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California Literary Review

Oscar Wager 2011


Oscar Wager 2011

The time has come, the critics said, to choose the best of the best of 2010’s movie offerings. Last year, William Bibbiani and I (Julia Rhodes!) wagered our souls and our dignity on the Academy Awards. (I won due to personal awesomeness and much to William’s chagrin.)

Oscar Statue

Yep, it’s that time again.

We at the Fourth Wall have been throwing Oscar Buzz at you throughout the fall and winter, and now the time has come to lay down our chips. Dan Fields and I are prepared to fight to the death (or at least to the point of wicked online jabs at each other’s competence). Gather round, friends and fellow film freaks, to join us in this high-stakes game of Academy politics, personal preferences, and semi-educated guesses.

Sally Field Oscar acceptance speech

Yes, Sally, we really like you…but will we like this year’s winners?

This year’s nominees include a movie about Harvard computer geeks written by that guy who wrote “The West Wing” (The Social Network); a cautionary tale about defiant independence and the sheer beauty–and danger–of the American West (127 Hours). Darren Aronofsky smacked us with a feminine counterpart to The Wrestler‘s masculinity featuring yet another crazy athlete (Black Swan); we got a flick about idea thieves (Inception). We took in a documentary filmmaker’s frighteningly realistic journey down a rabbit hole of drugs, deception, and death (Winter’s Bone); and the tale of a young girl’s guts and vengeful glory (True Grit). In 2010 we saw the true story of a pair of boxer brothers and the women behind them (The Fighter), and the true story of a Royal who overcame a horrid speech impediment (The King’s Speech).

Feel free to harangue us in the comments, and we look forward to watching the ceremony right along with you. Hopefully nominee James Franco and the inimitably adorable (though perhaps a bit smug) Anne Hathaway will do a bang-up job hosting. And here’s hoping for some wackadoo dresses!

First, some guidelines: Dan and Julia are each abstaining from one category, Julia in Best Foreign Film and Dan in Best Documentary. If one of us should win that award, it will count in our favor. If we misstep, it will not count against us. We are also abstaining from the Documentary Shorts, Animated Shorts, and Live Action Shorts.

Your California Literary Review Oscar Wager Key:

Dan’s choice for most likely winner in each category will be GREEN.
Julia’s choice for most likely winner in each category will be PURPLE.
The choices on which we agree will be ORANGE.


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


Bonham Carter, Firth in The King's Speech

Since Tom Hooper took home the big one at the Director’s Guild Awards, The King’s Speech is most likely a shoo-in for the Academy’s loving embrace. The King’s Speech is certainly a pleasing, laudable movie–a lovely period piece about the “underdog” making good. (I say “underdog” because anyone who will be King of England isn’t really an underdog.)

If I ruled the world (and this will happen someday), either Inception or The Social Network would take home the Best Picture Oscar. Inception is the only movie of 2010 that left me feeling dwarfed by the sheer magnititude of what filmmaking can be, the ways in which a visual medium can illustrate the ever-elusive human mind. The Social Network is a brilliant, fictionalized biopic that has absolutely no right to be as exciting as it is. Mark Zuckerberg is Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, and as much as we all love to hate him, the movie about him is bound to become an American classic.


It is hard to argue with a sure bet. The King’s Speech has been picked, groomed, buzzed, and favored with high expectations right out of the box. I gladly tip my hat, as it is an excellent piece of work, especially given the many potential pitfalls of adapting history to film. I have no particular grievance with this film winning a Best Picture Oscar, but to be frank I am not unduly invested in this particular race.

Of my three favorite films last year, only one got nominated in this category, so I must root for True Grit by default. I loved it, but in truth I would sooner have seen either Polanski’s The Ghost Writer or my stubborn pick for best of 2010, Let Me In, given highest honors instead. And since you are all sick of me talking about this, let’s move on.


Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours


Colin Firth The King's Speech

Lots of “J” names on our list of nominees this year–and of course I, a fellow “J” person, choose the outlier (note: this decision is pretty common this year). Frankly, none of the Best Actor nominees blew me out of the water. Aside from Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco, these are names with which we’re familiar. Bridges just won last year for Crazy Heart; the Academy is unlikely to grace him with two awards back to back. Eisenberg’s performance is smart and laudable, but somewhat like that other geek-cute icon Michael Cera, Eisenberg always plays himself. Franco did a lovely job playing a defiantly independent outdoorsman trapped inside his head, but he has many a great performance ahead of him. Firth’s King George, with his affected speech impediment and stifled frustration, is the Academy’s darling.


Okay, first two don’t count. Don’t tune out yet, readers, because I plan to begin disagreeing with my able colleague in short order. However, I both believe and hope Colin Firth has got it locked up this year. Though always a popular and charming actor, he never impressed me so much as embodying someone besides Colin Firth, the popular and charming actor. He jumped right into King George, and kudos to him. Alternating between hot-tempered indignation and halting insecurity, he demonstrated a range with which some of us were not previously familiar.


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

Christian Bale The Fighter


The Academy are suckers for physical transformations to fit a role. Bale has made these his M.O., and at some point it feels too much like altering one’s appearance and not one’s outlook. Bale is a notoriously serious actor whose profanity-laced tantrum on the set of Terminator: Salvation went viral a few years ago. His transformation from emaciated, guilt-ridden screwup in The Machinist to muscle-bound Batman in The Dark Knight has already been chronicled. His performance in The Fighter is smart, tough to watch, and ultimately laudable.

Geoffrey Rush The King's Speech

But Geoffrey Rush should win. In The King’s Speech, he became his character, a leaping, cursing, chuckling speech therapist who used very unorthodox methods on a bloody king. Rush’s aged features lend to an unflappable calm that remains so even as the world explodes into war. The man did a brilliant job and I hope the Academy recognizes him, but I’m doubtful.


I shall drive the sword home and bet that Geoffrey Rush will win. He is always good, and The King’s Speech is a much better film than most of those for which he has attained his best notices, entertaining as they were. Though much more subdued than his performances in movies like Shine, Quills, and The Pirates Of Etc… his cool-headed interpretation of the king’s therapist complements Colin Firth at just the right pitch.

I also really don’t like Christian Bale. Even though he’s better than usual this year, he has a long climb to “award-winning.”

Note from Julia: I sincerely hope Dan takes this category home.


Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right


Bening Moore The Kids Are All Right

Annette Bening has been nominated time and time again for Academy Awards. She will almost certainly win this one. She deserves it; her performance as uptight Nic is probably her best since playing that other malcontent mother in American Beauty in 1999.

Winter's Bone three kids

I’ve repped for Jennifer Lawrence already and I’ll do it again, though I don’t think she’ll win this year. In Winter’s Bone, Lawrence is bloody brilliant. Her every facial expression, line delivery, and movement are Ree Dolly. I’m consistently surprised to see her on red carpets donning designer clothes, because the lady became a poverty-stricken mountain woman drawn into the depths of drugs and murder. However, Lawrence is only twenty years old, and we hope to see more from her in the future.


Since the Academy has mercifully spared Chloë Grace Moretz from a nomination this year, in the film I promised to shut up about, she has another year to grow and enjoy not being an Oscar-winning child actor. It’s not that she wouldn’t have my vote, but it doesn’t always help a promising new career. But hey, that Tatum O’Neal turned out okay, right?


Natalie gets my vote. She started winning me over in Brothers, a one-thumb-halfway-up drama which nonetheless boasted some outstanding acting. Here, at the mercy of Darren Aronofsky’s tortured imagination, she is as disturbing and sad and beautiful as Laura Dern was in David Lynch’s Inland Empire. On a more cynical note, playing the psychologically fractured is as much a draw for critical acclaim these days as playing only the “gentle” mentally ill was ten years ago.


Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom


Leo Bale The Fighter

Before seeing The Fighter, I was certain the youngest nominee, Hailee Steinfeld, was a shoo-in. She not only adopted the stilted, bizarre language of True Grit into her vocabulary, but stumbled over none of it. As Mattie Ross, she kicked the venerable asses of a bunch of seasoned, Oscar-nominated actors.

Melissa Leo, whose rather strange, personally-financed ads have been showing up in Variety and other Hollywood publications, deserves this win. Leo’s Alice Ward, tough and bitchy mother to Dicky and Mickey Ward, could have been a caricature. In Leo’s capable hands, Alice is complex and adoring, physically threatening and emotionally immature, in denial and in pain. Way to go, Ms. Leo – and I hope those oddly affected ads don’t affect your win.


Okay, remember the high-horse tirade about not giving young people Oscars? Well, if they’ve earned the award, go ahead and give it. (That Patty Duke turned out okay, right? …right?) Seriously, Hailee Steinfeld is a newcomer with promise. Hers was a hard role to play with the right balance of charm and acid, but as the story’s anchor she confidently stood between two popular veterans of the screen – Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon – without batting an eye. People take notice of that, especially if they don’t know you well enough to expect it.


How To Train Your Dragon
Toy Story 3
The Illusionist


Toy Story 3 poster

I grew up with the Toy Story movies. The first was released when I was nine years old, the second when I was just a little too cool for Disney movies (at least in front of my friends–I watched and loved it anyway), and Toy Story 3 once I’d hit that mid-twenties non-ironic love of family films. In all seriousness, Pixar and Disney know exactly which heartstrings to tug on and how hard. Toy Story 3 made us cry, it made us nostalgic for toys of yore, and it managed to bring a fifteen-year-old story up to date without being cloying. It is an excellent animated picture, sequel or not.

(How To Train Your Dragon is a close runner-up. That movie is adorable.)


I could make a pick I don’t really believe in just to be controversial – in fact, I will later on – but I can’t deny that the world seems to have its mind made up about Toy Story 3. Nothing against the film, which is delightful, but come on folks — it’s also up for Best Picture, a distinction which unfortunately almost never comes to animated movies. I believe the only other on record is Beauty And The Beast, which surely would have won all had it not been for a little movie called The Silence Of The Lambs.

Anyone who loved The Triplets Of Belleville – and what person with a heart didn’t? – wanted The Illusionist to blow us away in the same manner. Unfortunately, its spotty reception and general lack of buzz are all too telling. I confess that, not having seen the other nominee, I still find my dragon very poorly behaved.


Alice in Wonderland – Robert Stromberg (Production Design); Karen O’Hara (Set Decoration)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 – Stuart Craig (Production Design); Stephenie McMillan (Set Decoration)
Inception – Guy Hendrix Dyas (Production Design); Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (Set Decoration)
The King’s Speech – Eve Stewart (Production Design); Judy Farr (Set Decoration)
True Grit – Jess Gonchor (Production Design); Nancy Haigh (Set Decoration)


Inception still

All the nominees feature great Art Direction, but Inception is the only one whose production design and set decoration truly stand out as magnificent. The film shifts from a remote Japanese mansion, all finely grained wood and delicate paper; to an icy mountaintop, viscerally white and palpably freezing; to a bleak cityscape, all grays and rain-faced actors–and each looks beautiful and contrived in its own way. True Grit, and The King’s Speech are period pieces while Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter are fantasy through and through, and that can mean fantastic Art Direction–but none of them blew me away. Inception is the only nominee whose Art Direction is timeless yet modern, vividly detailed and memorably gorgeous.


Since The Wolfman failed to garner a richly deserved Art Direction nomination, my pony to back is Harry Potter. This may sound like a foolhardy bet, but here’s my latest conspiracy theory. If history teaches us anything, multi-movie epics sweep all the major awards in the final installment, whether or not they deserve it. I feel that the powers that vote may nonetheless throw Part One of The Deathly Hallows a bone such as, say, an Art Direction Oscar, to tide us over until Part Two makes its appearance to be showered with obligatory praise next year. Harry Potter films have consistently been at the top of the game when it comes to layout and set decoration.

I wanted, wanted, wanted Alice In Wonderland to be worthy of this Oscar. And guess what? Not a chance.


Black Swan – Matthew Libatique
Inception – Wally Pfister
The King’s Speech – Danny Cohen
The Social Network – Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit – Roger Deakins


Black Swan still

I’ve heard Black Swan described as “watching a crazy lady go from an 8 to a 10 on the crazy scale.” These criticisms have merit, but Black Swan is the only movie this year that made me want to climb the damned walls. I attribute that in large part to Matthew Libatique’s cinematography: gritty, jerky, jarring, shocking, with strong emphasis on mirrors and reflections. Had the movie looked more “Hollywood” (in the style of, say, The King’s Speech), it would not have had this effect. Libatique and Aronofsky created an ambience that made the movie, which–yes–is about a lady going from crazy to crazier, brilliantly memorable.


True Grit has faced heated debate on points of casting, dialogue, adaptation, and so on, in the perennnial war between Coen fans and the other people – also within the ranks of Coen fans, who are as different and as individually confrontational as one group can be.

However, it is undeniably one fine looking movie. Sweeping views of open country of the Old West are a nod to the most classic of Westerns. The camera weaves these grand picture postcards with the moody, stylized atmosphere we expect from these directors in a seamless and eye-catching way. True Grit has the raw, edgy beauty to take this one home.


Alice in Wonderland – Colleen Atwood
I Am Love – Antonella Cannarozzi
The King’s Speech – Jenny Beavan
The Tempest – Sandy Powell
True Grit – Mary Zophres


True Grit Steinfeld and Bridges

Upon leaving the theater my sister and I immediately started talking about Mattie Ross’s costuming in True Grit. In the original, John Wayne version, Mattie (Kim Darby) wore closely cropped hair to masculinize her, but she wore pastels and full skirts to emphasize her budding femininity. In the Coens’ version of the film, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) dons long, flowing hair tied into sharp braids: she’s clearly a girl. Even with Steinfeld’s longer hair, Mary Zophres’s costuming for Mattie is brilliant. She stands tall in thick woolen pants, tall boots, and muted colors. She is the very epitome of toughness, even in middle age when she appears in a dress (then spits, “You can stay seated, trash!” to a man who doesn’t respectfully doff his hat to her).

From Rooster’s dingy longjohns to Le Beouf’s proud Texas Ranger uniform and spurs, Lucky Ned Pepper’s furry pants to Tom Chaney’s disheveled mess, True Grit‘s costumes are bloody fantastic.


I can’t really argue with this choice. The costumes in True Grit are a big part of its seamless and well thought out amtosphere. Nothing looks out of place, and the attention to detail is quite impressive.

It is also safe to say that the competition blew it this year. The two films that should have been contenders – Alice In Wonderland and The Tempest – flopped pretty monumentally, at least compared to what was expected of them. The costumes in Alice are fun and whimsical in a sort of completely predictable way. Based on the opening weekend press, I did not bother to see The Tempest, but the highlight seems to be Russell Brand running around in a ratty dress. Any arguments in favor?


Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky
The Fighter – David O. Russell
The King’s Speech – Tom Hooper
The Social Network – David Fincher
True Grit – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen


Tom Hooper publicity shot

Tom Hooper is the Academy favorite for 2011. The Coens have won four Academy Awards each and are consistently brilliant filmmakers, which means it’s about time the Academy recognized someone else. Fincher was nominated in 2009 for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but lost (perhaps because Benjamin Button was nowhere near his strongest film). This is Aronofsky’s first nomination (I had to double-check that), but he’s already a well-known commodity. This marks the first nomination for both Hooper and David O. Russell. Hooper popped out of the TV woodwork to grace us with The King’s Speech, Russell doesn’t have a particularly impressive film resume, and frankly it’s a toss-up.

Darren Aronofsky still

Were it up to me, I’d run with Aronofsky. The man’s films, which are always knock-you-senseless, heart-tugging pieces of work, constantly test the deep end of horror and dramatic filmmaking. He manages to coax utterly magnificent performances from his leads, brilliant work from his cinematographers and editors–and Black Swan is one of the director’s finest films.


I would like to see the Coen Brothers win another Oscar, but it does not feel like their year. Even if all goes as planned for Best Picture, I think David Fincher has a good shot at Best Director. He did an excellent job with a story of questionable appeal. Despite its timely subject, it could have been extraordinarily lame.

But as someone who went in almost hoping not to enjoy it, I say that the cast, script, music and style of this movie came together in a surprisingly wonderful way. Fincher will probably never make another film as good as Se7en, but that is no great mark against him. Most directors never have and never will. The Social Network proves that he still has a sharp eye and plenty of fresh energy.


Black Swan – Andrew Weisblum
The King’s Speech – Tariq Anwar
The Fighter – Pamela Martin
127 Hours – Jon Harris
The Social Network – Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter


The Social Network still Andrew Garfield

Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter hit this one out of the park, and I think the Academy will recognize it. This is a movie about a bunch of Harvard nerds, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Wall and Baxter keep the movie moving at a breakneck pace despite its sedate subject matter, and edit Sorkin’s sharp dialogue to its finest; the result is wonderful.


This is one of those cases in which the true measure of the best edited movie is not which one has more crazy cuts in rapid succession, but which has the most interesting conversations. The King’s Speech almost nails it, but The Social Network really gets it right, moving at exactly the right pace for the script.


How to Train Your Dragon – John Powell
Inception – Hans Zimmer
The King’s Speech – Alexandre Desplat
127 Hours – A.R. Rahman
The Social Network – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross


The Social Network still

My guess is the Academy will lean toward Reznor and Ross’s thumping, lilting electronica. All elements of behind-the-scenes work on The Social Network combined to make it a fast-paced drama, and Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) and Ross created a score that makes you sit up and listen.

Inception still DiCaprio

Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception is the only nominated score I’ve gone out of my way to get this year, though (the other being Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy album). I’m a weird human, but my “let’s be productive” music used to be Clint Mansell & Kronos Quartet’s haunting score for Requiem for a Dream. Now Inception has taken its place. The internet has already launched into dozens of Inception-score parodies, and when that happens you know the score has become a beloved part of film history. I don’t think it’ll go down with the best of John Williams’s work, but Zimmer’s score is sheer perfection.


To concur briefly, The Social Network for Best Original Score has been one of my major picks since I saw it last summer. In truth it has been one of the few scores that really impressed me with a proper sense of mood since The Dark Knight.

Actually, the best soundtrack of 2010 is not Oscar eligible, or it would surely be winning this year. Robbie Robertson’s “mashup” suite for Shutter Island, incorporating a hybrid of popular standards and contemporary classical pieces, is positively stirring. The aching beauty of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” and Max Richter’s “On The Nature Of Daylight,” overlaid at the end fooled me into thinking I enjoyed this film much more than I actually did while watching it. Absolute beauty.

Note from Julia: YES. Had Shutter Island not released at the stupidest possible time for Oscar nominations, Robertson might’ve seen this nomination; he deserved it.

Even though he’s developed a mild tendency to phone it in, I would like to have seen Danny Elfman get a nod for The Wolfman, though not so much for Alice In Wonderland.


Country Strong – “Coming Home”
Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
Tangled – “I See the Light”
Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Glenn Slater
127 Hours – “If I Rise”
Music by A.R. Rahman; Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
Toy Story 3 – “We Belong Together”
Music and Lyric by Randy Newman


Randy Newman

A.R. Rahman just won two Academy Awards in 2009 for the score and song “Jai Ho” in Slumdog Millionaire (and the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack was downright incredible where the 127 Hours score is so-so). Randy Newman’s name has graced Oscar and Grammy nominations for the last three decades–and he won for Monsters, Inc. in 2002. Due to Newman’s age, ubiquitousness, and venerable talent, my guess is he’ll take home another golden statuette in 2011.


With such a sorry crop of alternatives, It’s a no-brainer. Randy Newman is the only one who seems to have been interested in pleasing his audience. I think I’ve had about enough of his “best friend” songs from the Toy Story saga, but he’s still got all his old charm, and his is the hands-down winner, plain and simple. I am happy for him, because how can you not be happy for Randy Newman, ever? But my heart is not in this contest.

Confession time. Despite my mixed-to-negative feelings about Alice In Wonderland, I was hoping Avril Lavigne’s single “Alice” would be in the running. I was working as a movie usher during the film’s initial release, and maybe I just heard it too many times, but it grew on me and became my favorite of the summer movie pop songs. We will never speak of this again.


Inception – Richard King
Toy Story 3 – Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
Tron: Legacy – Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
True Grit – Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
Unstoppable – Mark P. Stoeckinger


Inception still

For Inception, Richard King utilized sound effects to their absolute fullest–the movie stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sound editing.


Inception is very slick and cool, and I think it’s sweet for the Academy to consider Unstoppable for its cornucopia of trains hitting things. However, I contend that nothing says superior sound editing like a well-produced, full-length animated feature. Toy Story 3 for me, please, if only on principle.


Inception – Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
The King’s Speech – Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
Salt – Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
The Social Network – Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
True Grit – Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland


There’s little to add. Although Salt and The Social Network were both great films featuring wonderful sound, Inception is the strongest.


These heavy technical Oscars are tough to call. My reasoning is that The King’s Speech is a strong contender on its extensive recreation of 1930s and 40s vintage sound technology – from Geoffrey Rush’s Victrola to the all-important wartime radio broadcasts. The opening sequence, in which the (then) Duke Of York delivers a painfully halting address at Wembley Stadium, is a brilliant piece of sound work. Every single gulp, stutter, gasp and hiccup resounds with hideous clarity, causing the English subjects to wince in pity and disappointment. The scene sets the grave stakes of the story in a very deft and efficient manner.


Alice in Wonderland – Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 – Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter – Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky and Joe Farrell
Inception – Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
Iron Man 2 – Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick


Inception visual effects

Short and sweet: in theaters, when the world of Inception went topsy-turvy, I was struck dumb by vertigo. I felt my jaw drop and let my hand fall back into the popcorn. The visual effects are consistently stunning and unlike anything we’ve seen before. M.C. Escher (whose “Penrose Steps” illusion gets a deserved shoutout in the film) has nothing on Franklin, Corbould, Lockley, and Bebb. (I only jest a bit.)


Whatever arguments may be made in the other contests, Visual Effects is undoubtedly the Oscar that Inception was born to win. You know it, I know it, Julia knows it. And she summed it up very well, so I need not go on.

Except to add my surprise that Hereafter got a nomination in this category and none of the others. I enjoyed the film, and while it’s no award winner, it seems like a good token nominee in almost every category except visual effects. I would gladly eat a great big bowl of the dirt Clint Eastwood treads, but his vision of the afterlife does not send me.


127 Hours – Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network – Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 – Screenplay by Michael Arndt. Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
True Grit – Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Winter’s Bone – Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini


Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for The Social Network, based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, was an astonishment from the get-go. Quick-as-lightning dialogue, sharply jabbing quips muttered under characters’ breath, and verbal sucker punches sparkle throughout the film. Sorkin endured a lot of criticism for choosing not to include many women in his screenplay, and while that’s a twist some didn’t appreciate, I think it’s better this way. The man deserves a pat on the back–and I think the Academy will offer it.


A bet against Aaron Sorkin is not a wise one, unless it’s on someone as well established as the Coen Brothers. The Social Network script deserves hearty praise, but the same is true of the vastly different True Grit. The unusual cadence and excruciatingly dry humor of the dialogue keep you on your toes throughout. The story moves at a brooding pace, without losing focus, to its grim and satisfying conclusion. It may be too understated to bring in the prize, but hopefully not.


Another Year – Written by Mike Leigh
The Fighter – Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson. Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
Inception – Written by Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right – Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
The King’s Speech – Screenplay by David Seidler


The King's Speech Poster

My guess is David Seidler’s script for The King’s Speech will win the 2011 Oscar. It’s understated, bold, lends a depth to the impenetrable Royals, and evidently is quite historically inaccurate–but Firth’s performance and the screenplay have the Queen’s approval, so that says something.

The Kids Are All Right still

In my ideal world, Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg would take this one home. I love family-oriented melodramas, and The Kids Are All Right is one of the best in the last decade. While each character could have been purely one-dimensional, the screenplay manages to create characters with depth, familiarity, and believable flaws; you’d love to hate them but just can’t. The movie is about the new age of family and a different kind of love than we’re used to–and the screenplay makes us want to be part of it.


Historical drama is so easy to write poorly that a well crafted offering is a rare treat. I cannot speak for how faithfully The King’s Speech stuck to the facts, but I am willing to take Queen Elizabeth’s word that she enjoyed the film, presuming as it did to depict the life of her Royal Pop and the rest of the family.

A good serious script must have its light moments, and the number of genuine laughs offered by such a tale is surprising. At the same time, it never gets silly – although the thought occurs that a bawdier, more madcap version of this story featuring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, mid-1980s, would have been fantastic. Arthur meets The President’s Analyst, yes?


Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job


Exit Through the Gift Shop Banksy still

Banksy retains mystery.

Honestly, Exit Through the Gift Shop is the only documentary I’ve been able to see this year, so I can’t speak for the others unfortunately. Exit Through the Gift Shop is excellent filmmaking on the part of that elusive, political weirdo Banksy. Those fascinated with street art, Banksy’s inspirations and cohorts, and well, the very definition of “art” will fall in love with this film.

Dan abstains.


Barney’s Version – Adrien Morot
The Way Back – Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
The Wolfman – Rick Baker and Dave Elsey


The Wolfman still

I’m sorry to say The Wolfman is also the only nominee I’ve been able to see this year. I’m skeptical of computer generated makeup effects, but Rick Baker’s (the man behind the most brilliant, brutal werewolf transformation in cinema history, in An American Werewolf in London) involvement in The Wolfman made me thoroughly curious. The movie, which is in fact an artfully rendered period piece whose superficial appearance outweighs its depth, makes a strong case in favor of some CGI. Benicio del Toro’s werewolf transformations are nothing short of awesome.


I have reflected before on the superior style of The Wolfman, and would have been prepared to give it my vote of confidence all the way. The movie’s delayed release and cool reception eclipse the fact that it’s a damned entertaining genre film in the fine old Hammer style. Rick Baker, as usual, does great werewolf work.

However, despite my deep love of monster makeup, I have to give the edge to The Way Back. This epic serving of mediocrity failed to deliver any quotable lines or memorable performances, but when all the characters began to sicken and die in the wastes of the Gobi desert, I actually remember thinking, “Well, at least they’ll get an award for makeup.” The visible deterioration of the characters is the only truly moving part of the film.


Biutiful – Mexico
Dogtooth – Greece
In a Better World – Denmark
Incendies – Canada
Outside the Law – Algeria

Julia abstains.


Dogtooth (2009) directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

I cannot say I fully expect Dogtooth to win. Call it my long shot bet against the favorite. Biutiful has all the buzz, but this year’s offering from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos could be a dark horse. And do I mean dark. Let’s call it an absurdist psychological horror flick, like a more fanciful answer to the disturbing work of Michael Haneke or Lars von Trier. Dogtooth tells the story of a family with some serious problems, which seem to stem from deliberately improper parenting. That’s a polite way of saying it’s a majorly effed-up but strangely compelling drama about control, submission, misinformation, sexual taboo, and other lighthearted fare.

So, there you have it. We leave you to judge our ability as critics, our dignity as humans, and our knowledge of what the Academy wants. Also with a little bit of Ennio Morricone to get you in the duelin’ mood. Join us for the Oscars at 8:00pm EST on Sunday–pop open some Extra Brut, don your best designer knockoff duds, and enjoy.

Julia Rhodes graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Communication and Culture. She's always been passionate about movies and media, and is particularly fond of horror and feminist film theory, but has a soft spot for teen romances and black comedies. She also loves animals and vegetarian cooking; who says horror geeks aren't compassionate and gentle? Bank Routing Numbers

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