Friday, October 29, 2010

Oscars of the Aughts: Best Actress 2007

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno
Winner: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
What a phenomenal year this category had! Of course, by now you all realize that Cotillard and Page are favorites of mine, and it was their respective performances here that first introduced me to them. Cotillard's victory came as a huge surprise, since Christie and Page had dominated the precursors and her performance is entirely in French, but she is a marvel as French singer Edith Piaf. And Page, too, is a revelation in the superior Juno (naysayers be damned, I love that movie!), announcing herself as a brand new talent that would be here to stay. She creates an original, realistic character (yes, I said realistic: by my own experiences, Diablo Cody's dialogue is not too quippy, that's how I and other teenagers I know talk) that's easy to get behind, and she alternates between hilarious lines and devastating moments expertly. Then, of course, there's the legendary Christie, who does excellent work as a woman suffering from Alzheimer's, slowly losing her mind and herself. It's an incredible performance from a woman with an incredible career, and sadly did not ignite the career rejuvenation she deserves. Linney, another favorite of mine, does great work in her film as a woman struggling with her personal life while coping with her dying father and arrested-development brother. She knows how to juice a scene for all it's worth, and she does so every time she's on screen. The only one I wasn't crazy about this year was Blanchett (who was far better in I'm Not There). It's a fine performance, but the mediocrity of the movie she's in brings her down, and unfortunately she falls into the Braveheart trap of giving a rousing speech to her troops amidst gloomy skies and soaring music. She's good, but not necessarily Oscar-worthy.
It was a really, really tough decision choosing between Cotillard and Page, but here's how my ballot looks:
1. Ellen Page, Juno
2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
3. Julie Christie, Away from Her
4. Laura Linney, The Savages
5. Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
*One day I'm going to write a defense of Juno. It's gotten a bad rep in recent years that it doesn't deserve.

Horror Triple Feature

Over my fall break last weekend, I took the opportunity to check out three horror classics (though the "horror" label is debatable). And now, as in my previous post, I present three reviews in the spirit of All Hallows Eve.
I've already mentioned that the Alien movies are difficult for me to watch. So when I decided to include this movie in my marathon, I had my trepidations about whether I would actually watch it or if I would go with something else instead (The Sixth Sense was my fallback plan). But I started it. And I finished it. As you can tell, I survived.
Aliens is not like the original Alien, namely in that it's not a deliberate horror film. Instead, director James Cameron makes the film more of an sci-fi action film, where the xenomorphs are just an enemy that has to be defeated in order to survive. Like all sequels (though Cameron claims he didn't envision the film as a direct sequel, but rather wrote the film on spec), it's bigger in scope than the first film. Ripley awakens from hibernation 57 years after the first film's events, only to learn that her help is needed at a colony on the planet where she picked up her unwanted passenger last time. The colony has lost contact, and it's up to a brigade of Space Marines to go in and assess the situation, along with Ripley (sound familiar?). And of course, things go from bad to worse when night falls and the xenomorph swarm awakens.
There's not as much gore and frights in this film as there was in the first, but that doesn't mean it has it's share of frightening scenes. But that level of tension is still there, and the film delivers as an action epic. There are memorable fighting scenes, and some very well-developed and interesting characters. Even though his dialogue and plotting can be clunky and unoriginal (check out the Avatar script sometime), credit Cameron with this: he knows how to shoot an incredible action sequence. He's also got a real knack for women as action heroes, as Ripley stands a testament to (Sigourney Weaver even earned an Oscar nomination for returning to the role). Overall, it's a surprisingly good film, even if it didn't quite help me get over my xenomorph fear.
The Exorcist
The Exorcist has a reputation for being one of the scariest movies ever made. The film is about how actress Chris McNeill's daughter, Regan, becomes possessed by the devil himself, and the trials of the priest who has to perform the exorcism. Make no mistake, there is plenty of disgusting, creepy imagery here, and even though the film is now approaching it's 40th year of existence, it still holds up incredibly well against today's horror effects. It's a film that's very well-written (William Peter Blatty adapted his own novel), well-directed (William Friedkin, master of grime and grit), and well-acted (Ellen Burstyn as Chris is phenomenal).
What makes The Exorcist still works well today is that it doesn't fall into it's imitator's traps; that is, it's scares don't really come from the possessed Regan herself. Although she is indeed a terrifying figure, spouting profanity and vomit, horribly disfigured, and masturbating with crucifixes, the profound fears come from what isn't explicitly seen on screen. The film volleys back and forth between whether or not Regan is possessed by a demon or just mentally ill, giving a lovely critique of psychoanalysis and studies in mental health. Through Father Karras (and later Father Merrin), the film poses an even more frightening dilemma: the loss of faith, which plays a huge role in the exorcism. The film, then, proposes the real reason why this film has been deemed so truly scary, implying something even more scary than Satan: what if God doesn't exist. Though it's not explicit, and most people won't tell you that's what scared them the most, it's this notion that has provided the deepest fears.
One of the things I love the most about Jaws is how it was a film that almost wasn't. By now, everyone knows the story: the animatronic shark, aka Bruce, was so fickle and difficult that Spielberg was forced to film most of the movie with the shark hidden, only seeing bits and pieces. And the film is all the better for it.
Instead of what would have been a well-acted Roger Corman creature feature, Spielberg has crafted a suspense thriller that's almost Hitchcockian, building suspense slowly until it comes to the big final showdown with the monster great white. The acting really is phenomenal here, and there's some great character work here, particularly once the three main characters (played by Robert Shaw, Roy Schnider, and Richard Dreyfuss) are isolated on the boat together. It may be best known as the film that invented the summer blockbuster and made people afraid to go to the beach, but it's also a terrific, well-crafted film. And, in perhaps a less-than-desirable accomplishment, it started another horror trend: the quickly-diminishing-returns, never-ending sequels.
Oh, and it also gave us this:
Personal aside: I remember going to visit relatives in Mobile, Alabama every Fourth of July, and without fail there would always be a Jaws marathon on one of the local stations. And I don't mean the sequels too; just Jaws. Unless, of course, it was showing Rocky (again, only the first one) for no apparent reason.

Gimme Five: Movies that Scare the Crap Out of Me

I don't have a long and illustrious history with the horror genre. Only recently have I found myself daring to venture into the waters, though mostly on streaming on Netflix, rather than in theaters. Two things have kept me away: a lack of quality in horror movies (you know it's true), and the simple fact that I am not fond of being terrified. At all. But my love of movies has overcome my fears, at least until the film starts, so I'm trying to find the better entries into the genre.
Here are five films, in honor of Halloween, that have truly scared me. Not just disturbed me, like The Exorcist or The Shining, but scared me to the point that it was hard to sleep that night.
1. Alien (1979)
I'm a little claustrophobic. I don't freak out when I'm in close or crowded spaces, but I do get very uncomfortable. And watching Alien, in which a terrifying creature called a xenomorph ends up on a delivery ship, did not help at all. Director Ridley Scott gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped space, ratcheting up the tension and suspense. And it's not enough that the xenomorph is hunting the crew; it was incubated, and then disgustingly and infamously "hatched," from inside John Hurt's unfortunate Kane. To this day I still have trouble watching the Alien movies; even the terrible Alien vs. Predator monstrosities get under my skin. Hopefully they won't literally get under my skin.
2. Final Destination (2000)
The Final Destination movies are by no means good movies. Character and plot development are next to meaningless, and the movies choose instead to focus on staging one outrageous death scene after another. The first film is the only one I've seen all the way through, and that's namely because I have no interest in seeing the others. The deaths were highly improbable, it's true, but I've never gotten over the fact that they're not completely impossible (I also saw it a week before flying to New York....not a good idea). And that "it could happen to you at any moment" setup really bothers me. Sometimes I'll find myself noticing how things could possibly kill me because of this film. It's the last film I would have expected to make me aware of and fear my own mortality.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
I've never really seen much of interest in the slasher genre; it's basically just a formula with interchangeable, boring characters being hacked up by a killer. And though I've seen several now by this point, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the one that's made a lasting impression on me. I saw this at a Halloween party I went to a few years back. Granted, it's not the ultra-violent schlockfest everyone makes it out to be, but there are plenty of creepy and frightening things about the film. Also, I live way back in the backwoods at the time, and there was a house that looked exactly like Leatherface's not too far away. That didn't help ease my fears. Whenever someone says something about houses being broken into or anything like that, even if it has nothing to do with serial killers, I always imagine it being Leatherface.
4. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
I like zombies. And I've discovered that most zombie films don't bother me at all; in fact, they're probably my favorite horror subgenre. I haven't seen the original Dawn of the Dead (yet), but I sure hope it's nothing like this one. I thought it was a fine movie, better than most horror films, but there was so much that creeped me out here. Starting with the opening scene, where a zombie child attacks her parents. Then there's the zombie birthing scene. Honestly, that scene alone lands it on this list. Watch at your own risk:
5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
This goes back to the claustrophobia thing I was talking about earlier. I'm one of this film's biggest supporters; I think it's one of the best horror movies ever made as well as being one of my favorite films in general. Even though the film takes place in the wide-open woods, directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez create a closed-in atmosphere by having the three main characters wander around in search of a way out, only to discover that the map isn't helping and they're only passing the same things over and over. What really seals the deal, scare-wise, is the fact that you never actually see what's happening; surely there is some sort of supernatural element (the last shot solidifying it), but you never actually see what it is. There's only darkness and empty space, with a few stacks of rocks and bundles of sticks to imply otherwise. This makes it genuinely terrifying. And let me reiterate: I lived in the middle of the woods. Enough said. (PS: This movie is not a true story. Please stop thinking it is.)
What movies scare you the most? Discuss!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Glee: "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"

Glee has been a difficult show to classify. Yes, it's a comedy, but it's heavy dramatic elements in some episodes have made detractors say it's not funny enough to earn that mantle. Yet it's not dramatic enough to be called a drama, either, and the term "dramedy" is not well accepted. Above all, though, the show has prided itself as a musical, and it's "let's put on a show" energy has kept it buoyed through it's comedic and dramatic moments. Up until this week, though, there was never much literal theatricality to the show (the "Lady Gaga episode" doesn't count, sorry), despite the show's most obvious audience being the theatre crowd.
"The Rocky Horror Glee Show" was a flawed but worthy entry into the Glee canon, and for the first time the more theatrical aspects of the show come to the forefront. Specifically, Will decides to stage a school production of The Rocky Horror Show (yes, the original musical form, not the movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There is a difference.) to try to win Emma back from John Stamos, I mean, Carl the dentist. For the most part, the episode focuses on this love triangle, giving Matthew Morrison the most he's had to do in a very long time. In the subplots, Sue agrees to do a televised expose on the production in order to win a local Emmy, and Finn
obsesses over his appearance.
In comparison to last week, the kids aren't given much to do other than put on the show. And that's probably the best part of this episode. Their energy is no doubt infectious, and the songs are strong renditions. But it's the staging of everything, from the play-within-the-film to the opening credits that paid tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. All of the kids' performances are wonderfully exaggerated, capturing the true spirit of the musical (more on that later). Credit director Adam Shankman, who directed the excellent 2007 stage-to-screen
musical Hairspray (yes, I thoroughly enjoyed Hairspray; what's it to you?) and the upcoming screen adaptation of Broadway's Rock of Ages (ehhhh....). His musical experience shows here, and he captures all the energy and excitement of the theatre in his choreography and staging. Hopefully he'll come back to direct more in the future.
The weak points of the episode came from the main story. It's nice to see Will finally get something to do again, and he handled this material well. But it also wasn't terribly interesting; this is the sort of stuff that other shows have done better, and it doesn't help that there's no real chemistry between Morrison and Jayma Mays, nor is there any real chemistry between Mays and Stamos. It's hard to buy all of these things, especially since Carl is supposedly changing Emma, even though she flip flops between Old Emma and New Emma throughout the episode. It just wasn't terribly interesting. It was, however, better than the last episode Ryan Murphy penned.
The choice of Rocky Horror as the show's first big tribute to a musical rather than an artist could not be more fitting. What's made Rocky Horror so enduring over the years as a cult classic, complete with midnight screenings with people in costume and audience participation, is that it's a pure camp delight: everything is so over-the-top that it proves irresistible. It's not out to be taken seriously, or provide any life lessons or glimpses into the human psyche; it's just unadulterated, delightful fun. And in it's own way, at it's heart, that's what Glee is too: the spirit of people getting together and having fun through music. It's in the show itself, in the groups of people who gather weekly to watch it together, in the kids who inspired by the show to try out
for shows and perform; at the end of the day it doesn't matter whether it's a comedy or a drama. It's about fun, and this episode encapsulated that perfectly.
- Thank God Mike Chang's parents didn't want him to play a transvestite. You're singing in "Duets" was not a revelation, kid.
- Out of curiosity, how many Unitarian monkey weddings have you been to in your lifetime?
- Lea Michele makes the funniest crazy faces.

- Kurt: "What are you going to be for Halloween?" Brittany: "I'm going as a peanut allergy." I love her lines.
- John Stamos sings! And it's not half bad.
- Emma sings! And Autotune doesn't really help.
- I'm glad the show took some time out to point out that men, just as much as women, have body issues, even though nobody else seems to notice. I'm with Artie; blame Internet porn.
- I love the cameos by Rocky Horror stars Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors) and Meat Loaf (Eddie) as network execs. "Mexican terrorist ants!"
- Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: "Halloween is fast approaching, the day parents encourage little boys to dress like little girls, and little girls to dress like whores."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Is this really all that necessary?
For those of you who don't like clicking links, Saw actor Tobin Bell discusses who he would like to see take over his role as Jigsaw in the inevitable remake, which will probably come out within the next two years. Because it's not like we need time to miss the franchise (if anyone actually IS going to miss it). Saw 3D is supposedly the last film in the series, but that's what they said in 2006 when Saw III was about to come out. So yeah.
Sometimes, Hollywood never ceases to depress me.
Though this should be a part of the remake.

Hereafter (2010)

Hereafter is a film with very noble intentions. It aims to investigate the afterlife, a entity that none of us really know anything about, except for what we believe it to be. However, a subject this mysterious is sure to be difficult, and though he tries, director Clint Eastwood doesn't quite stick the landing in this unusual departure from his comfort zone.
The film, written by Peter Morgan (The Queen), tells the stories of three people. In San Fransisco, George (Matt Damon) can communicate with the dead, but views this as a curse. He's quit his job as a psychic, and instead now works at a factory, despite his brother's efforts to get him to take up his old profession. In Paris, Marie (Cecile De France) is recovering from a near-death experience from a tsunami while in Indonesia, and decides to take time off from being a hard-hitting journalist to investigate research into life after death. And in London, Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren) is struggling with the death of his twin brother, who was the most important person in his life. Of course, everyone's paths are set to cross, Babel-style, while investigating each character's reaction to the "hereafter."
First things first: the film starts out with an incredible bang. The tsunami scene (yes, the same tsunami from 2004 that devastated Indonesia) is wonderfully staged, despite being the kind of big special-effects sequence that Eastwood has only rarely done. Unlike similar sequences in summer blockbusters, this one is genuinely intense, and properly disorienting without being hard to follow. It's a masterful work that shows that, even at 80, Eastwood still has plenty of surprises up his sleeves.
However, the rest of the film is less than thrilling. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of interesting things going on here, and it's not necessarily a bad film. But each segment isn't given too much room to breathe, leaving a lot of things unaddressed and a lot of development seemingly coming out of nowhere. Morgan seems a little out of his element here, since he's better known for tackling political stories and injecting them with human drama. The film feels like it would have functioned better as a TV miniseries, where each segment would have had more room to blossom and become something great.
George's segment is the weakest of the three. Damon isn't given much to do other than look contemplative and eat dinner alone. And even though he shares a few great scenes with her, Bryce Dallas Howard's role is completely pointless, as she doesn't really bring anything new to light or even get much of a character to work with. Her Melanie is an obvious plot device, nothing more, but what is she a device for? It's a messy subplot that ultimately goes nowhere. And really, George doesn't become important to the story until the end anyway. It's a waste of Damon's considerable talents (though I wasn't too fond of his last performance in an Eastwood film either).
Marie's segment, of course, gets the thrilling tsunami sequence. But it also receives a little more attention and development than George's as well. Her struggle with the trauma she survived is well-done, and De France's performance is nuanced and touching. Her story also, unlike George's, has real stakes and consequences: as she goes off to pursue her book and take time off, her professional life as a TV journalist falls apart, forcing her to reconcile her choices with what she really want to do. Yet there's still not much here; indeed, it seems that Eastwood's story-focused direction doesn't lend itself well to this, where some discussion about the afterlife and some exploration into people's perceptions of it would be helpful.
By far the most touching segment is Marcus's. Though Eastwood has had a spotty history with child actors, both of the McLarens (who take turns playing Marcus and his brother, Jason) deliver fine work. It also doesn't hurt that the death of a child always gets to me; it's one of those things that always gets me emotional. This segment also has the most meaningful payoff, with a clear course from beginning to end with no real hiccups along the way. It's the best of the three stories, and the one that would have made a great movie had it been the only one.
The biggest problem with Hereafter is that there are no grand consequences or effects from the three stories. Everything gets wrapped up a bit too tidy, and, without spoiling it, the final scene is incredibly out-of-place and really brings the film down with it. Death is a messy part of life, and it has a profound effect on everyone. Unfortunately, Hereafter never finds that same profundity, saying very little about the afterlife or why it even matters. It's a decent film that's never too concerned with it's subject matter.

The Dark Knight Rises

Yep, that's the name of the next Christopher Nolan Batman film, previously known as the confusing Batman 3 (it's actually the seventh Batman movie) and even more confusing The Dark Knight 2 (so Batman Begins never happened either?). Also, Tom Hardy is still playing the (a?) villain, but it's not the Riddler, the Penguin, or Mr. Freeze. Could we please use this opportunity to explore Harley Quinn, since Nolan's supposedly meeting with a plethora of actresses? Please?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Never Let Me Go (2010)

Though I've never read the Kazuo Ishiguro upon which it's based, I was looking forward to Never Let Me Go as a new take on sci-fi, albeit one with a lot more heart and focus on human emotion instead of heady details and technical jargon. On this front the film delivers, but it's otherwise a pleasant missed opportunity.
Never Let Me Go is set in an alternate version of Britain, in which a mid-1950s scientific breakthrough has led to the creation of clones who can be harvested for organs, thereby allowing people to live well past a century. The story focuses on three such clones: Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, who grow up together at Hailsham, an academy that raises clones from childhood to adulthood. Of course, these three do not realize as children that they're being raised as spare parts, only being told repeatedly that they're "special." When they do reach adulthood, the three of them have to deal with the fact that they will not live full, long lives, as well as with the love triangle that has emerged between them.
With such an intriguing premise, it presents an interesting opportunity to ask difficult questions: if we could, then should we? Thankfully, Alex Garland's script doesn't do any heavy-handed exposition or questioning. We're never explicitly told that the main trio are clones, but it can be inferred. Instead of pounding us with explanations, the story is allowed to unfold naturally, which is refreshing. And we, as an audience, get to debate the ethical and moral questions that the film brings up, as none of the characters do it for us. I applaud the film for this.
However, the film is way too polished for it's own good. Rachel Portman's melodic score is about as subtle (and quiet) as a jackhammer, protruding into every scene as if to say, "THIS IS EMOTIONAL! FEEL EMOTION!" The film is also given a prestigious golden tint, the kind that implies that the film is Important and Awards-Worthy. In fact, throughout the film I couldn't help but feel that this was some lost Merchant/Ivory production from the early 1990s, finally coming to theaters (interestingly enough, another Ishiguro adaptation, The Remains of the Day, actually was a Merchant/Ivory production). Director Mark Romanek added too much polish to the film for it to really succeed, instead distracting from the film's real attractions.
Mulligan, Knightley, and Garfield
Those attractions would be the magnificent performances. Keira Knightley, who's usually not one of my favorite actresses, does well here as Ruth, particularly in the film's second half, when her emaciated frame is put to good use (note to Keira: please start eating). And Andrew Garfield's Tommy is an incredible creation to behold, as he plays him as a shifty-eyed, naive innocent who is forced to handle situations he is not ready for. Between this, The Social Network, and the Red Riding Trilogy, Garfield has had a phenomenal year. But the real stars here are the actresses who play Kathy. As the older Kathy, the radiant Carey Mulligan proves that she's a terrific actress who deserves to have staying power. She can devestate with a single glance, and as she finally fights her fate, she's so raw and powerful that you can't help but feel her pain. Then there's Isobel Meikle-Small, a surprising Mulligan look-a-like who plays young Kathy. She commands the screen with the same power, and shows talent well beyond her years. She's one to watch for in the future, hopefully.
Despite it's strong elements, Never Let Me Go never really adds up to a strong picture. I can't help but feel that it could, and should, have been something much better, but instead traded in for Carefully Manufactured for Maximum Award Wattage production. It's a shame it didn't believe in it's own merits.

A Halloween Curio for You

The Alien protects it's foetus in Ripley's dream.
As I'll write later this week, the Alien series is particularly of interest to me, namely because these movies (even the lesser ones) genuinely scare me. And Empire has unearthed something interested: the Vincent Ward version of Alien 3 that was never made, in which Ripley ends up on a wooden planet where the medival ages never ended. Of course, xenomorphs show up eventually, and havoc ensues. This could have been truly fascinating horror cinema. Check it out.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sci-Fi News You've All Been Clamoring For

Yes, I know, I can read your minds. Before I go into the news, though, a little preview of what to expect this week: a review of Never Let Me Go tomorrow, as well as later reviews for Hereafter and, for Halloween, a three-parter examining Aliens, The Exorcist, and Jaws. Then there's a new Gimme Five (for real this time), Oscar of the Aught's 2007 Best Actress category (it's a doozy), and, everyone's favorite, a new Glee recap (the Rocky Horror episode - be pumped/nervous!). Then, for this month's LAMBs in the Director's Chair blogathon, I'll be reviewing one of Alfred Hitchcock's lesser-known earlier films, Jamaica Inn. Get excited!
Moving on. Deadline is reporting that Robert Downey Jr. is exiting Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, about a pair of astronauts stranded in space. This is coming right after Warner Brothers confirmed that Sandra Bullock would be taking on the much-more-substantial lead role in the film, who herself replaced Natalie Portman, who was replacing Angelina Jolie. So it's likely that Downey's departure won't be a huge loss for the film, since it's reported that the role is very minor, but the project itself has been troubled for a long time, so he's likely the least of Cuaron's worries here. What worries me is that Bullock's role requires her to hold the screen by herself for most of the film, something that I'm not entirely sure she can do (though I don't think Portman or Jolie could have done much better); personally, I would have liked to see Jodie Foster take on the role, since she has a real presence on screen and would be fascinating to watch. Still, it's been a long time since Cuaron's made a movie, and it's about time he came back.
Defying Gravity (*womp womp*)
Meanwhile, IESB is reporting on rumors that George Lucas could be planning a new trilogy of Star Wars films, a sequel to the original trilogy rather than disappointing prequels (like Episodes 1, 2, and 3 [note: Revenge of the Sith wasn't half-bad, I admit]). This, Mr. Lucas, is what most people would call overkill. After the prequel trilogy, I can't think of anyone who was begging for more new movies. And really, you've lost your touch. Plus, the whole Star Wars universe is so expansive now are new movies even necessary, what with all the comic books, novels, video games, TV series (animated and the upcoming live-action), and more? And to top it all off, all six Star Wars films are being rereleased in 3D starting in 2012 with The Phantom Menace, the one we all hate/love to hate. So yes, I am hoping that this is indeed untrue, as several inside sources have stated. We really don't need more.
Yep, that's about what I expected.
Oh, and Khan won't be in Star Trek 2. Not that you asked for him.
Let your nerd flag fly and comment below.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Oscar Predictions: October 2010

Now things are getting interesting. As more and more of the contenders are being released or having their trailers released, we're getting a better look at how the race is shaping up. It's a little late, I know, but here's this month's updated Oscar predictions. It's still really up in the air, since the major awards haven't started yet, but things are certainly starting to become more clear.
127 Hours
The Kids Are All Right
Toy Story 3
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Another Year
The Fighter
Rabbit Hole
True Grit
You'll notice that I haven't changed much here; that's namely because nothing's really changed my mind. Black Swan still seems too outre to get in without unaminous support (that won't arrive until at least the end of November), and despite decent reviews, middling box office (i.e., not becoming a hit of The Blind Side-level proportions) will most likely keep Secretariat from making much of an impact here. Winter's Bone is gaining momentum, but I can't see it being more than a big nominee at the Indie Spirit Awards, and Blue Valentine, though fantastic-looking and probably very worthy, doesn't seem like it will be seen by enough people. And even though The Way Back is getting a very small, last-minute qualifying release, I still don't have much faith in it; it didn't work for The New World in 2005, and I don't see it working for this film. I've dropped Somewhere, though, since reviews haven't been kind on the festival circuit. So I'm going with True Grit instead: it's buzz is building, and the stunning trailers indicate that the Coen Brothers have crafted yet another classic.
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David Fincher, The Social Network
Mike Leigh, Another Year
Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
I haven't made any changes to this category, but only because no one else has really convinced me otherwise. I feel really good about Hooper, Nolan, Boyle, and Fincher; at this point they feel like locks even without precursor awards. I'm not completely convinced on Leigh, especially since most of his film's attention has been focused on Lesley Manville's performance rather than on Leigh's direction. David O. Russell (The Fighter) is the most likely candidate to replace Leigh, but if Black Swan picks up Best Picture traction, expect Darren Aronofsky to make the cut as well.
James Franco, 127 Hours
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
I'm dropping Javier Bardem from the line-up, since it's seeming more and more like voters won't be in the mood to sit through two-and-a-half hours of miserablism for more than just the Foreign Language nomination that Biutiful should earn. However, I'm not necessarily buying Jeff Bridges for True Grit yet; he just won, and it doesn't seem likely that they'll nominate him again this year. However, don't rule him out just yet: he looks really good in the film, and if the love continues, he's a shoo-in. For now, though, I'm returning to Gosling, who supposedly gives a performance so powerful he's one-half of the reason the film earned an NC-17 rating (the other half being Michelle Williams). The tiny-release strategy tends to benefit actors more than the films themselves, so it's not completely impossible.
Anne Hathaway, Love & Other Drugs
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Lesley Manville, Another Year
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
The Best Actress race is becoming increasingly crowded, and at this point any number of women could find themselves here. I haven't made any changes, since Portman, Manville, and Bening have proven their merits, Hathaway has received raves from her film's few screenings, and the Rabbit Hole trailer has proven that Kidman is more than a safe choice. But Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham), and even Gwenyth Paltrow (Country Strong; she'll be performing live at several country music events this fall as promotion) are all strong contenders as well. It's a tight race that should prove to be exciting this year.
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Sam Rockwell, Conviction
Justin Timberlake, The Social Network
After months of resistance, I can no longer avoid it: I'm predicting Timberlake as a nominee. He's showy, he's charismatic, and most importantly, he's actually really good. Unfortunately, this will most likely come at the expense of his equally fantastic co-star, Andrew Garfield. Otherwise, I'm keeping this category the same, since it's an unusually weak category this year, with very little competition.
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Barbara Hershey, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
This is the most wide-open category, with no sure things other than Bonham Carter. I'm sticking with Leo and Hershey, since they're both in maternal roles that Oscar voters love so much. I'm dropping Dianne Weist, though, but I'm not completely convinced I should yet, and I can't keep up the Elle Fanning nomination anymore; it just doesn't seem likely. I'm replacing them with Weaver, who is phenomenal in Animal Kingdom (my review), and since her film was one of the first screeners mailed to voters, she'll certainly be seen. I'm also including Steinfeld, who appears to give a wonderful and assured performance well beyond her 13 years in the True Grit trailers. Plus, this is a category that young actresses tend to be nominated in (See: Abigail Breslin, 2006; Saoirse Ronan, 2007).