Friday, February 25, 2011

The 2011 Oscar Nominees for Best Picture

Last year, my husband and I realized we had not seen a single one of the Oscar Best Picture nominees when they were announced, so we challenged ourselves to watch all 10 in the space of five weeks and publish our rankings and reviews on Facebook. We did it again this year, and I thought I'd share it here too, just for fun. James' rankings and reviews can be found here.

Once again, this season James and I took on the task of seeing all 10 Oscar Nominated Best Picture films. We had seen only two of them when the nominations were announced, and watched the rest on video or in the theater over the last five weeks. It’s a little bit time consuming and requires some planning, but we have really enjoyed it both years that we have done it. We almost never go to the theater anymore, so making the time to get out there is both a challenge and a pleasure, in equal measure. We had some mixed experiences, from a terrible blurry picture in the King’s Speech, to a shaking theater for 127 Hours (like sitting through a two hour long earthquake.) The biggest surprise was the perfect digital picture and sound at the Hazard Center theater, which was nearly deserted.

Like last year, I felt that the movies could roughly be divided in half - there were six I felt were worthy of the best picture nomination and four I felt were not. Overall, I thought last year’s crop was a little bit better than this year’s, but the two I liked the best from this year are my favorite of all 20 by far. Here are my rankings, from the bottom up.

10. Toy Story 3 - Generally, I am a big fan of Pixar. In high school, I was a geeky teenager whose idea of a big night out was going to the Festival of Animation at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, when everyone else was going to parties, or whatever it was normal kids did back then. I remember the original Tin Toy and Knickknack, and I’ve always had a soft spot for these guys based on their early shorts. I did not like this movie though. It’s full of clich├ęs, it’s a silly story, and just not compelling or interesting. It could be a contender for best animated movie, but it’s ludicrous to compare it head to head with movies like Black Swan and 127 Hours.

9. The Kids are All Right - I might actually be letting my personal prejudice get in the way with this one. I think the main reason I hated this movie so much was the fact that it let me down so severely. I had such high hopes for it. I love the actors in it, I liked the idea, I thought it looked great in the trailers. It’s not. It’s a silly, predictable family dramedy that squanders the phenomenal talent involved.

8. Inception – We watched this one twice, so I can confidently say I “get it” – that is to say, I understood the plot. What I don’t get is the appeal of this movie. It’s one of those movies that is so complicated and convoluted, you’re left feeling like it must have been really clever. It’s really not, it’s just confusing. It has some good special effects and the score is great (I do think it should win for that) but when you take it apart, it’s just not there.

7. Winter’s Bone – I can see why this one received such good reviews. It came out in the Spring, when there wasn’t much else going on in the theaters. It looks realistic, and Jennifer Lawrence is excellent. This is the first movie on this list that I would say I liked. I especially liked the fact that it features strong female characters.  Overall though, the story is a little thin and there isn’t much mystery to it, and it leans a little too heavily on hillbilly stereotypes for my taste.

6. The Social Network – A slick, pretty and very solid piece of machinery. It looks good thanks to David Fincher, it sounds good thanks to Trent Reznor, and it has great snappy dialogue thanks to the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. Somehow though, it just didn’t feel like an important enough story to me to warrant a full length feature film. It felt like a well done HBO movie. The characters – Zuckerberg in particular – aren’t terribly likeable and it’s sort of hard to care a whole lot about the outcome of the lawsuit. The legal proceedings are gleaned from transcripts, so we know a lot of the foundational facts are true, but it seems that a lot of the other details including personality traits, etc. of the characters are exaggerated or downright fictionalized, which I found a little annoying. I guess they made those changes to make it more entertaining, but it still wasn’t entertaining enough.

5. 127 Hours – Hoo boy. If you have a weak stomach, you won’t want to see this. Though I have to say, I was not expecting to see some of the things I saw, and they didn’t bother me that much. Considering that everyone who sees this movie knows the outcome, and that much of the movie is spent in a two foot wide space with one actor, this movie – of all of them – definitely makes the most of what it has to work with. Danny Boyle’s acid style is in full effect and James Franco’s performance is riveting. He is definitely a contender for Best Actor in this role.

3/4. King’s Speech/The Fighter - For me this is a tie, because while I really liked both of these movies, I just can’t quite say I loved either one. The King’s Speech is undoubtedly a front runner for best picture - it has all of the hallmarks of an Oscar winning movie. It has a feel good topic, it tells a historically relevant true story, and it features marvelous performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. This IS a story that warrants a full length feature film. It’s just a little too safe somehow, a little too pat.

The Fighter is another worthwhile story with good performances, most memorably by Christian Bale and Melissa Leo as Mark Wahlberg’s brother and mother. It would not surprise me one bit of either (or both) of them won acting awards for this, but the movie itself just isn’t quite there.

2. Black Swan – When was the last time a horror movie was nominated for best picture? It’s not going to win, it’s far too dark and weird for that, but I thought this movie was fantastic. It’s tightly shot, tense and disturbing, the performances are electric, the costuming is phenomenal, and it continuously messes with your head without ever really telling you what’s going on. It’s a classic, campy thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. I loved it.

1. True Grit – Until we saw this the other day, I was really at a loss for a number one. Though I have not seen the original, I did watch some clips on You Tube, and while it’s clear this is very much a remake, it takes the original somewhat two-dimensional source material and turns it into a rollicking, classic, epic western. Having been a 14 year old girl myself at one point I do have a soft spot for plucky heroines, and Hailee Steinfeld is one of the best I’ve come across. Jeff Bridges could win best actor two years in a row for his Rooster Cogburn, and Josh Brolin and Berry Pepper turn in especially good bit performances too. The Coen Brothers’ unique brand of archness is in effect, and the music and cinematography are top notch. I know this probably won’t win the prize, and plenty of people don’t like it as much as I did, but in my opinion, of all the movies, it best embodies the qualities a best picture should have.

In case you're interested, my rankings from 2010 are here, and James' are here.  (My apologies if Facebook permissions get in the way!)  

The International Black Swan movie posters are available here.

Cheers and Happy Weekend!


  1. I love your list!

    -Mr. Q. Foodie

  2. Thank you! Now I feel like I'm up to speed. Unfortunately, not all the films are available here; plus don't really like seeing them w/ subtitles even if it's in the original version.

  3. Finally, one other person who wasn't in love with The Kids are Alright (who wants to watch people argue for 2 hrs? - fortunately the hotness that is Mark Ruffalo kept it from being a total time suck!) I loved Black Swan (a little bit on the trashy side in a good way), thought True Grit was pretty solid and dug the Social Network...but wasn't completely blown away by anything this year (although I did really like The Town which wasn't up for anything)

  4. Thanks Mr. Q. :)

    Amy - Thanks! I can see how the subtitles would be distracting. I assume they're French & the movie is in English?

    Michelle - yes, Mark Ruffalo did manage to keep from looking like a fool in that movie and the restaurant was cool even if it was a little too obviously "movie-ish". :). I think Jeremy Renner is nominated for supporting actor in The Town. I do want to see it, it probably should have been nominated instead of Toy Story.

  5. I really enjoyed Social Network, Black Swan and The Fighter. We're seeing King's Speech tonight- I like to see them all before the awards each year, or at least as many as possible. I liked Toy Story, but as a kids' movie, not as Best Picture. The end did make me cry, though. True Grit is next on my list. I don't know, this year I've enjoyed so many but none stand out as "the best."

  6. I haven't seen all of these but I did see Winter's Bone when it came out. I thought it was haunting and sad, it kept me thinking about it for the rest of the day. I also wondered about the hillbilly stereotypes and so I hopped online and read the reviews by viewers about this movie. The thing that I came away with was there were enough reviews of people who grew up in the area and said that it was a true portrayal of life in the Ozarks. To me it made it all that more compelling.

  7. What a colorful and tasty way to get so many healthy ingredients in a mouthful. It looks delicious. I like the idea of adding sausage, too. I would love to feature your recipe on our blog and also use in our Serviced Apartments in Central London