THE CRITICS PART DUEX: The Los Angeles Film Critics Weigh In


The most interesting of the awards came out this week, not because they necessarily show the best judgment, but because their taste and mine are so close this year (okay, so maybe that means they are showing the best judgment). I’m talking about the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. The LAFCA probably has more influence than any other critics group (outside the Golden Globes) on the Oscars, mainly because they are in Los Angeles, so they are probably the most difficult for voters to avoid.

Best Picture is The Social Network, which should put a number of contractors to work building shelves to hold all the awards it is getting. Interesting, though, is Carlos coming in second. Not eligible for the Oscars because it was made for TV, it is one of the finest films of the year. However, again, The Social Network winning only helps ensure that it gets a nom come Oscar time. The King’s Speech is still going to win. Just deal with it.

Best Actor went to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech adding to his momentum. Second place went to Edgar Ramirez for Carlos, again one of the finest performances of the year, but again, not eligible since it was in a made for TV film. However, joy to me, Kim Hye-Ja won Best Actress for Mother; Hye-Ja will most likely win my personal Best Actress award when I get around to doing the Howies. Runner up is Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone, which should help her momentum.

Director was a tie between Olivier Assayas for Carlos and David Fincher for The Social Network. Assayas, of course, doesn’t qualify for the Tinseltown award, but this helps Fincher’s momentum. There is an outside chance the Oscar voters could split the Picture/Director award this year and Fincher could win it, but I think it’s going to be Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, and again, just deal with it.

Neils Arestrup won Supporting Actor for The Prophet (he was on my list last year). Significantly, though, Geoffrey Rush came in second. Will Rush be able to defeat Christian Bale for The Fighter? I say yes. Jacki Weaver won Supporting Actress for Animal Kingdom, which again helps that momentum thingy. It does seem to suggest the fight at the Oscars will be between Melissa Leo and Weaver; I still believe Leo will win, but Weaver’s awards are making the contest more interesting than usual. Olivia Williams came in second for The Ghost Writer, an unusual choice, and it won’t matter a hoot come nomination time.

Best Screenplay is Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network; second is David Seidler for The King’s Speech. I think that just about sums up the winners in those two Oscar categories this year.

Also of interest, Foreign Language film is Carlos, with my favorite film of the year Mother, coming in second. Since neither were entered by their respective countries, no Oscars. But I love the movies so much, I had to mention that.

Finally, though Toy Story 3 won Best Animated film, The Illusionist received runner up, which may give it the recognition it needs to be third on the ballot.

Next: The Golden Globes

THE CRITICS: The Critics Start to Weigh In on 2010


This week several critic and film organizations released their best of 2010 awards in movies. I will only deal with three here: AFI top ten list; the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; and the New York Film Critics Circle. Others, like the Boston Film Critics, The New York Film Critics On-Line etc., are interesting and make the Oscar guessing game fun, but they have even less influence on the Academy than their bigger siblings do.

Well, sort of, kind of. This isn’t exactly true. It’s not that the LAFCC and NYFCC have no influence at all, it’s just that it’s so hit and miss, that what influence they have has to been garnered by instinct and weighted heavily against what seems to be trending with Academy voters, whom often have very different tastes than the critics, i.e., I don’t care what the critics have to say, The King’s Speech is going to beat out The Social Network when Jack Nicholson or whomever opens that envelope at the end of the show.

Also, there are some technical issues as well on some of these awards, as will be noted.

The AFI was most interesting because the top ten seemed to mirror almost exactly what is expected of the Academy this year: The Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours (someone at AFI needs to learn how to alphabetize—numbers go at the beginning of a list), The Social Network, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone.

Notice what is missing? That’s right, The King’s Speech. However, AFI only awards films substantially made in America, which means The King’s Speech was ineligible (though, significantly, it did receive a special award). However, since the King’s Speech is supposed to not just only make the Academy top ten, it’s supposed to take home the top honor, the question is, which of the AFIers will be left behind? I predict The Town will not make the Academy cut.

Next is the New York Film Critics Circle, which according to an inside story, was a knock down drag out between The Social Network and The Kids Are All Right (see http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/blogs/race/kids-beat-aaron-sorkin-nyfcc-59299). Though The Social Network won Picture and Director, it did not win screenplay—which, because of some manipulation of the voting (all perfectly within the rules), went to The Kids Are All Right. The same manipulation apparently got Marc Ruffalo Supporting Actor over Christian Bale for The Fighter. All this really means, though, is that The Kids Are All Right should be a lock for numerous top noms. Annette Benning’s award for Actress won’t hurt her chances for winning the Oscar (apparently The Black Swan left a few too many critics a bit cold). Also significant is Melissa Leo winning for Supporting Actress. Jacki Weaver has been doing well with her performance with other awards, but since she’s Australian in an Australian film, this may help Leo’s chances with the Academy.

Colin Firth won Actor, which should help him pull ahead of Jessie Eisenberg, who, with the critical awards, has taken James Franco’s place as Firth’s biggest threat. However, like Franco, it is doubtful the Academy is going to give it to a newcomer like Eisenberg, especially when they have to apologize to Firth for not giving the award to him last year for A Single Man.

Also of interest: Carlos won Foreign Language Film. However, Carlos was made for TV and is ineligible for the Oscars (and wasn’t Spain or France’s entry in the Foreign Language category). The Illusionist, the animated film from the makers of The Triplets of Bellville and based on a screenplay by Jacques Tati, won best Animated Film, which could help it make the third slot at the Oscars with Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon. Animal Kingdom received an award for Best First Film. If Animal Kingdom keeps getting recognitions like this, it will be interesting to see if it can somehow manage an upset and make the Academy’s top ten (but what could it possible replace—127 Hours if the bloom of its rosy red cheeks wears off, or True Grit if it bombs at the box office?

Next the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards.

THE PLOT COAGULATES: The National Board of Review Awards and the Oscars 2010


The National Board of Review Awards came out, which means that the race for the Oscar has officially begun (the NBR is the New Hampshire of the Academy). This also means I’ll postpone my column on the Best Actress race just a tad to analyze what the NBR awards mean.

Actually, they don’t mean an awful lot. The NBR and the Oscars sometimes agree (No Country for Old Men; Slumdog Millionare) and sometimes don’t (The Hurt Locker when NBR chose Up in the Air). The NBR is actually seen as a bit more mainstream, being conservative in their awards (like the Republican center right), which makes it surprising they chose The Social Network over The King’s Speech. That could suggest some sort of zeitgeist change in what people who give awards look for in movies, but it just as probably doesn’t.

I still think The King’s Speech will win Best Picture and Colin Firth Actor (over NBR’s choice of Jessi Eisenberg for The Social Network), if for no other reason than that the Weinsteins don’t mean a hoot to the NBR. Actress should still go to Annette Bening (over NBR’s Leslie Manville for Another Year). At the same time, the honors here for Manville and Eisenberg do help them gain a firm foundation for a nomination, so it is significant in that way. This also supports David Fincher being one of the five directing nominees that will have to be culled from the top ten titles come Academy Award voting time.

However, there are two awards that, gremlin like, could be throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Best Supporting Actor went to Christian Bale for The Fighter. Bale is considered Geoffrey Rush’s main rival for the win and this will only keep Bale (a popular actor within the industry, even if he has a reputation for being difficult) in the mind’s eye. Best Supporting Actress is totally up in the air right now; NBR gave it (possibly very deservedly) to Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom. I don’t think this will move Taylor any closer to winning; it just keeps the Supporting Actress waters very muddy.

Also significant is that The Social Network won best Adapted Screenplay. I wasn’t sure whether Aaron Sorkin’s script was considered original or adapted. Since it’s adapted, David Seidler, who wrote The King’s Speech, can start rehearsing what he’s going to say Oscar night when he wins for Original Screenplay since Sorkin was his main, if only, rival. The award for Original Screenplay went to Chris Sparling for Buried, which may help jump start his campaign for a nom, but I can’t see it winning over The King’s Speech.

Best Foreign Language film went to Of Gods and Men from France. The winner of this award for the Oscars can often be determined solely by the subject matter of the film. Of Gods and Men is about conflict between a Catholic Order and Fundamentalists: sounds like a winner to me.

The Town got an award for Best Ensemble which could help Jeremy Renner’s chances for a Supporting Actor nom. Jennifer Lawrence got the Breakthrough Performance award which should help cement her nom for Best Actress.

And, of course, what’s very interesting here is what didn’t make the top ten lists. The Black Swan, 127 Hours and The Kids Are All Right, all considered shoe ins for nominations, were conspicuous by their absence.

Isn’t this fun.

TALKING TURKEY: Predictions for Academy Award Nominations and Awards


For most people, the Thanksgiving weekend is the beginning of Christmas shopping. For people who have no life, this is the beginning of the knock down, drag out, no hitting below the belt (unless it can help you win) period known as the countdown for Oscar nominations.

As of now, I believe six of the top eight awards are spoken for (Picture, Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay), with two (Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay) still unknown.

Best Picture as of now seems to be going to The King’s Speech. It’s one of those fun period pieces the British put out every once in awhile, mainly because they can and they do have the history for it after all (the best we can come up with are biopics or TV series about drudges like John Adams). Even though the U.S. threw the yoke of British tyranny off its backs in 1776, we’ve never gotten over the penis envy of their having a monarchy and we’re just fascinated by it. Though I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could ever claim that the King’s Speech is great art, it is a lot of fun and it more than gets the job down; for what it is, it’s actually much better than that. It also fits in step, rather oddly in a way, with the theme of the movies that have won Best Picture lately: for the last six years, the leads have been working or middle class (or lower) people struggling to get by (Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker; one could even go to seven if one thinks of the leads in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as the English working class who like nothing better than to have a drink at the pub; smoke a pipe; and be left alone). Though the story of The King’s Speech is about King George VI’s overcoming a stutter, the story is equally about Lionel Logue, the therapist, who is, like the characters in the previous Best Pictures, struggling just to make ends meet (and no matter what the Academy does, the role of Logue is a co-lead, not a supporting part). And last, but by no means least, this is a Weinstein production (can anyone say Shakespeare in Love).

The other nine nominees as of now are: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Store 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. True Grit is the most uncertain entry here: there is good buzz about it, but no one’s really seen it and it could be one of those that crashes and burns upon entry (remember Amelia?); but I seriously doubt it. Black Swan is The King’s Speech’s main rival, but people seem to love it or hate it from what I’m getting now, so it’s a bit uncertain (and maybe just a bit too arty, the sort of film the Academy nominates to prove that they know it when they see it, but that doesn’t mean they want to hang it on their wall). People are also talking about 127 Hours (but I think it’s one of those in which the nomination is award enough type thing). The Kids Are All Right had it in the bag until the award season really began in earnest and all these other movies, like The King’s Speech and Black Swan, started opening. The Social Network has its supporters, but it may be just a bit too smart (though All About Eve also won way back when). Winter’s Bone is going to be the small picture that everyone is going to nominate to prove that there’s a plate at the Academy Awards table for even the poor relations. Inception will be nominated to apologize for past oversights to Christopher Nolan and because it’s so brilliantly directed; but the script is a bit too much of a letdown for it to win. Toy Store 3 is great, but let’s face it, it’s animated and it’s going to win in that category. The Fighter is still a bit unknown, but the buzz is better for it than for True Grit, and Wahlberg has apparently agreed to make still another movie with the director David O. Russell, so maybe his reputation is making a comeback.

As for director, now five nominees have to be whittled down from the top ten here. It used to be with five nominations there would be one or two directing picks that didn’t match up to picture. But with ten, it’s hard to believe that will ever be the case (though as soon as someone says something won’t happen with the Academy, it usually does—see Driving Miss Daisy getting Best Picture without getting a directing nod). As usual, Best Director will probably go to the director of the Best Picture, meaning that Tom Hooper (previously known mainly for TV work) will win. It’s rare that the Academy will split the awards and their often has to be a good reason for it (like wanting to award a gay movie Best Picture while not awarding a gay movie Best Picture the year Ang Lee won for Brokeback Mountain and Crash won best picture). The question really then becomes who will the other four be.

Christopher Nolan (Inception), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and David Fincher (the Social Network) seem to be sure things. All bets are off if any of them are arrested for child molestation, but all things being equal, it seems pretty certain. That leaves the fifth position. At one time, it was going to automatically be Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right; and then 127 Hours opened and Danny Boyle’s name started being bandied about. At this point, the fifth space will depend on whether 127 Hours peaks too soon (quite possible) and whether The Kids Are All Right will have a strong enough campaign mounted for it. I’m going for Lisa Cholodenko (I think the first blush of 127 Hours may wear off a bit soon).

I know that some of these movies have yet to open and I haven’t seen all of them. I have a friend who said that she couldn’t predict a winner or nominee until she’s actually seen the film. I most respectfully disagree. In theory, one would never have to see a movie in one’s life and still be able to predict all the movies that will be recognized. When it comes to something winning an Academy Award, or even being nominated, being the best is often not remotely a consideration and the worst thing one can do in making guesses is to be led by one’s heart.

Next, some thoughts on the acting categories.

JUST THE PERFECT KINSHIP: Reviews of the Town and The Social Network


There came a time when many British films, especially those that concerned the working classes, were subtitled so that audience might be able to better understand what was being said. Upon seeing the Town, in which many of the characters are natives of a certain neighborhood in Boston, one has to wonder whether we’ll have to start doing the same thing in the states as there were times when the Boston brogue tended to obscure what was being said in this gritty, urban thriller. In talking with my friend Beriau, I stated I preferred The Town’s approach, authenticity, over the somewhat unskilled accent of say, a Mel Gibson in Edge of Darkness; Beriau wasn’t so sure, especially because of that one scene where Jeremy Renner (terrific here as a sociopathic thug) was talking about someone he killed and the reasons for it. It seemed an important scene, but I had no idea what he said. The Town is a story about a group of bank robbers who have great tastes in masks and disguises. The movie is directed by Ben Affleck and written by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard. Aaron Stockard also wrote another Ben Affleck movie, Gone, Baby, Gone, and the two of them seem to have an aptitude for working class grit. Affleck comes off a bit better than Stockard this time round. With The Town, Affleck demonstrates that he is probably a better director than actor, or at least a better director than romantic or heroic lead. The action scenes have a slam bang feel to them (though they often are the sort where no one can ever seem to shoot someone except when it’s convenient for the screenwriter); the neighborhoods have a certain down and dirty bleakness to them; and the romance between Affleck and Rebecca Hall has a certain sweetness to it. The Town is never less than entertaining, especially whenever Renner is on screen, stealing the show as only a good sociopath can; he’s the main reason to see it. The rest of the movie is a bit dicey at times. The bank robberies here are too good, too clever, too artistically brilliant to be realistic. They’re enjoyable and fascinating, but one does come away from them thinking they’re the sort of thing one only sees in movies. They also suggest that Affleck’s character’s main problem is not so much his criminal background as a lack of career counseling; this guy shouldn’t be robbing banks, he should be running them. Though Renner is the top of the food acting chain, Affleck and Hall are also affective. But the others didn’t really thrill me all that much. Chris Cooper, as Affleck’s father, isn’t really given anything to do and he proceeds not to do it. Pete Postlethwaite also seems wasted in the role of the gang’s go to guy for money laundering. Jon Hamm is actually rather bland as the FBI agent hot on everyone’s trail. This blandness is perfect for his role as the man in the grey flannel suit on Mad Men, but it’s uncertain how far this can take him in the movies. The plot itself also has some issues. Part of it is personal. The older I get, the less empathy I automatically have for crooks and thugs and the authors don’t really give me any strong reason for rooting for Affleck here. I also wasn’t convinced that Postlethwaite had enough power to get Affleck to go on that oldest of clichés of heist movies, the last job. And once Renner kills some policemen, I have no sympathy for Affleck at all; he may not have shot them himself, but he’s equally culpable. At the end, in a voice over, Affleck states that everyone has to pay for what he’s done in life. The only problem is that he hasn’t closely begun to pay. He got away with the money; the affection of the girl, with the possibility of them being together again; and he’s living in what looks like, even if it’s not to my taste, a rather nice house with a great view of a river (this almost feels like an ending come up with in committee or via focus groups). It’s too idyllic to come across as any sort of punishment. I mean, I should have it so lucky if I’m responsible for the death of a couple of cops.

A critic once described the dialog in the movie All About Eve as some of the best staircase wit in the movies. I couldn’t help but think of that remark in watching The Social Network in which the writer Aaron Sorkin gives his actors one witty line after another; in fact, wholesale paragraphs of witty lines, all delivered with the speed and dead on intensity of a SWAT member taking out a bad guy. But isn’t that one of the things movies can be for: to have people say what they should have said, not necessarily what they did say? If only we could all live in the wisecracking world of His Gal Friday. The Social Network seems like one of those movie marriages of writer and director made in heaven. While Sorkin parcels out his flashes of spoken lightning, director David Fincher plays every scene for what it’s worth. In another reference to All About Eve, he grabs you like the dogs nipping at your rear end and doesn’t let go. With this and Zodiac, Fincher seems to be showing a skill at somehow keeping a movie ship afloat even if it has a somewhat unwieldy structure (I’m not using unwieldy here in a negative term; but in The Social Network and Zodiac, so much information has to be covered and dramatized effectively even if the story doesn’t necessarily conform to traditional Hollywood structural guidelines as taught in film schools or as found in various how to books). For some reason Zodiac didn’t connect to the audience (I loved it); maybe because it’s structure was just a bit too unwieldy for general consumption. Here, Sorkin has used a somewhat familiar approach by providing the story with a linking narrative, the various depositions Mark Zuckerberg, the central character, had to participate in, allowing the rest of the story to be filled in with flashbacks. And this probably did help give the story a bit more focus. Zuckerberg is played with ferociousness by Jesse Eisenberg. Zuckerberg should probably be flattered. From his various appearances on TV and The Simpsons (where he was portrayed as always speaking through his Facebook account), ferociousness is not his strong point when he talks. In fact, he comes across as the almost stereotypical geek who almost seems to have some trace of Asperger’s syndrome. Eisenberg plays him as a lion who lives his life pacing a cage. And to a certain degree that does seem to be what is driving Sorkin’s Zuckerberg, someone who is trapped in a cage of isolation because he doesn’t have the right pedigree to be invited to the best parties or the right fraternities. He’s the person who hates people not because they look down on him, but because he is not one of them looking down on others. How shallow this psychology is is probably a matter of personal opinion, but it does work. Zuckerberg would do anything to humiliate those who refuse to recognize his worth and is quick to take slights where none are intended (the fact that they aren’t intended is even worse; it means they slighted him without even acknowledging his existence). He created Facebook not just to do something brilliant, but to prove that he’s a superior human being to the upper crust snobs, the Winklevoss twins, who can’t let him in their frat house any farther than the bike room and when they offer him a sandwich, they give him a store bought one ensconced in cellophane. Zuckerberg starts distancing himself from his best friend Eduardo Saverin (an excellent Andrew Garfield with a first rate American accent), pelting him with passive/aggressive insults because Eduardo is invited to join a fraternity. Instead, his alpha male hero becomes Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker (almost as sociopathic as Jeremy Renner’s tour de force in The Town), the founder of Napster, who also stuck it to the man. But when Zuckerberg realizes that Parker is too sociopathic, and has a way with partying and women that Zuckerberg could never hope to achieve, he drops him, too. It’s possible that as good as everyone is here, Timberlake actually gives the best performance; or is it something about sociopath’s that we can’t take our eyes off of them. Oddly enough, both Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg and Ben Affleck’s bank robber have the same ending: isolated, but having basically gotten away with everything. The difference is that I wasn’t really asked to feel that sorry for Zuckerberg. Some, yes, but Sorkin’s attitude seemed to be Zuckerberg dug his own grave. If only those involved in The Town had felt the same way.