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M. Carter’s Oscar nominations (and then some)

As a fledgling movie lover, a burgeoning blogger, I grew up trusting that The Academy as the ultimate and final word on what was good and award-worthy in cinema. Then, somewhere around the time I realized that my parents didn’t know everything, either, I turned a corner and headed down the “Hey, Academy People, You Might Have Petrified White Dog Turds for Brains” Hallway toward the “Wearing a Leopard-Print Wonderbra and Screaming Obscenities at Albert Finney Does Not Translate to Acting Talent” Conference Room. 

(Yes, I am still a little bitter about how the 2001 Best Actress Oscar race played out and please, let’s change the subject before I have to go back to therapy.)

Old grudges aside, the point is that sometimes The Academy gets it right. But more often than not these sorry, sad little people get it wrong. Very wrong. This is why Frank, the Pompous Film Snob himself, asked a number of us movie bloggers to come up with our own nominations for the best of the best in 2010. Find the compiled list here, and peruse my own nominations below.

Best Picture: “Winter’s Bone”; “The King’s Speech”; “Black Swan”; “Restrepo”; “Cairo Time”

Best Director: Debra Granik, “Winter’s Bone”; Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”; Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”; Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, “Restrepo”; Christopher Nolan, “Inception”

Best Actor: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”; Michael Douglas, “Solitary Man”; Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”; James Franco, “127 Hours”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “Shutter Island”

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”; Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”; Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”; Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”; Patricia Clarkson, “Cairo Time”

Best Supporting Actor: John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”; Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech”; Jeremy Renner, “The Town”; Christian Bale, “The Fighter”; Ken Watanabe, “Inception”

Best Supporting Actress: Rebecca Hall, “Please Give”; Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”; Amy Adams, “The Fighter”; Dale Dickey, “Winter’s Bone”; Barbara Hershey, “Black Swan”

Best Original Screenplay: “Cairo Time”; “Black Swan”; “Inception”; “The King’s Speech”; “The Kids Are All Right”

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Winter’s Bone”; “True Grit”; “Shutter Island”; “The Social Network”; “The Town”

Best Ensemble: “Inception”; “The Social Network”; “The King’s Speech”; “The Kids Are All Right”; “The Fighter”

Best Cinematography: “Winter’s Bone”; “Black Swan”; “Inception”; “The Social Network”; “The King’s Speech”

Best Score: “Shutter Island”; “Inception”; “True Grit”; “Cairo Time”; “Black Swan”

Best Editing: “Restrepo”; “Predators”; “The King’s Speech”; “The Social Network”; “Winter’s Bone”

Lifetime Achievement Award winners: Richard Jenkins and Ron Leibman (let’s hear it for the underappreciated character actors!)

Best films of 2010

For film lovers, the end of each year brings with it certainty and hope — certainty that the coming year cannot boast better offerings than the one before, and hope that somehow the certainty is misguided and the coming year will show us what for. 2010 has proven to be no exception, serving up a Coen-stamped Western remake; a stunning neo-noir set in the forbidding, chilly Ozarks; a mind-warping, reality-bending tale of dreams within dreams from the creator of “Memento”; a bluntly comic and real story about a marriage that’s thoroughly average; and more, so much more.

It’s also the year that gave us Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sporting a tutu, a fourth Shrek film and a movie where grown women dress up like circus clowns (and never sweat) in the middle of the desert, but, hey, what can you do?

Here is one reviewer’s list of the true treasures 2010 — some usual suspects with, I hope, a few surprises thrown in:

1. “Winter’s Bone”

Jennifer Lawrence is a force of nature in Debra Granik's neo-noir "Winter's Bone."

From “The Bill Engvall Show” to “Winter’s Bone” — the tale of young actress Jennifer Lawrence’s rise is an unusual one. But her fiery performance in Debra Granki’s second film ought to wipe clean the memory of that unfortunate TBS show. As Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old holding her broken family together and searching in earnest for her court-skipping dad, Lawrence is amazing. And that’s not even counting the stellar support character actor John Hawkes and relative no-name Dale Dickey provide as Ree’s suspicious, self-contained kin in the Ozarks. “Winter’s Bone” is neo-noir like you’ve never seen it before.

 

2. “The King’s Speech”

King George VI (Colin Firth) struggles to find his voice in the funny, poignant "The King's Speech."

Colin Firth’s loss to Jeff Bridges at the 2009 Oscars left a bad taste in the mouths of Firth’s many fans, and even some of Bridges’. “The King’s Speech” could be Firth’s redemption, for it features a performance (as King George VI, of all people) that’s no less droll, poignant and sometimes excruciatingly painful to watch. The actor’s piquant sparring matches with Geoffrey Rush — particularly those profanity-laden rants — are delightful and moving, while Helena Bonham Carter breaks out of her Tim Burton box. With some uncharacteristically claustrophobic cinematography thrown in, “The King’s Speech” is the total package.  

 

3. “Black Swan”

The quest for perfection sends Nina (Natalie Portman) into a tailspin of delusions in "Black Swan."

 The human mind is capable of unspeakable darkness — a fact most directors endeavor to ignore or shy away from or hide. Darren Aronofsky has embraced these depths in every film he’s made, but “Black Swan” might be his darkest work yet. Part character study, part tragedy, part psychological thriller and part near-Gothic horror film, “Black Swan” is all feeling and no restraint. That goes double for the lead performance of Natalie Portman, who rips herself in two so forcefully we’re left wondering if normal life is a possibility after this. 

 

4. “Restrepo”

In 2009, “The Hurt Locker” pushed a different kind of message about war: It is a drug. Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s documentary “Restrepo,” about the year the two spent on assignment in Afghanistan with the Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, can’t be boiled down to a slogan. It’s more a real-time, live-action depiction not of the hell of war but of the hell war leaves behind, reflected painfully in the eyes of real soldiers, not actors.  

 

5. “Inception”

Christopher Nolan's "Inception" blurs the line between dreams and reality for Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio).

If there are limits to the imagination, Christopher Nolan does not know them, or refuses to acknowledge them. His films scramble about reality to the point it starts to look like visions, or dreams, or nightmares, or all of the above. “Inception” stands as his grandest undertaking, a true stretching of everything viewers expect about effects, cinematography and, well, gravity, in cinema. Nolan takes his actors — and us — so far into the world of dreams that we’re afraid to go to sleep. Or is it that we’re really afraid to wake up?

 

6. “True Grit”

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld make bonding a gritty, unsappy business in the Coens' "True Grit" remake.

If 2010 was the year of breakout young’un performances, Jennifer Lawrence ought to count Hailee Steinfeld as fierce competition for roles to come. Steinfeld blazed into filmgoers’ collective consciousness with her turn as vengeful, quick-witted Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers’ remake of “True Grit.” She fills up the screen with presence, even holding her own alongside Bridges, who makes Rooster Cogburn a dirtier, smellier sort of cowboy, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. She’s so good it takes you awhile to realize the movie she’s in is good enough to deserve her.

 

7. “Cairo Time”

In "Cairo Time," Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig make forbidden love look oh-so-tempting.

Patricia Clarkson has long been the darling of independent films where all the meaningful emotional transactions take place under the surface, not on top of it. In “Cairo Time,” she’s given the leading role and a leading man — Alexander Siddig — entirely capable of matching her quiet intensity and expressive face.  As two strangers thrown together by chance and surprised by the force of their chemistry, Siddig and Clarkson make Ruba Nadda’s mature, unforced love story set in Cairo crackle with unexpressed passion and rich, complex feeling.

 

8. “The Kids Are All Right”

The trials of marriage are universal and funny, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore prove in "The Kids Are All Right."

The sunset carriage ride, the goofy smiles and balmy honeymoons — “The Kids Are All Right” is interested in none of that foolishness. Instead, Lisa Cholodenko takes us into the uncertain and problematic middle, where old resentments turn new again and the feeling of being settled can inspire fear, not comfort. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, as married moms of two teen-agers searching for their biological father, find the little aches and gripes, the angry mutters and the snippets of joy found in every married couple’s day-to-day existence. Plus a gay porno or two.

 

9. “Solitary Man”

A middle-aged screw-up (Michael Douglas) offers bad counsel to a college student (Jesse Eisenberg) in "Solitary Man."

Even when he’s played the straight man, the hero, there’s always been a tantalizing air of caddishness about Michael Douglas that sneaks into the frames. He is suave and seductive without much discernible effort — qualities scriptwriter/director Brian Koppleman highlights in “Solitary Man,” the tale of a man in the winter of his life who uses a health scare as an excuse to scam his customers and philander his way out of his marriage and into a life spent chasing tail. And Douglas makes it all look so … unapologetically Douglas we can’t help but root for him.       

 

10. “The Social Network”

Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, right) lures Mark Zuckerberg to the dark side -- or does he? -- in "The Social Network."

David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin wanted to make a movie about the guy who created Facebook. Now that film has been slapped with any number of grandiose labels, including “the voice of a generation.” Whether “The Social Network” fills that role is a matter of opinion; in the simplest terms, though, it is a well-acted and well-executed drama — and a tense, ominous one — about one of the most influential figures in recent memory. The fact that he’s not a terribly likable guy? Well, that just makes “The Social Network” all the more interesting.

 

Honorable mentions: “Shutter Island” (for the score, cinematography and a brilliant ensemble cast); “The Fighter” (for the strength of Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and Christian Bale’s performances); “Toy Story 3” (for bringing the best finale to a trilogy in, well … maybe ever); “Iron Man 2” (for the flat-out awesome smackdown between Whiplash and Iron Man at the Grand Prix; also Mickey Rourke’s 1,000 pronunciations of the word “bird”)

Special considerations: “Biutiful,” “Blue Valentine” — neither of which has been released in the Carolinas

“King’s Speech” explores human story behind royal scandal

Soon-to-be King George VI (Colin Firth) faces his arch nemesis -- the microphone -- in Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech."

King George VI’s (Colin Firth) most fearsome enemy is the one he cannot seem to shake: his own voice. The accidental king — forced to the throne after his older brother David (Guy Pearce) abdicated to marry a multiply divorced American, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) — looks at every moment petrified of what will not come out of his mouth. His  disastrous speech at the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley validates his worst nightmares. Firth’s mournful eyes say it all: The king believes that that a man who cannot speak well is a man whose voice matters very little, crown or no crown.

The limited focus does wonderful things for Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech,” an irreverent, whimsical and refreshingly unsappy portrait of a monarch often dwarfed by the scandal preceding his coronation. The story of  David and Wallis’ courtship had all the fireworks, but on the sidelines King George VI fought a tougher and more psychologically damaging battle. Hooper narrows not just the focus but the camera as well. Despite the regal grandeur of the surroundings, “The King’s Speech” is not epic in appearance. The shots — particularly those of the king’s funereal march to the Wembley microphone — are tight and narrow, all staircases at odd angles and boxed-in rooms, while the close-ups of Firth’s face are designed to emphasize his worried mouth and eyes. Fanfare and impersonality is what we expect; intimacy is what we receive. 

A smaller scope works nicely for Firth’s unlikely king. who grew up belittled by his older brother (who called him “B-B-Bertie,” cruelly mocking his stammer) and singled out by his father, King George V (Michael Gambon), who believed punishment and sternness could conquer Bertie’s impediment. He was wrong, and so have been the many speech therapists who have worked with Bertie. His concerned wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, marvelous) hears of a therapist with unorthodox methods, a failed Australian actor named Lionel Logue (the ever-impish Geoffrey Rush). Logue has techniques that fly in the face of all Bertie finds respectable: He calls the would-be king “Bertie,” refuses to make house calls, wins a shilling from Bertie in a bet that he’s relentless about getting back. Unaccustomed to  informality and extremely uncomfortable talking about his personal life, Bertie lashes out. But it’s not long before Logue’s good humor catches hold, and Bertie and his therapist build an unlikely friendship based on mutual respect. (Though the scene where Logue has Bertie shouting obscenities like a Tourette’s patient may suggest otherwise.) Logue, in fact, turns out to be the one person who refuses to tell the soon-to-be king anything but the truth, regardless how hard it may be. Hooper makes a convincing case that it was Logue who gave Bertie the confidence to rule.

There’s an elegant symmetry between the cinematography and the slow growth of Bertie’s character. The more he opens up and the more confident he becomes, the wider the camera opens up. It’s a subtle shift, but an important one. “The King’s Speech” never achieves the sweeping look of, say, “Elizabeth,” or similar regal period pieces, but visually the camera appears to give Firth more space as he transforms from a frightened man in the wings to a leader. Even though his speech — after the 1939 declaration of war against Germany — takes place in a small box, there’s no longer a sense that the king is trapped inside it. Pearce, Carter, Rush and Firth all play important parts in this metamorphosis. Pearce is at ease with David’s cockiness, and Carter proves she can brilliantly handle parts that don’t require her to look like she’s escaped from a mental ward. She is a loving figure, and fiercely loyal. Watching Rush and Firth go toe-to-toe is every bit as thrilling and funny as fans of both would expect. Rush brings mirth, compassion and stubbornness to Logue. Firth’s portrayal of King George VI will continue to garner nominations galore, no doubt, and they all hinge on what the actor can do with his eyes. What he holds in with his stiff posture he expresses sublimely with those eyes. Windows to the soul indeed.

Grade: A