"Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech,"
"127 Hours," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit," "Winter's Bone."
MARK'S PICK: THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Even though The King's Speech and True Grit have made last minute surges, The Social Network should prevail. With the best
writing, best direction, best score, and best ensemble acting, this tale of technological turmoil was by far, the best film
of the year - suspenseful, creative, and the most meaningful.
Arguably, The King's Speech has the most nominations and the most chances to win big. It represents the safest choice - a
traditional style of filmmaking with intuitive direction, a fine performance from Colin Firth, and fantastic support from
Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. Not to mention, one of the Academy's biggest fetishes - a character overcoming personal
and public challenges.
But like many others in the same vain, i.e. The Last King of Scotland, Capote, Ray, etc., a Best Picture recipient needs
to be more than an exceptional account of a historic figure. It needs to tell us something about ourselves and where we're
going as a society. And thematically, it should be universal.
True Grit certainly doesn't meet the criteria. In fact, it doesn't even deviate from the original. While it features terrific
cinematography from Roger Deakins, the characters are flat and emotionless, the story is unconvincing, and the Coen Brothers
do very little to make it their own...which begs the question, why even go to all the trouble for a remake?
In a year ravaged with such rehash, The Social Network stands out from the crowd. It takes an unsophisticated story like the founding
of Facebook and transforms it into one of the most highly engaging, multi-layered movies of our time, where the lines between friendship,
ego, and greed are crossed in the pursuit of social relevance. Suffice to say, if the Academy is too much of a fuddy duddy to recognize
this kind of achievement, they should be defriended immediately.
Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"; Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"; Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"; Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"; James Franco, "127 Hours."
MARK'S PICK: COLIN FIRTH
Hands down, Colin Firth. As the stammering King George VI in The King's Speech, Firth delivers a stand out performance, giving grace and eloquence
to a character with such a noticeable and vocal flaw. Unlike any other acting mannerism, whether a dialect, a recurring tic, or appearance, a stammer
has to be the most difficult. And to make it sound authentic? Firth is sheer perfection. He lost to Bridges last year in the same category - Crazy Heart over A Single
Man. And rightfully so. But the Academy loves to reward veterans who deliver great back to back performances and this year, Firth will triumph.
That means that young talents like Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco will have to wait their turn. Through his fast talking wit and intellect, Eisenberg
breathed humanity into the Facebook founder, not publicly known for being outspoken or personable. And Franco boldly captured an adventurer's spirit and
survival instincts in the gritty, yet uplifting tale of Aron Ralston's 127 Hours. These performances easily earned a place next to Firth. And further
demonstrate the caliber of talent Oscar holds for the future.
Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"; Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"; Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"; Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"; Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine."
MARK'S PICK: NATALIE PORTMAN
Can anyone beat Natalie Portman? It sure doesn't appear so. In Darren Aronofsky's sizzling drama, Black Swan, Portman plays a damaged ballerina,
hellbent on landing the starring role in Tchaikovsky's masterpiece. Her efforts pay off. Or so we think? Exercising dramatic poise, Portman
takes her character from naive and introverted perfectionist to hallucinogenic and reckless lunatic - a sweeping change that demonstrates far
more range than any other role in this category.
Portman's main competition comes from Annette Bening, who has been here twice before, but lost each time to Hilary Swank. Bening breaks new ground in
The Kids Are All Right, a heartwarming film about the challenges of modern families. In particular, a lesbian couple raising two kids in search of their
sperm donor father. Bening and her counterpart, Julianne Moore (regrettably not nominated), give their characters heart, humor, and ambition. All in all, a
refreshing breath of honesty to same sex relationships outside of the common stereotypes. However, the notion of two strong leading roles may be
Lost in the fray are Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), whose films didn't receive a fraction
of the publicity of the leading two - a sad state of affairs, considering their performances were best in class.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale, "The Fighter"; John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"; Jeremy Renner, "The Town"; Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"; Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech."
MARK'S PICK: CHRISTIAN BALE
Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and John Hawkes will take their nominations as a reward. In particular, it was pleasing to see Ruffalo get the nod
for a comedy - an indie veteran whose carefree demeanor created a wonderful rift in The Kids Are All Right.
However, this race comes down to two expert character actors: Christian Bale and Geoffrey Rush. In The Fighter, Bale plays Dicky Ecklund, whose
claim to fame was that he allegedly knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard once upon a time; however, since that time, has succumbed to drug addiction. And
in The King's Speech, Rush plays real life Lionel Logue, a quirky Australian speech therapist whose unorthodox methods help a stammering king regain
his dignity and deliver an important declaration of war against Germany.
Both roles are outstanding and remarkably different. Logue is the traditional supporting character, allowing Colin Firth's King George VI to shine whereas
Christian Bale's Dicky Ecklund is the main event, hamming it up and stealing the show away from his younger brother, Micky. A supporting role that feels
like a lead? That's Christian Bale - a knock out performance from this British actor slash chameleon.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, "The Fighter"; Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"; Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"; Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"; Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom."
MARK'S PICK: MELISSA LEO
Perhaps the most intriguing race of the season has Golden Globes' favorite Melissa Leo going against her co-star from The Fighter, Amy Adams, and a trio of
equally award worthy nominees. Leo received a lot of flack over the past few weeks for a PR campaign ("For your consideration") that seemed to highlight her
breast attributes. All the while, the Coen Brothers' True Grit, has gained momentum, causing many to believe the 14 year old star, Hailee Steinfeld, could
sneak this one away.
But politics and promotions aside, Melissa Leo truly deserves the win here. Leo is an industry veteran, quietly churning out memorable turns since 1985, well
before Hailee Steinfeld was born. In particular, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and Frozen River. Her portrayal of Alice Ward in David O.
Russell's The Fighter is more than just a blond haired bee hive. Her character is an intimidating specimen - direct, manipulative, and forceful in her
ways. Compared to the other roles in this category, Alice is the most flamboyant, most visible, and most memorable.
2011 Academy Awards Preview (CONTINUED)
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