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Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar Recap 2010 and In Defense of the Ten Best Picture Nominees

        The Oscars were on last night, did you hear? Hollywood's 83-year-old annual celebration of the best that cinema has to offer is still alive and strong, despite the ever-present group of people who would have you believe that the golden man has no taste at all. The ceremony survives because it actually does mean quite a bit to a lot of people. Without the Academy Awards, countless movies would get lost in the heap of time and excess, and even if you don't think that Oscar has the best nose for a good smaller movie, you have to be glad that he's at least trying. Most awards shows judge the quality of one's work on how marketable it is (Here's looking at you, Grammies), which makes it no surprise that people still tune into the Oscars even when they couldn't be made to care about any other golden statue out there. Even if you disagree with their choices, they're clearly a lot closer to being on the money than, say, The People's Choice Awards. You take the good with the bad on this one, and in today's post, I'm going to talk about just those two categories. Here it is: Hype Starts Here's list of the Good and the Bad of Oscar Night, 2011.
The Good:
Most of the Winners:
        There's not much use blaming Oscar for occasionally disagreeing with you, so long as you find his choices reasonable. In the acting category, for instance, Melissa Leo (Supporting Actress winner) might not be at the top of a lot of people's lists, but is anyone going to argue too hard against the performances of Christian Bale (The Fighter), Colin Firth (The King's Speech), or Natalie Portman (Black Swan) as being award-worthy? The night was full of similarly solid choices, and even if The King's Speech is nowhere near my top pick, it's a far cry from a Crash-type total mishap. Quality film-making won out last night, and you have to be grateful for that, even if you didn't check the same boxes on your ballot as the Academy.

Anne Hathaway:
        So, the youthful host experiment didn't go as well as hoped, but it wasn't for lack of effort on Hathaway's part. She and Franco had a pretty bum script to work with, but the youngest host in Oscar history wasn't about to let that tarnish her efforts. She didn't exactly set the place on fire, appearing both flustered and in awe just about every time that she took the stage, but her enthusiasm for the event more than made up for her jitters, her boisterous energy evident at every turn. Tack on some extra points for her killer singing voice.

Melissa Leo:
        Sure, I wouldn't have voted for her, but how could you not be won over by the genuine look of breathless amazement on Melissa Leo's face when she was announced as the winner? If that endearingly genuine reaction weren't enough for you, how about her dropping of the f-bomb in the middle of her acceptance speech? It was a foot-in-mouth moment that was immediately more lovable than offensive, and made me feel a little better about Hailee Steinfeld walking away empty handed.

The Love for Inception:
        Sure, Christopher Nolan's mega-grossing mind-bender never had much of a chance in the big categories, but it did walk away tied with The King's Speech for most Oscars on the night. Regardless of your feelings on the movie, Inception is a wonder of craft, and it was nice to see that Oscar wasn't oblivious to that fact. Similarly heartening were the many speeches given by the film's winners, all thanking Nolan for his unique vision, and for taking them along for the ride.

Nine Inch Nails Wins an Oscar:
        Hey, if Eminem has one, then why not Trent Reznor? The Nine Inch Nails frontman and partner Atticus Ross took home the prize for their Original Score for The Social Network, and though I don't have any statistics for you, one has to imagine that it's one of, if not the very first primarily electronic work to win the Oscar.

The Ceremony's Length:
        Being 83-years-old, one doesn't expect much from Oscar in the way of speed and agility, but he did his best last night. The King's Speech was announced the winner just over three hours after the show began, up to an hour shorter than these awards are sometimes capable of pressing on. Credit goes to the reduced use of montage, and the utilization of one presenter to hand out several awards at a time. For once, my butt wasn't numb by the time the Best Picture was handed out.
The Bad:
Being momentarily tricked into thinking The Social Network might just win:
         With only four awards left to hand out, The Social Network had a three (Score, Editing, and Adapted Screenplay) to one (Original Screenplay) lead on The King's Speech, two of the former's three wins coming in categories wherein the eventual Best Picture Winner was also nominated. Then Tom Hooper was announced Best Director, and it was all over. Sorry to belabor a point if you're not as attached to the Facebook movie as I am, but it was a pretty deflating moment, though it should be noted that Hooper's speech was among the best of the night.

James Franco:
        Unlike Hathaway, Franco did not seem the least bit shaken by the gravity of what he was doing, but it's hard not to wish that he was. James was in full on Pineapple Express mode, smirking instead of speaking, and allowing Hathaway to do just about all the leg work. It wasn't that Franco failed, but rather that it seemed like he never started trying. Blame those Yale course-loads all you want; If you're going to host the Oscars, you should at least appear invested.

My Predictions:
        To be quite honest, I thought that my predictions were the bees knees. I spent an embarrassing amount of time researching just about every variable that I could come up with, and where did all that hard work get me? To 15/24, that's where! Even if I give myself a pass for missing two out of those three pesky shorts categories, my total adds up to 14/21, for a whopping 66.6% accuracy. Receiving a D on the one test I thought I could ace? Not so good.

True Grit Going Home Empty-Handed:
        Since when does a movie with ten nominations not win a single one (Don't answer that, Martin Scorsese)? After receiving only the minimum amount of love for the whole season leading up to Oscar nomination morning, the double-digit notices dolled out to the Western had to make you think its awards prospects were looking up. Nearly half of my missed guesses in the feature film category come at the hands of over-estimating the Academy's love for this one.

Colleen Atwood's Acceptance Speech:
        Admittedly, picking on the speech of a Costume Designer is kind of rough, but that's only before you know all the facts. After hearing her name called, Atwood strode up to the stage, pulled out a piece of paper, and recited every last word scribbled on it in the most monotone of fashions. So what, right? Well, what if I told you that this was not only Atwood's Third Oscar victory, but also her NINTH (?!?!) nomination. You think that she would have learned to memorize a speech by now.

Having to Hear All of the Original Songs:
        It's almost always the low point of the night, but last night's Original Song nominees really brought the category to a new low. The winner of this one is usually a pretty good tune (The Weary Kind, Jai Ho, and Falling Slowly serving as the last three champs) surrounded by a slew of grating co-nominees. The only difference this year was that even the winner is something you would never choose to listen to in a million years.
In Defense of the Ten Best Picture Nominees:
        Two years into the Academy's experiment with nominating ten movies for Best Picture instead of five, the vast majority of the film-going community is still steadfast in their resistance to the change. Many who already saw the Oscars as a questionable judge of what makes a, 'good movie,' view the move as the nail in the coffin. And while one can't really deny that the decision is one largely born out of a desire to gain more viewers, and pump out more box office dollars, there's a great deal to be said in favor of the change, as well. 

        The first item that needs to be addressed is the common misconception that this change is unprecedented. From the year 1932 through 1944, the Academy would nominate between eight and twelve movies for the night's top prize, each year having a different number of entrants based on how many quality flicks there were. Watching Oscar cover all of his genre bases is nothing new to the ceremony, and really shouldn't be viewed as such.

        Many say that the expansion of the list to ten tarnishes the honor of receiving a nomination, as just about any movie can land one of ten slots. To that, I offer you this: If we are to assume that there are 250 movies released in a given year (and to be sure, there are way more), the chances of a movie being nominated for Best Picture among five nominees are 2%. In case math isn't really your thing, doubling that would mean that the ten nominees allow for 4% of the films from a specific year to be recognized among the best. By my estimation, that's not a whole lot, and yet again, I'm betting decidedly higher than 250.

        Another common complaint is that having this many movies just makes for more flicks that stand no chance of winning. Obviously, this is a simple truth, but if one really wanted only nominees who had a chance at being crowned the winner, then a better number of would be three at the most, if not two. Did you really think anything other than The King's Speech or The Social Network had a chance last night? How about any movies not named The Hurt Locker or Avatar the year before? There are even some years, such as 2008, where one movie (in this case, Slumdog Millionaire) doesn't really have any challengers. If we're looking to only recognize movies that have an actual chance to emerge victoriously, I can't help but think the show might turn out a bit boring. Do you really want only two or three nominees?

        One of the real problems with the change is that it has thus far been pretty clear which movies would make up the top five were the list to be shortened. It does make for a slightly un-even roster, but consider this. Assuming the five movies that would have made the shorter list are the ones who received a nomination for Best Director, here is a comparison between what would have made it anyways, and which ones have the expansion to thank (listed in parenthesis):

2010: Black Swan, The Fighter, The King's Speech, The Social Network, True Grit
(127 HoursInception, The Kids Are Alright, Toy Story 3, Winter's Bone)

2009: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air
(A Serious Man, An Education, The Blind Side, District 9, Up)

        By my count, the difference in quality between the 'real' nominees and the 'fake' ones is minimal at most, especially in the case of the 2009 Oscars. What's more? Compare either of those lists of supposed B-Teamers to the five nominees that Oscar picked in the previous three years:

2008: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

2007: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood

2006: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

        Does anyone of those lists strike you as being all that much better than either 2009 or 2010's 'extra' nominees? How about if we compare those lists to the five movies that *probably* would have made the cut had the rule of ten already in place.

2008: The Dark Knight, Doubt, Revolutionary Road (not as sure about this one as I am the other Four), Wall-e, The Wrestler

2007: Away From Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Into the Wild, Ratatouille, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

2006: Children of Men, Dreamgirls, Notes on a Scandal, Pan's Labyrinth, United 93

        None of these lists strike me as being particularly inferior to the five that actually made the cut, and in some cases (2008, especially), I actually prefer the left-overs to the main course. Feel free to disagree, but I can't see much of a quality gap between numbers 1-5 and 6-10.

        How many 'Top Ten Movies of 2010' lists have you really read that didn't feature a Best Picture nominee as their top movie of the year? There are a few hold-outs, as there always will be, who would cast their vote for something like Enter the Void, Four Lions, or I Am Love, but by my count, a pretty sturdy majority of list-makers saw their top pick mentioned in the ten. It's an important thing to notice because it shows Oscar's preference towards movies that have real support behind them. Sure, The Town was a movie that a lot of people enjoyed, but no one in their right mind would call it the best of the year, and so it didn't make the list.
        The Fighter and True Grit serve as something of an exception to this rule, as neither has really seen the number one resting beside its name too often, but both movies boast of a quality that has seen them to countless mentions in numbers two through ten. I personally didn't think that either The Kids Are All Right or Toy Story 3 deserved a shot to play with the big boys, but my opinion didn't stop folks from all over the nation from listing them as their absolute favorite movies of the year (TS3, especially). If you haven't seen a list that called Black Swan, Winter's Bone, or Inception the year's top cinematic accomplishment, you probably haven't looked too hard.

        So there you have it; five reasons why having Ten Best Picture nominees is a good thing. Please feel free to comment below if you have anything to say on the matter.

List of Wins by Category and by Movie:
Complete List of Winners:

Best Picture: The King's Speech
Best Director: Tom Hooper---The King's Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman---Black Swan
Best Actor: Colin Firth---The King's Speech
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo---The Fighter
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale---The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin---The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler---The King's Speech
Best Documentary: Inside Job
Best Foreign Language Feature: In a Better World
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister---Inception
Best Editing: Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall---The Social Network
Best Art Direction: Robert Stromberg and Karen O'Hara---Alice in Wonderland
Best Original Score: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross---The Social Network
Best Original Song: "We Belong Together"---Toy Story 3
Best Visual Effects: Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, Pete Bebb, Paul J. Franklin---Inception
Best Costume Design: Colleen Atwood---Alice in Wonderland
Best Make-Up: Rick Baker and Dave Elsey---The Wolfman
Best Sound Editing: Richard King---Inception
Best Sound Mixing: Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, and Ed Novick---Inception
Best Animated Short: The Lost Thing
Best Live Action Short: God of Love
Best Short Documentary: Strangers No More

Wins by Movie:
Inception: 4
The King's Speech: 4
The Social Network: 3
Alice in Wonderland: 2
The Fighter: 2
Toy Story 3: 2
Black Swan: 1
The Wolfman: 1

God of Love: 1
In a Better World: 1
Inside Job: 1
The Lost Thing: 1
Strangers No More: 1

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2010:

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on the 10 nominees. I can kind of get on board with the idea that the top 2 or 3 are generally obvious, but I feel that the 10 nominees makes sure to notice films in genres that generally don't receive any/much attention from Mr. Oscar. For example, this year we had Inception and Toy Story 3. Great movies, no doubt, but we know Oscar, and he's generally not too keen on genre flicks such as these. Looking back at films of yesteryear, I have to point out The Shining. As a horror fan, I hold this film in extremely high regard (as do many non-horror fans), yet this had no attention come Oscar season (actually it was nominated for 2 Razzies...). With the extra ten, I like to think that it would've been recognized for its achievements. A better argument could probably be made for 2001: A Space Odyssey seeing as how it was nominated for Best Director and Writing...

    Anyways, stick with the ten. It encourages Hollywood to make films like Inception; films that are of high quality but also are genre films.