Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final Thoughts Before the Oscars

In approximately ten hours, awards season will come to a close with the announcement of the Best Picture of the year from the Academy Awards. Before that happens, I just want to take a look back and see what has happened to get us to this point.

When The Social Network won the National Board of Review, one couldn't have imagined that it would then dominate awards season all the way through the Golden Globes. The amazing thing about its romp was David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, director and writer respectively, also getting the majority of prizes and accolades. For a short while, it became THE front-runner, THE film to beat, THE film to tap into the zeitgeist. Everyone and everyone was talking about this film.

But then the industry and the guilds spoke up and they halted the historic sweep Network was making by giving the British film The King's Speech some love. And what love did they give it as the film notched major guild wins for its producer, director, and ensemble. Effectively stealing the crown from The Social Network as the front-runner for Oscar glory, the film also received the most Oscar nominations with 12 over Network's 8. The question still seemingly being asked by many then was What the hell happened? Many weighed in. The Social Network is too cold, its main character is unlikable, it was winning too much. The King's Speech is the safer choice, the type of movie the industry usually embraces, the Weinsteins are back, everyone's an Anglophile. We'll probably never get down to the real reason The King's Speech was able to win over the industry over The Social Network, but it is worth noting that audiences really went for it as well tallying up over $114 million in the box office and counting. And just for extra measure, it also expectantly swept at the BAFTAs.

The King's Speech-Social Network melee this awards season made it difficult for other films to get noticed. With that said, almost everyone had an easy time predicting the eventual ten Best Picture nominees as the same 11 or so films kept popping up everywhere this awards season and unlike last year or even in previous years with just five nominees, there were no stinkers in the bunch in terms of industry support and critical love. In fact the lowest-rated Best Picture nominee on Rotten Tomatoes got a score of 89, which is just astounding.

Toy Story 3 was the highest-grossing film of the year as well as the first animated film to hit $1 billion worldwide. It's no surprise that Pixar, with its 11th film, has a stranglehold once again at Best Animated Feature. Amidst a sea of sequels, remakes, and animated film that dominated the top of the box office this year, Inception was the original film that really caught the public's eye garnering nearly $300 million for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight follow-up. Nolan's snub as director though was met with lots of fury on the blogosphere, but he didn't walk away this awards season empty-handed as his expository and mind-bending screenplay took home a WGA prize. The real box office success stories this year, however, went to True Grit and Black Swan which, to date, have made over $167 million and $103 million respectively giving its directors their highest grossing films by a wide margin. The fact that a Coen-Brother Western and an Aronofsky ballet thriller mindfuck could get that much money was not at all predicted. The latter also dominated at this year's Spirit Awards.

The acting categories seemed to have a bit of drama and suspense this year even though there are clear favorites in each category if you looked at who has won what this awards season. Colin Firth is probably the one person who has the least to worry about since his biggest competitions, Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco, are both young and probably splitting votes. Plus his loss to fellow nominee Jeff Bridges last year only supports his win this year. Natalie Portman has also dominated this season the same way Firth has, probably even more so, especially in light of her recent engagement and pregnancy news. And yet, like last year's Bullock-Streep, many are still hoping the veteran actress, this time Annette Bening, can pull out a win.

The supporting categories are a bit more tumultuous. Even though The Fighter's Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are expected to knockdown the competition, both have The King's Speech beloved actors Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter on their heels and if the latter duo's film sweep, it can happen. It's even more precarious for Leo since she's also competing with co-star Amy Adams and breakthrough actress Hailee Steinfeld, who is probably her biggest competition. All of this and the fact that neither Bale nor Leo are exactly beloved in the industry has many thinking the Academy might go another way.

Speaking of actors, though, the Academy biggest move this year, to keep the ceremony fresh and perhaps to court younger viewers, was to pick James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host. It's hard to guess what these two will bring to the ceremony, but I find myself really looking forward to the whole thing. I've loved the various commercials of them training and prepping for the big night. At the very least, they will instill a lot of energy, as these two are nothing less than workhorses.

This year I had a very difficult time predicting the below-the-line categories since they could all easily go to The King's Speech if a sweep-year happens or to Inception if they go for the big-budget film or to a bunch of different films if they actually take the time to think about how they are voting. I do want to give a quick shout-out to Banksy and his wonderful documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop for bringing some much-needed levity this season. I'm crossing all of my fingers for the film to film and/or for Banksy to "crash" the Oscars in any way he could.

Finally, I just want to say that despite all the craziness that ALWAYS happens during awards season, I think it was generally a good year. I think it was easier for me to take a more distant outlook than in recent years because my top two films got a total of 1 nomination (compare that to the tally of nominations/wins of my recent top films such as District 9, Slumdog Millionaire, and Atonement). I'm still smarting over the Ryan Gosling snub as well as the lack of love for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in the technical categories, but it just goes to show you, the Academy can't tell you which film you're going to fall in love with. Take that to heart and see you next year!

Related links:
Click here to see my official predictions.
Click here to see my own personal ballot.
Click here to see my initial thoughts on the Oscar nominations.
Click here to see all my posts on "Awards Season."

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