With 2010 behind us there’s only one thing to do: look backward. Because now’s the time when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sends out nomination ballots for the Academy Awards. At 5pm on January 14th the polls close and whoever is nominated is nominated. But whoever will be nominated?
Right now is pretty much the last chance for critics like Julia Rhodes, Dan Fields and myself (William Bibbiani!) to point out the best work of the year and reasonably expect it to make a difference, so we here at The Fourth Wall are taking another look out our favorite film work from 2010 in the hopes that we can help get some deserving folks nominated. Some of our picks are long shots (my Best Original Screenplay nomination hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell), while others may in fact be locks. But the point isn’t to highlight the obscure… it’s to highlight the truly deserving. Besides, just because it seems like a sure thing doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee. Lots of surefire Oscar nominations have been left off the ballot completely, from Rick Baker’s stunning Best Makeup snub for Tim Burton’s (otherwise awful) Planet of the Apes to (500) Days of Summer’s perplexing failure to garner a Best Original Screenplay nomination last year.
So here’s our second (and final) wave of Oscar nomination suggestions for 2010. (Here’s a link to our first wave, in case you missed it.)
Who do you think should be nominated this year? Tell us in the comments below!
BEST ACTRESS: Noomi Rapace, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Ask anyone who was the breakout star of the year and they’ll say Noomi Rapace. Or at least they will if they’ve been paying attention. Rapace earned international acclaim this year for her performance as Lisbeth Salander in the feature film adaptations of the best-selling novels The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, but for some reason has been left off of practically every major nomination list I’ve seen so far. She’s been ineligible for certain accolades (like The Golden Globes) but she’s perfectly eligible for the Academy Award for Best Actress. But she has some hurdles to leap over first.
Firstly, the films’ Swedish producers and the American distributor Music Box aren’t major players in Hollywood, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to afford a competitive Oscar campaign (which can run hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars). Worse yet is the fact that Rapace could split her own vote: With one iconic performance spread across three films, voters who preferred her in one movie over another might end up giving her too few votes for one film, leaving her out of the running. (There’s an Oscar rule stating that one actor cannot be nominated twice in the same category.) So it’s important to decide right now which film to nominate her for. I suggest The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Actually, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is not my favorite film in the Millenium Trilogy. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest throws Lisbeth Salander into far more compelling and unexpected situations, caging a tiger we’ve already seen in the wild and showing instead what she’d do in captivity. The moment in which she struts in front of a jury gothed out like a nightmarish peacock is one of the cinematic highlights of 2010. But it’s too much to ask for the Academy to nominate her for the third film in a trilogy, especially when the nomination will be representative of all three performances. So instead let’s all agree to go with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the title everyone will remember the best. Rapace’s work in Dragon Tattoo is a explosive, and while the plot may not revolve around her the first time out the movie sure does, spending more time revealing layer after layer behind her counterculture façade until it discovers that she’s just too complex to have only one dedicated to her.
Good luck, Noomi. We’ve got your back.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sean Penn, Fair Game
Doug Liman’s adaptation of former CIA agent Valerie Plame-Wilson’s (significantly redacted) autobiography was a smart film, and a very good one despite not making my cut for the Best Films of 2010. Naomi Watts stars as Valerie Plame-Wilson, a CIA agent whose husband Joe Wilson, a former US diplomat, was recruited by the agency for a fact-finding mission to Niger shortly before the current war to determine if they were supplying Iraq with materials to make weapons of mass destruction. When Joe Wilson only finds evidence to the contrary (accurately, it turns out), his report was later subverted to imply the opposite. He spoke out against the government and in retaliation Scooter Libby leaked to the press that Valerie was a CIA operative. The public immediately shifted their interest from the war to the Wilson family, obscuring the real issue at hand and almost destroying the Wilson family in the process.
It’s a hell of a story, and Liman’s film cleverly uses the tide of public interest to drive the film. The first half of Fair Game is about the buildup to the Iraq war, and the second half is all about a family driven into the public spotlight with the war itself barely a sidenote in the melodrama that has become their lives. Naomi Watts gets the starring role and she does a fine job as usual. But it’s Sean Penn who anchors the movie as normal man dealing with extraordinary things, like a wife who can’t tell him where she’s flying to in the middle of the night, or if she’ll come home alive. Or the decision to reveal classified government secrets because he’s one of the only people who knows they contradict the “facts” being given to the American people.
Watch Sean Penn as he sits down to dinner with a group of friends who have no concept of the information he has access to. Watch his face as they regurgitate the falsehoods his research was used to support. Watch as he stops himself in the middle of a heartfelt speech to his wife, realizing that he’s become the clichéd spurned spouse of a law enforcement official. And watch as Sean Penn doesn’t blow up. Penn resists the urge to play up the heavier emotions he’s been dealt and instead behaves entirely in character: diplomatically. He’s the most normal character Penn’s played in years, and in Penn’s hands he’s as complex as any I’ve seen all year. He deserves a nomination, but in a very strong year for Best Supporting Actors (he’s up against Christian Bale, Geoffrey Rush, Matt Damon, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo and Andrew Garfield, most of whom are considered shoo-ins) he could use a little publicity boost.
Let me give you a hand with that, Sean. Great work this year.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Kurt Wimmer, Salt
Yeah, this is a long shot, but I stand by it. Kurt Wimmer’s script for Salt is one of the most subversive action movie screenplays I’ve seen produced in years. It’s a genre film, but a very distinctive and exceptional one. If The Kids Are All Right can be an Oscar frontrunner for playing with the “kids find their adopted father” conventions, Salt should at least be considered for undermining some very familiar action movie tropes to highly entertaining – and never mindless – effect.
Salt has a fairly standard hook for an action movie. A CIA agent is accused of being an enemy spy and goes on the lam to clear their good name. It’s a tired premise, full of familiar plot points and gaping holes in logic. Why, for example, would anybody actually run from their own friends in law enforcement if they were innocent? The entire thing could probably be resolved after a few days or maybe even just a couple of hours of due diligence. But we accept this ridiculous type of storyline because we’ve seen it before a million times, and director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Blind Fury) is a talented director who can make the mediocre premise and at least punch it up with some well-choreographed action sequences.
But then halfway through Salt something happens. I’m not going to tell you what it is, although it’s not exactly Keyser Soze in its surprise value. It’s just… unexpected, and it sheds new light on many storytelling decisions that came before it. Suddenly you realize that the filmmakers treated a certain character very differently in the second act than they did in the first, and that one of the bad guys might actually just be a very observant individual. And rather than avoid the clichés entirely, the clichés now suddenly make perfect sense. The script is smart because the writer used audience expectation to lure us into a false sense of security and then pulled the rug out from underneath to reveal that our complacency in these kinds of movies actually limits our ability to be intellectually engaged, and limits the entire action genre’s potential to surprise and entertain us on a fundamental writing level as opposed to a visceral, explosion-oriented one.
Salt is one of my very favorite scripts of the year, even if it didn’t turn out to be one of my very favorite movies. I’ll be gobsmacked if it gets an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but it certainly deserves it either way. “For your consideration” indeed…
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Tangled
The award for Best Animated Feature is almost certainly going to Toy Story 3, or possibly The Illusionist if the Academy is feeling highbrow this year (don’t count on it). But the third nomination this year is actually pretty competitive. How To Train Your Dragon is both a crowd-pleaser and a fine film in its own right, and Despicable Me is a surprisingly deft take on the familiar “bitter old man turns his life around thanks to adorable ragamuffins” genre, and in a year with five nominations they would totally deserve to make the cut. But my pick for the third slot goes to Disney’s first CGI-animated princess movie, Tangled. Funny to think of a film like this as an underdog, isn’t it?
Tangled, which I reviewed for CLR earlier this year, is an unusually character-driven entry in the traditional Disney fairy tale mold. The story of Rapunzel was always a rather thin one, but Dan Fogelman’s screenplay focuses not on the “kidnapped princess falls in love blah-blah” conventions and instead takes seriously the idea of an intelligent young woman raised in utter captivity by a passive-aggressive mother figure who sees the heroine as solely as a commodity. The relationship between hero(ine) and villain is one of the mot complex in Disney animation’s history (Hunchback of Notre Dame coming to mind, and no, Pixar doesn’t count for the purposes of this conversation). When Rapunzel breaks free from her gilded cage the film partakes in a hilarious montage of flamboyant expressions of personal freedom to genuine self-loathing for disobeying the only parent she’s ever known. Rapunzel is not imprisoned within a tower, she’s imprisoned in her own mind by a disturbingly manipulative individual who doesn’t have Rapunzel’s best interests at heart.
More than that, however, Tangled is a witty, hilarious film… possibly the funniest of the year. That humor is once again based on the characters as opposed to slapstick (or worse, pop culture reference… f*** you for legitimizing that crap, Shrek). Our male hero is obsessed with crafting his Errol Flynn-like image, something many of his animated brethren fell victim to without a hint of insight. And most importantly, there’s Tangled’s greatest asset: Maximus, the most compelling horse in cinematic history. (Still waiting for someone to name a better one.) Not since Les Miserables has fiction seen a lawman so compellingly obsessed with one criminal, and his dedication to his principles (again, this is a horse we’re talking about) turns him into a veritable force of nature. Maximus is… and you’ll have to deal with that sooner or later.
Tangled may not be the Best Animated Film of the Year, but it does deserve a nomination to prove to history that, yes… it deserves to be remembered.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network
This may well be a lock, and it certainly ought to be. When two great and compatible musical minds come together, it seems likely that they will turn up something nice. Indeed, the score of The Social Network has just the right combination of acid and mist to complement the low-key but unaccountably compelling plot.
Reznor’s work with Nine Inch Nails has the enduring grip of nostalgia over those of us who grew up in the 1990s. He has done his share of good works for the big screen as well, including contributions to the superb soundtrack of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Ross is also a renowned producer and composer in his own right, having worked for the Hughes brothers numerous times. His soundtrack for the critically divisive Book Of Eli is a wonderfully unusual and hypnotic piece of work. These guys know their business, and this collaboration is a great success.
The music nicely underscores the subtle intrigue of the story, with persistent and vaguely unsettling themes which, even in the early scenes, both confer a sense of hipness on all the young Harvard go-getters, and foretell the darker days that await them. Hats off to this delightful musical surprise.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Greig Fraser, Let Me In
A complete lack of buzz this late in the game bodes ill for Let Me In. Its Oscar chances, even as a dark horse, are slim unless people start talking about it in a hurry. Nonetheless, this pulpy horror drama, dismissed by some as a needless remake, packs a substantial punch that deserves notice.
A brooding tale of young love and monsters both internal and external, this production by the newly revived Hammer Films features a visual presentation as bleak and depressing as its subject matter. Much of the movie is the precise sickly color of street lamps on snow. Indeed, this is the setting where most of the sneaking about and copious bloodletting take place. The persistently uncomfortable atmosphere makes the quiet dread of certain scenes as palpable as the panic and horror of the more violent bits. The camera does more than witness the events of the movie. It participates.
Careful framing and focus in the early scenes paint a very sad portrait of the young protagonist. His own parents are little more than ghosts – his mother never clearly shown in frame, his father merely a voice on the phone – and consequently of no help to him, despite the very real problems of bullies, murderers, and seductive little vampires that insinuate themselves into his lonely life. Like many American remakes, this movie has a much more stylized look than the original Swedish version. However, as it is a sort of horrific fairy tale, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The movie is not without its flaws, but it certainly has the proper imagery to suit its mood. It recalls the seamless marriage of look and feel that makes David Fincher’s Se7en simultaneously pleasing to the eye and troublesome to the guts.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins, True Grit
It falls mainly to the nerds to care about the technical Oscars. However, the acting, directing, and Best Picture awards are so overtly political and buzz-based that after a certain point, the less popular Oscar categories are much more fun to speculate and bid over. Thus I commit the brazen sin of promoting two rival films in the same category. In both cases, it was a close race between cinematography and art direction, and they should probably each be nominated in both categories. However, since True Grit makes such lavish use of landscape on top of its fine production design, the toss falls to camera work.
True Grit has stirred up more controversy than usual for a Coen brothers effort, which is saying a lot. Very few popular moviemakers polarize critics and audiences like these two. Most people are remarkably opinionated about the Coen brothers (myself included), and yet two people can scarcely agree on a single critical point regarding their work, except that we like them. A lot. Or really don’t. Add to this the John Wayne purist faction, the literary adaptation fanatics, and various other strident critics, and you’ve got an astounding word of mouth campaign for your new film.
Whether or not you enjoyed his Oscar-winning role in Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges kicks his own sorry drunken butt in True Grit, and whatever he deserved for the former goes double for the latter. But the Academy is unlikely to give out an award for playing a similar, more nuanced role in a better film, one year later. Let the man enjoy his acclaim. He’s always been good, but all this talk about him is getting stale.
Wherever you come down on the finer points of adaptation, casting, and so on, simply consider how fantastic this film looks. From the fine details of a narrowed eye to the grandiose scale of the high country, True Grit weaves plenty of stylish, ominous atmosphere into a most curious adventure. And it’s such a nice change to see real people on horses in pretty mountains, instead of blue cat people weeping over their stupid mushroom villages.
Note: although there are many worthy contenders and dark horses in all categories, I’m repping for the ladies this time around. It has been a fantastic year for women on the big screen. From The Kids Are All Right to Blue Valentine to Winter’s Bone to True Grit, this year has offered more dynamic, smart, sexy, and tough roles for women than many in recent history. There’s preliminary buzz for the newcomers below, as well as nominally-alright Portman, perpetually-jilted Annette Bening, and “Dawson’s Creek”-alum-turned-Oscar-contender Michelle Williams. 2010: a so-so year in film for the most part, but a fantastic year for female characters.
BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Twenty-year-old Jennifer Lawrence popped up out of nowhere in early 2010 with her role in the sorely underseen indie drama Winter’s Bone. The movie, which follows a young woman’s descent into the hillbilly, drug-running mafia (it sounds silly, but is anything but), is as brutal as it is intelligent. One of my colleagues told me it had made him supremely uncomfortable–we live in the country, and the realism was a bit much. I shrugged that comment off and then saw the movie. Poor Ree Dolly (Lawrence), wearing ripped jeans and dingy parkas throughout, has to investigate the whereabouts of her deadbeat father when the law threatens to take her family’s home. Ree’s mother is nearly catatonic with depression, and Ree’s left to care for her small siblings. She bathes them, feeds them, and teaches them how to dress a dead squirrel. Meanwhile, she has to visit her shady uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) to find out what happened to her drug-runner dad. Teardrop and the rest of Ree’s enormous family lead her down a rabbit hole into the depths of meth-centered hell. The film is set in a muted Ozarks winter, in the dirt-poor rural mountains. Discarded tires, forlorn playthings, and broken chairs litter the edges of each shot. Where there used to be grass, there’s mud. Long story short, the movie is brutally realistic and strikes a nerve for anyone who’s ever lived in (or driven near) poverty-stricked country areas.
Lawrence, who previously dabbled in TV and played the daughter on “The Bill Engvall Show,” is a Kentucky native. Since Winter’s Bone is set in the Ozarks, her accent needed little work. Performing opposite little-known actors (and some slightly better known, like indie king John Hawkes, who’s nearly unrecognizable as Teardrop), Lawrence showcases perseverance and unflagging maternal instinct toward her siblings. She endures a beating and a horrid discovery, all the while radiating intense toughness, fierce willpower, and protectiveness not to be messed with. She embodies Ree Dolly from head to toe, and for that she deserves nothing less than a nod. It’s a hard movie to watch, but Lawrence makes it worth it. Here’s hoping there’s a nod to director Debra Granik as well–the lady made a gritty, dark, ultimately beautiful movie.
BEST ACTRESS: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
The Coen Brothers’ True Grit is currently an audience favorite (second in the box office to Little Fockers–shoot me). The movie is hilarious in that slightly morbid, deadpan Coen way. Its language is peculiar and lilting, making it so that you may not catch every joke the very moment it happens. Its lovely Old West scenery evokes the beloved John Wayne original. Jeff Bridges may see a pat on the back from the Academy for his role as Rooster Cogburn, but Bridges won Best Actor only a year ago for Crazy Heart, which means the Academy will likely skip him on this one. That’s okay, Jeff: it’s time to let the young’uns take the spotlight.
The true grit in True Grit is 14-year-old Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld (also a mind-blowing 14 years old). Like Ree Dolly, Mattie’s also invested in her father’s untimely death–and in avenging it. She hires the “meanest U.S. Marshall in the West,” Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). They team up with Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who shot Mattie’s daddy. Take a look at that list of immensely talented, Oscar-nominated actors. Well, in short, Steinfeld not only holds her own against them; no, she kicks their metaphorical asses.
Mattie convinces a swindler to buy back his own horse (watching her wide-eyed in the theater, I thought wonderingly, “She could sell snow to an Alaskan”). She convinces Rooster to hunt down Tom Chaney, and when he doesn’t take her with him she lobs a dude with an apple and dives into a river on her horse. She retains her composure and gets exactly what she wants from everyone in the film, despite the fact that LeBoeuf tries to spank her and various men mutter irritably, “You’re just a little girl!” She can talk circles around anyone, fire a gun, and inspire fierce (begrudging) affection in even the most hardened of men. This may be her first feature film role, but Steinfeld is definitely one of 2010’s forces to be reckoned with.
BEST ACTRESS: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Portman, who’s been acting for donkey’s years (though now I think about it I’ve never understood that adage), has had an untouchable vibe since she hit adulthood. A friend once pondered to me, “Maybe she’s too pretty to play the roles she plays?” She can’t pull off a rural housewife and mother, as in Brothers or Where the Heart Is. She didn’t quite do NYC stripper right in Closer. She was the Manic Pixie Dream Girl extraordinaire in Garden State, but even in that role she’s still incapable of playing The Girl Next Door. She’s an outspoken, educated vegan who mostly keeps her private life private, and there’s a bright intelligence and awareness in her characters that makes them unbelievable most of the time. Not that we mind looking at her–there’s no arguing the lady is insanely beautiful.
Darren Aronofsky has a knack for coaxing masterful performances out of his actors (think Mickey Rourke’s real-life comeback in The Wrestler or Marlon Wayans’ or Jared Leto’s only good performances in Requiem for a Dream). Portman also recently revealed she’s pregnant and engaged to Black Swan’s choreographer Benjamin Millepied. Perhaps it’s the combo of Aronofsky’s intensity and her chemistry with and dedication to Millepied’s choreography–or maybe she just found the right role, finally–but in Black Swan Portman sheds the good-girl, inaccessible vibe to show her true colors. Acting opposite (the equally stunning and talented) Mila Kunis, Portman’s Nina is fragile, tough, insane, and determined all at once. Portman makes Nina’s stalker tendencies believable, her pain palpable (this is perhaps because Portman herself skimmed twenty pounds from her already-tiny frame and basically tortured herself for realism in the role). The actress visibly immersed herself in the role, and what comes out of her eyes, her movements, her expressions, is nothing short of incredible. The Academy are suckers for physical transformations (and so am I sometimes), but even without the weight loss and dedication to ballet, Portman visibly sheds the veil between herself and her character in Black Swan, and her performance deserves applause.