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Frank J. Avella’s
Film Column


FILMS OF 2010 / Oscar Hopefuls

Opposite Photo:
Natalie Portman in The Swan

 



 

For the true cinephile, compiling a list of favorite films (sometimes pretentiously tagged as “The Best,”) as well as handicapping the Oscar race is like breathing. It’s a personal necessity. For those of us who are lucky enough to blog about film—it’s mandatory. I’ve dragged my cyberheels this year, not because I don’t have specific opinions on my choices for the most outstanding films and performances of the year as well as the potential Academy Award nominees, but because so much has been written already online and in print that I agree with so I worried about being able to add anything new or different to the cyber dialogue. But not adding anything new to the mix is nothing new.

As I began seriously thinking about the film year, one bizarre thing became clear, I seemed to be in agreement with the general consensus. So many of my personal favorites seemed to be front-runners for nominations. There might not be any forgotten masterpieces as in past years like The Road or Revolutionary Road or Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead or Little Children or A History of Violence or Dogville or, well, I can go on and on…

All my top five favorite films (actually, my top six) seem to be viable Best Picture contenders. My favorite actor is the favorite. My two favorite actresses are the two front-runners and my favorite supporting players are also shoo-ins. As I crosschecked my favorites with my predictions, the results were frighteningly similar. Yikes!

Another thing is pretty clear; this is truly a great year for actresses both lead and supporting. It’s been years since there have been so many terrific and worthy female performances.

So, on to it. Below are my personal favorites of the year followed by my Oscar predictions in the major categories.

Last year I did a Favorite 13 and since it’s my lucky number, I will stick to that number this year as well. Firstly, though I’d like to pay tribute to the films that almost made it (and could have in a lesser year):

Honorable Mentions to:
Animal Kingdom
City Island
Dogtooth
Fair Game
Four Lions
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hereafter
Inside Job
Kick-Ass
Let Me In
Made in Dagenham
Nowhere Boy
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Somewhere
South of the Border
Tiny Furniture
Toy Story 3

Vincere
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
The Way Back
Winter’s Bone

Special Shout outs to the gems that were not release in 2010:
From Italy: Loose Cannons and David’s Birthday
From Ireland: Snap

My 13 favorite films of 2009:


Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges in Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's True Grit

13. True Grit

Joel & Ethan Coen take on the Charles Portis’ classic western and claim to have never seen the original John Wayne gem. Well, I don’t want to question their veracity but some shots scarily match Henry Hathaway’s original. That said, this True Grit is certainly grittier, slightly nastier and more stunning to look at and even good Coen is pretty great cinema.


Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole

12. Rabbit Hole

Reconceived for the screen, this downer drama could have easily been a Lifetime-y tearjerker. Instead it’s a powerful meditation on loss and love as well as a lesson on how everyone deserves to mourn in their own way. Nicole Kidman has always chosen risky and challenging roles (Margot at the Wedding, Dogville, Birth, to name a few) and here she continues to add to her fearless acting triumphs. Aaron Eckhart matches her angst-ridden scene for angst-ridden scene.


Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield in Never Let Me Go

11. Never Let Me Go

This haunting work seems to have fallen off everyone’s cine-radar and it’s a damn shame. Based on the sci-fi horror novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the film is impressively adapted by Alex Garland, remarkably directed by newcomer Mark Romanek and features a trio of indelible performances by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley. The movie deliberately disturbs as it explores the darker side of human nature.


Jon Hamm and Ben Afleck in The Town

10. The Town

On paper, The Town reads like a movie star’s vanity project. Ben Affleck directs, co-writes and plays the part of a criminal who the audience will actually champion and root for in the end. And yet Affleck avoids all the cliché’ trappings built into the modern day crime caper and instead delivers a poignant study of a group of Massachusetts townies born into a way of life they can’t/refuse to escape--until one guy has a shot at redemption. Yes, there’s a way-too long chase scene and some predictable bombast, but it’s the quiet moments that make this film soar as well as a killer ensemble led by an understated Affleck, a deliciously fearless Jeremy Renner, a moving Blake Lively and a determined Jon Hamm. Yes, you can escape the sins of the fathers if you want to badly enough.


Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island

9. Shutter Island

Shutter Island is a film for the paranoids, neurotics and true cinema aficionados of the world. Martin Scorsese does to nightmares what Christopher Nolan did to dreams (in Inception); he implodes them and expands the narrative around them—here with a nice dose of insanity. Unjustly maligned by those who have little understanding or appreciation of the genre film, Shutter Island gloriously blends noir thriller with Scorsesian suspense. The result is a spellbinding cine-journey that features another great turn by Leonardo DiCaprio.


Edgar Ramirez in Carlos

8. Carlos

Olivier Assayas’s sprawling 319-minute study of the life of notorious terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known by his chosen alias Carlos, boasts a towering performance by Edgar Ramirez as the egotistical and cocky militant. Assayas calls his work a fiction since he had to fill in many blanks. In doing so, he has crafted a powerful hypothetical about the delusions that come with thinking you are so omnipotent you can actually change the world.


127 Hours

7. 127 Hours

Danny Boyle tops himself again by creating 90 minutes of compelling, tension-driven cinema showing us a different way to tell a story onscreen as he assaults our senses and guides us into the mind, body and spirit of the vibrant and energetic Aron Ralston. The audience becomes witness to his all-encompassing will to live in the face of the worst odds a person can have heaped upon them. The film is held together by a revelatory James Franco, who wholly embodies the adrenaline junkie Ralston. 127 Hours is an exhilarating experience.


Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams in The Fighter


6. The Fighter

This film got so far into my head, I was thinking about it days later. Initially, I brushed it off as just another decent blue-collar boxing story (and I happen to be a big fan of boxing films—mostly the ones that aren’t really about boxing like Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby). But there was something about the (unbelievably) real struggles of this new millennium family. And David O’Russell’s seemingly simplistic approach is actually perfect. He never allows directorial dazzle to get in the way of the story being told.

Mark Wahlberg plays a struggling boxer living in the shadow of his brother, who has degenerated into a fairly useless drug addict. Wahlberg grounds the film with an understated yet powerful portrayal of a guy caught in the middle of a heap of struggles, including an all too familiar familial one. It’s easy to overlook just how potent and vital his role is in the film.

Equally impressive is Amy Adams shedding her sweet skin like an eager reptile and diving into the ferocious terrain of fierce protector girlfriend. Not an easy task considering the fact that the Wahlberg character has a Queen Bee mother (played with gusto by Melissa Leo) and seven nasty-ass sisters. And searing the screen is an emaciated Christian Bale in a raw, complex and fascinating performance, one of the best of the year and almost certain to bring him an Oscar.

The Fighter answers the “whatever happened to” question in the most honest and crushing of ways.


Anette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right

5. The Kids Are All Right

Universal without compromising it’s story and characters, real without being exclusionary, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is that rarity, a master blend of comedy and drama that makes you laugh hysterically right before you’re sucker punched into feeling angry and sad. The film, also, has something pretty important to say about what makes a real family at a time when certain rights are under siege.

Besides DiCaprio and Cotillard (Inception), Bening and Moore have the best chemistry of the year. Bening is at the top of her game playing a deeply flawed woman who flaunts her superior airs and uses vino to anesthetize her true feelings of inadequacy. Moore is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

The Kids Are All Right is about love and family and the day-to-day struggles parents and children face with each other. The film comes sans bullshit contrivances. It’s relatable. It’s timely. It’s revelatory.


Colin Firth in The King's Speech

4. The King’s Speech

If there was one thing I was certain of walking out of The King’s Speech, it was that Colin Firth would finally win an Oscar. A Rocky for Brits (and please take that in the best way possible), this thoroughly entertaining costume drama is set on the eve of one of the most harrowing times in British history. And while it may be traditional Oscar fare, it is delightful nonetheless with terrific acting by the entire ensemble and glorious production values. What sets it apart from typical ‘royal’ depictions is its humanization of the monarchical figure, played with the perfect blend of angst, strength and vulnerability by Firth.

Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce provide regal support.

The King’s Speech explores just how important perception is to being a success ergo preserving they way the King is viewed must be paramount for him to have the respect necessary to earn the right to the crown.


Marion Cotillard and Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception

3. Inception

Christopher Nolan’s brilliant, enigmatic follow-up to the challenging thinking-man’s comic book movie, The Dark Knight, borrows visceral snippets from some of the best films ever made (Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey…) and creates a true masterwork that forces the viewer to expand his/her mind. Nolan blends genres for the perfect film punch, yet at the heart of Inception is a devastating love story that gives the film its soul. The film is filled with magnificent performances, especially Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, the sublime Marion Cottilard and the films anchor Leonardo DiCaprio. Seriously, what does this actor need to do to finally win his long overdue Oscar?


Natalie Portman in The Black Swan

2. Black Swan

Black Swan depicts the struggle for artistic perfection in such a viscerally brutal way it is simultaneously exhilarating, enthralling and excruciating. A genius psychological thriller about the fears, paranoia and neuroses all artists struggle with on the journey to any important endeavor, the film perfectly captures all the pain (literal and metaphoric) and joys inherent in wanting to give the best possible performance.

The film intriguingly explores the merging of both meticulous, precise technical perfection with the wildly passionate ephemeral perfection as Nina (Natalie Portman) embodies the white swan with ease but has great difficulty becoming the black swan. Nina must discover her own dual nature by descending into the dark side of her own mind in order to meet her black swan and allow her to overtake and envelop her.

With Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky proved he was a master filmmaking force to be reckoned with. Black Swan confirms that his vision is intensely personal yet completely inviting to all audience members. At a recent second viewing at a sold out theatre in New Jersey where the audience represented all walks of life, I was amazed at the reverential silence for the entire running time. Not one cell phone rang and there was no texting going on. For New Jersey that is the greatest compliment.

I’ve never been a fan of Natalie Portman. At all. So I was pretty flabbergasted by her acting tour de force (an overused superlative but so bloody apropos here). Portman transcends normal filmic character embodiment and allows us to see her transformation as well as her descent into madness by letting us into her mind, body and spirit. Of course Aronofsky and his amazing team help us arrive there as well. And once we are there…well suffice to say Black Swan has the most astonishingly transcendent ending to any film of 2010.


Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

1. The Social Network

The marvel of what David Fincher and his creative team accomplish with The Social Network is taking subject matter that doesn’t particularly lend itself to the film medium and making a genuinely cinematic work of art. In addition, the film defines a cultural shift in the way we communicate with one another. The unique thing about that is it does so exactly at the time said change is occurring—very unusual for motion pictures which tend to be way behind when it comes to capturing the zeitgeist.

One of the great ironies of the film and Mark Zuckerberg (as he is presented) is that this great social network was created by one of the most anti-social people in existence. Here is someone who, had he not been at the helm of Facebook, would probably be someone with few, if any, Facebook friends! A social retard. A brilliant social retard and as played by Jesse Eisenberg, a cool, pompous and apathetic one. It’s a fascinating performance in which layers are revealed (especially after repeated viewings).

It’s easy to overpraise The Social Network since it has the most intelligent script, most kick-ass ensemble and is the best-directed film of the year (there, I used the word “best.”) But on repeated viewings I get the same feeling I did with There Will Be Blood and Breaking the Waves. These are masterworks that stay with you and effect you on every possible level. The greatest films are the ones that reach us on every level. And stand the test of time. Score one, so far, for The Social Network.


LEAD ACTRESS

Honorable Mentions to:
Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right
Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go
Noomi Rapace for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Emma Stone in Easy A
Hilary Swank in Conviction
Tilda Swinton in I Am Love

5. Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
4. Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole
3. Lesley Manville in Another Year
2. Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
1. Natalie Portman in Black Swan

LEAD ACTOR

Honorable Mentions to:
Jeff Bridges in True Grit
Stephen Dorff in Somewhere
Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole
Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter

5. Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island & Inception
4. Edgar Ramirez in Carlos
3. Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
2. James Franco in 127 Hours
1. Colin Firth in The King’s Speech

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Honorable Mentions (yes, way more than any other category!) to:
Patricia Clarkson in Shutter Island & Easy A
Dale Dickey in Winter’s Bone
Anne-Marie Duff in Nowhere Boy
Rebecca Hall in Please Give & The Town
Barbara Hershey in Black Swan
Keira Knightley in Never Let Me Go
Mila Kunis in Black Swan
Rooney Mara in The Social Network
Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass
Rosemund Pike in Barney’s Version & Made in Dagenham
Vanessa Redgrave in Letters to Juliet
Miranda Richardson in Made in Dagenham
Sissy Spacek in Get Low
Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
Kristin Scott Thomas in Nowhere Boy
Dianne Weist in Rabbit Hole

5. Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech
4. Marion Cotillard in Inception
3. Melissa Leo in The Fighter
2. Jackie Weaver in Animal Kingdom
1. Amy Adams in The Fighter

SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Honorable Mentions to:
Michael Douglas in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps
Tom Hardy in Inception
Armie Hammer in The Social Network
Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom
Sam Rockwell in Conviction

5. Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right & Shutter Island
4. Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech
3. Jeremy Renner in The Town
2. Andrew Garfield in The Social Network
1. Christian Bale in The Fighter

DIRECTOR:

Honorable Mentions to:
Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids are All Right
Clint Eastwood for Hereafter
Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone
Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
Martin Scorsese for Shutter Island

5. Danny Boyle for 127 Hours
4. Olivier Assayas for Carlos
3. Christopher Nolan for Inception
2. Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
1. David Fincher for The Social Network

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Honorable Mentions to:
Animal Kingdom
Carlos
Four Lions
Hereafter
Please Give

5. Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin for Black Swan
4. Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington for The Fighter
3. David Seidler for The King’s Speech
2. Christopher Nolan for Inception
1. Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Honorable Mentions to:
The Ghost Writer
Kick-Ass
Let Me In
The Town
True Grit

5. David Lindsay-Abaire for Rabbit Hole
4. Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini for Winter’s Bone
3. Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy for 127 Hours
2. Alex Garland for Never Let Me Go
1. Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

ENSEMBLE:

Honorable Mentions to:
The Town, Rabbit Hole, The Way Back, Animal Kingdom, Inception

5. Black Swan
4. The King’s Speech
3. The Kids are All Right
2. The Fighter
1. The Social Network

YOUNG ACTOR:
5. Josh Hutcherson in The Kids are All Right
4. Ezra Miller in City Island
3. Frankie McLaren in Hereafter
2. Kodi Smit-McPhee in Let Me In
1. Aaron Johnson in Nowhere Boy & Kick-Ass

YOUNG ACTRESS:
5. Elle Fanning in Somewhere
4. Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
3. Emma Stone in Easy A
2. Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
1. Chloe Grace Moretz in Let Me In & Kick-Ass

CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Inception
runners-up: The Social Network, Black Swan

ART DIRECTION:
Black Swan
runners-up: Inception, True Grit

COSTUMES:
The King’s Speech
runners-up: True Grit, Shutter Island

FILM EDITING:
Inception
runners-up: Black Swan, The Social Network

SOUND (and all it’s areas):
Inception
runners-up: True Grit, Black Swan

VISUAL EFFECTS:
Inception
runners-up: Shutter Island, Hereafter

MAKE-UP:
Black Swan
runners-up: Let Me in, Tempest

ORIGINAL SCORE:
The Social Network
runners-up: I Am Love, Inception

ADAPTED SCORE:
Black Swan
runners-up: True Grit, The Concert

SONG:
“Better Days” from Eat Pray Love
runners-up: “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from Burlesque
“Eclipse: All Yours” from The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

NOW on to my… OSCAR predictions:

Best Picture

The Social Network
The King’s Speech
Inception
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
Black Swan
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone
The Town

Possible Spoilers:
127 Hours
Blue Valentine
Shutter Island
Hereafter
Another Year

My shake-things-up candidate:
Carlos

Best Director
David Fincher for The Social Network
Christopher Nolan for Inception
Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
David O’Russell for The Fighter


Possible:
Danny Boyle for 127 Hours
Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids are All Right
Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone
Joel & Ethan Coen for True Grit
Ben Affleck for The Town

My shake-things-up candidate:
Mark Romanek for Never Let Me Go


Best Actress
Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman in Black Swan
Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
Hilary Swank in Conviction

Possible:
Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine
Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right
Lesley Manville in Another Year
Tilda Swinton in I Am Love
Naomi Watts in Fair Game

My shake-things-up candidate:
Noomi Rapace for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Best Actor
Colin Firth in The King’s Speech
James Franco in 127 Hours
Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine
Jeff Bridges in True Grit

Possible:
Robert Duvall in Get Low
Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter
Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole
Michael Douglas in Solitary Man
Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island or Inception

My shake-things-up candidate:
Edgar Ramirez in Carlos

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale in The Fighter
Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech
Jeremy Renner in The Town
Andrew Garfield in The Social Network
Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right

Possible:
John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone
Michael Douglas in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps
Sam Rockwell in Conviction
Justin Timberlake in The Social Network
Matt Damon in True Grit

My shake-things-up candidate:
Armie Hammer in The Social Network

Best Supporting Actress
Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo in The Fighter
Amy Adams in The Fighter
Jackie Weaver in Animal Kingdom
Mila Kunis in Black Swan

Possible:
Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
Marion Cotillard in Inception
Barbara Hershey in Black Swan
Sissy Spacek in Get Low
Dianne Weist in Rabbit Hole

My shake-things-up candidate:
Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass


 

 

 

 

 

 


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