Lumley, Edina and Patsy are two of the most outlandish female characters that have ever been seen on television. The characters have been a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Who knew Nazis, the French resistance and British soldiers could make for a great comedy? This series took comedy to a new (and very controversial) level focusing on a harried Parisian cafe owner as he aides the French resistance to Nazi-occupied France. The show was condemned by many who lived through WWII as making light of a terrifying situation but those condemnations never stopped the fans from adoring it.

The world of the department store and its clerks was made devilishly funny in this iconic series from the 1970's and early 1980's. Who could possibly forget Mrs. Slocombe and her cat (you know what she called it!)? Or Captain Peacock and his pompous, lascivious ways? And, of course, everyone remembers Mr. Humphries and his trilling "I'm Free!" in his own special way.

Rowan Atkinson is one of the most popular comedians in Britain thanks to shows like Mr. Bean and this one. As Edmund Blackadder, Atkinson was ideal in his period settings (be it Medieval England, the Elizabethan Age, the 19th Century royals or a WWI bunker) and was even more hilarious surrounded by crazies and idiots (among whom included Miranda Richardson and Hugh Laurie before they became famous for more dramatic roles).

This show starred the late Dermot Morgan in the title role as an Irish priest who as been exiled by the Bishop to a small island with two other priests: one is an old drunk and the other is a complete moron. The short-lived series has risen in popularity, especially since Morgan's death in 1998, and even has its own annual fan convention: Ted Fest.

Monty Python alum John Cleese is masterful as the frazzled and conniving innkeeper Basil Fawlty. Whether he was aiding a charming jewel thief or making fun of some visiting Germans (below), Cleese's Basil was always in top form and who could help but love him? The show (which only lasted about 4 years) is one of the most popular "Britcoms" of all-time with major fanbases in both America and England.

Before Steve Carell's Michael Scott and the gang at Dunder-Mifflin were making America laugh, there was Ricky Gervais' David Brent and his cohorts at the Werham Hogg Paper Company giving mockumentary a new style. Gervais (who co-created the show and is executive producer of the US version) brought his brand of comedy to the forefront and has now become an Emmy-winning and often controversial (see his recent Golden Globes performance) funnyman.

This extremely popular series follows south Londoners Del Boy and his brother, Rodney, as they are constantly trying to make a buck. The show is one of the most beloved comedies, especially in the UK where it constantly tops BBC polls as the "Best British Comedy."

Space plus comedy equals many entertained nerds. The cult series follows the antics of the ship, the Red Dwarf, whose entire crew (save one) was killed in radiation explosion. Like any other space/sci-fi related shows (i.e. Star Trek), Red Dwarf has a very expansive and very devout following (I'm not kidding, they make Trekkies look normal!).

Following the antics of the cunning government worker Sir Humphrey (brilliantly played by the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne) as he works for a bumbling Cabinet official, this show was a great favorite because of its wit and humor in portraying the British political system. Humphrey was so good that his bumbling official became the country's PM forcing a name change from Yes, Minister to Yes, Prime Minister.

There you have it: the 10 nominees for THE BEST BRITISH SITCOM OF ALL-TIME. The poll will appear in the sidebar on the blog and you will be able to vote for your favorite. The winner will be announced towards the end of the month. Stay tuned the rest of this month as I will give my predictions for the 2011 Academy Awards.

Special note of thanks to the BBC and their allowing several video clips of these classic sitcoms onto YouTube.