Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oscar's Roundup

The 83rd Academy Awards are this Sunday. As one could reasonably guess from my previous film reviews, I've never been a huge fan of the types of films that tend to dominate the Oscars. In light of that fact, I thought it's be interesting to give my picks of which films I feel are deserving of the Academy's awards.

Having now seen seven of the ten nominees for Best Picture, I have to say that Black Swan is by far the best film of the year. The cinematography and art direction are relentless and amazing, Natalie Portman is nothing short of breathtaking, the sound and visual effects are impeccable, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel are wonderful supporters to Portman, and the suspense is nearly unbearable. Sadly, Black Swan is only the seventh most nominated film, receiving snubs in several categories; Vincent Cassel deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and the film should've gotten art direction and sound mix nods, if not won those categories. However, Black Swan still takes home awards for Best Film, Best Actress for Natalie Portman, Best Director for Darren Aronofsky, and best cinematography.

My second favorite film of the year would have to be Inception. It really seems that the Academy and I just don't agree this year, because I felt Inception was also heavily snubbed. No nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio as Best Actor, nothing for director Christopher Nolan, and no nod for Best Editing, which was perhaps the most remarkable part of the film. Inception still manages to earn my vote for Best Direct Screenplay, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects, but deserved a bit more recognition.

Even though I can't fully approve of The Social Network because of its twisting of the truth, I still must give the film its props. Jesse Eisenberg takes home the Best Actor trophy in a tough choice over James Franco for 127 Hours, and the film also wins for its adapted screenplay, its editing (thanks to Inception's snub), and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's impressive score. Also, Andrew Garfield deserved a Supporting Actor nomination for his performance.

Geoffrey Rush takes the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for The King's Speech, a performance that managed to overshadow his lead actor Colin Firth. King's Speech also wins by default for art direction, with Black Swan snubbed and out of the way. Although the role is arguably more of a lead role, Hailee Steinfeld wins Best Supporting Actress for her performance in True Grit, and the film also takes home the award for Best Costume Design.

Given my love for horror and otherwise contentious films, and given the Academy's continued ignoring of such films with only a couple exceptions, I've accepted that I'll never agree fully with the Academy's choices. But, now that I've expanded my tastes in movies to almost all genres and types, and my love for the art form as a whole has grown, I thought that my tastes would've gotten closer to those of the Academy than they have.

I think this is due to the fact that the Academy gets so hung up on biographical dramas. Or at least fictional dramas with a strong lead character, particularly one who has a strange accent or some other funny way of speaking. The Social Network, The King's Speech, Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, True Grit and The Fighter all fit this bill. It's not that I don't like these films; I often do. It's that they're so character- and actor-driven that they leave little room for things like art direction, cinematography and all the other technical things for which the Academy hands out awards. This is the Academy's pattern, and so now their most-nominated films are somewhat interchangeable, if not with each other than with winners from previous years. Where's the innovation? The controversy? The experimentation?

Two films came out in 2010 that I want to mention that would certainly get some nominations if I were running things. One is Frozen, a suspenseful thriller about three friends stuck on a ski lift. The sheer terror created in this movie from its music, sound effects and camera work is among the most palpable and intense I've ever experienced in a film. Such a visceral reaction from simple things like particularly its sound mix; isn't that something worthy of an award? The other film is The Killer Inside Me, a harrowing film about a Texas sheriff trying to hold at bay his serial killer side. The screenplay is intricate, detailed and thought-provoking, and it's brought to life by a wonderful lead performance by Casey Affleck and terrific neo-noir cinematography.

Alas, these two marvelous films received no recognition from the Academy. Understandable; the Academy stays away from horror like a plague, and Killer Inside Me, although not quite horror, is too dark and violent for the Academy to ever get near. I could list a dozen more great titles from the last few years that got no recognition from the Academy because they were too controversial, violent or experimental. The Academy wants to award the films that are best able to continue and perfect the standard tradition of American filmmaking that has changed very little since the 1930s, and more or less rejects anything too revolutionary.

Despite this vexation, I'm still gonna watch the Oscars this Sunday; it's an industry must. But I will take in the Academy's choices for each category and the entire Oscar experience with the giant grain of salt that it requires.

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