Thursday, February 24, 2011

Final 2010 Oscar Predictions, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The King's Speech

So, here's the deal: I absolutely should be writing a paper right now, but I've decided that I'm going to be a little naughty. Instead, you get all of my final Oscar predictions in one fell swoop. Lengthy? Yes. Awesome? Absolutely not. Necessary? Debatable. As good an excuse as any to not write about Confucianism? Definitely. So, here we go. I'll break down every category, and tell you who will win, who might win, and who should.

Best Picture
The nominees:
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

So, the conventional wisdom pretty much has this one narrowed down: The King's Speech will probably win. It's won the BAFTAs, the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild...Pretty much if there's a guild, The King's Speech has taken some piece of shiny hardware from it. But, just for funsies, let's look at the upset possibilities. Most obvious is The Social Network. It started the season as the frontrunner, and it still has some pretty considerable juice left to it. If anything else will win, it will be this one. Another (slim) possibility is The Fighter; I don't see it happening, but you never know. It's pretty well-liked. And finally, I seem to be the only one who thinks this way, but I honestly think Toy Story 3 has a tiny chance to upset. It makes the most sense, narrative-wise: Pixar has been cranking out great movies for years now, and this is a return to the franchise that started it all. Plus, pretty much no one hates this movie. It's going to be near the top of a lot of ballots, which is important when the winner is chosen based on overall rankings, not just the number of #1 votes.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Could Win: The Social Network
Dark Horse: Toy Story 3
Should Win: Black Swan

Best Director
The nominees:
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

Let's get the obvious out of the way: the Coens won three years ago, so they won't win again. Darren Aronofsky is still too weird to get an Oscar. That leaves three options. Chances are David O. Russell won't have enough steam to muscle past the heavyweights in this category. Conventional wisdom suggests that the best picture picks up best director as well, but I'm going to go out on a limb here for The Social Network: I'm calling a split. This is probably a fool-hardy choice, but no Oscar night is complete without some kind of surprise, and here's where I think it's going to be.
Will Win: David Fincher, The Social Network
Could Win: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Dark Horse: David O. Russell, The Fighter
Should Win: Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

Best Actor
The nominees:
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Don't really need commentary here. Colin Firth has all the momentum; it would be almost unthinkable for him to lose. Franco, Bardem, and Eisenberg all have pockets of support, but it's just not going to happen. This is one of the easiest predictions of the night.
Will Win: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Could Win: Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Dark Horse: James Franco, 127 Hours
Should Win: James Franco, 127 Hours

Best Actress
The nominees:
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

This race has me a little nervous. See, Natalie Portman absolutely deserves to win, and she's the perceived frontrunner, but I still can't help but feel like this movie is a little too cool for the Academy. Plus, the Bening camp has been making a stink lately, and many bloggers claim that the category is primed for an upset. Is it possible that Portman and Bening may divide the votes too much, and allow a third party to run away with the win? I don't think so, really. None of the other women have a passionate enough fanbase. If someone were to do it, though, it would be Nicole Kidman. Not likely, though.
Will Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Could Win: Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Dark Horse: Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Should Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor
The nominees:
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

First things first: Renner, Hawkes, and Ruffalo have no chance of winning whatsoever. Secondly: Christian Bale is almost guaranteed the win here. The only thing against him? There's talk of The King's Speech sweeping the Oscars; if it's as popular as people think, and it does sweep, who knows how many awards it could take? If The King's Speech sweeps, Geoffrey Rush could very plausibly steal the statue here.
Will Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Could Win: Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Dark Horse: Jeremy Renner, The Town
Should Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress
The nominees:
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

This category is fascinating, in that every single nominee could very easily win it. Let's break it down:
Melissa Leo has won the majority of the precursors, but she's splitting votes with costar Adams, who many people prefer. Plus, Leo had a bit of a campaigning mistake (she took out her own FYC ads), and the Academy doesn't look kindly on that. Still, both performances are loved, and either actress could win. Bonham-Carter could easily capitalize on a King's Speech sweep. Even if the film doesn't sweep though, she could still ride Colin Firth's coat-tails, and a fantastic and under-appreciated career, to the win. A lot of people love Steinfeld, and this category loves to give the Oscar to "supporting" actresses who are really the leads, but she is only 14, and many voters might choose to reward her later in her career. That leaves Weaver: she's fantastic, but her film is very small. She could win if enough voters see her film, but there's no guarantee that will happen. So what do I think? I don't know. I'll honestly be a bit surprised, no matter who takes the statue. I'm going to go with Bonham-Carter here, but Leo could still very easily pull off the win.
Will Win: Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
Could Win: (apart from everyone) Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Dark Horse: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Should Win: Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Original Screenplay
The nominees:
Another Year
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech

The King's Speech is a universally loved frontrunner for Best Picture. I don't see it losing here. The Kids Are All Right could surprise, and Inception did win the Writers Guild, but at the end of the day, only one movie's going to win here.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Could Win: The Kids Are All Right
Dark Horse: Inception
Should Win: The Kids Are All Right

Best Adapted Screenplay
The nominees:
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Same story as above. The Social Network is a beloved best picture front-runner, and has been cited time and again for it's screenplay. This is the one place where this film is almost guaranteed a win. Though, much as I love The Social Network, it would be pretty cool to see Pixar take this away.
Will Win: The Social Network
Could Win: Toy Story 3
Dark Horse: True Grit
Should Win: The Social Network

Art Direction
The nominees:
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
The King's Speech
True Grit

Two ideas at war here: 1) The King's Speech is the BP frontrunner, it could sweep, and people love its production design. 2) No Tim Burton film nominated for Art Direction has ever lost. Could Speech and Alice split the vote and make room for Inception? Definitely possible.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Could Win: Alice in Wonderland
Dark Horse: Inception
Should Win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Costume Design
The nominees:
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
The King's Speech
The Tempest
True Grit

Reprise the Art Direction discussion: Alice vs. The King's Speech. I'm a little more confident on this one, though, as only two fantasy films have won this award (Star Wars and LOTR: The Return of the King), and this award has gone to a period royalty drama for five years in a row.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Could Win: Alice in Wonderland
Dark Horse: True Grit
Should Win: I Am Love

Visual Effects
The nominees:
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Iron Man 2

Inception wins this in a walk. Easiest call of the night.
Will Win: Inception
Could Win: Alice in Wonderland
Dark Horse: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Should Win: Inception

The nominees:
Barney's Version
The Way Back
The Wolfman

This category is awfully interesting, because none of the films are nominated in any other category, and none of the nominees have been honored for makeup at any time during the precursor circuit. Essentially, any of them could win. The Wolfman has tons of obvious effects, Barney's Version has lots of aging, which the Academy loves, and in The Way Back, apparently people get sunburn. Really, throw a dart and you'll make as accurate prediction as I will. Hell, I've only seen one of these movies, so I'm definitely guessing blind here. That being said, Wolfman's Rick Baker has won six times before, so the Academy must like him.
Will Win: The Wolfman
Could Win: Barney's Version
Dark Horse: The Way Back
Should Win (abstain)

Film Editing
The nominees:
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
The Social Network

This contest is between the two best picture frontrunners. If The King's Speech takes this, then I'd expect it to take most everything that it's nominated for. I figure The Social Network's complex rhythms will emerge victorious here, even if the win won't mean much for its overall chances in other races.
Will Win: The Social Network
Could Win: The King's Speech
Dark Horse: The Fighter
Should Win: The Social Network

The nominees:
Black Swan
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Yet another race that could fall victim to The King's Speech sweeping the awards. A more likely scenario, though, is the Academy finally recognizing demigod Richard Deakins for his work on True Grit: it's pretty, it has landscapes, it's in a Western, he's overdue. All the right ingredients are there. Watch out for Wally Pfister and Inception, though. It did win the American Cinematographers Association award.
Will Win: True Grit
Could Win: The King's Speech
Dark Horse: Inception
Should Win: Black Swan

Original Score
The nominees:
127 Hours
How to Train Your Dragon
The King's Speech
The Social Network

Here's a place where the Academy can honor The King's Speech, you know, in case they get sick of honoring it in 11 other categories. The Social Network is a definite possibility, as is Inception. Still, I think boring and traditional is going to save the day here.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Could Win: The Social Network
Dark Horse: Inception
Should Win: How to Train Your Dragon

Sound Mixing
The nominees:
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Inception seems the likely choice here, but True Grit did win the Cinema Audio Society, and I've heard complaints about Inception's mix. Still, it's the biggest and the loudest. Plus, Salt isn't well-liked enough, The Social Network is too subtle, and I desperately hope they don't love The King's Speech *that* much.
Will Win: Inception
Could Win: True Grit
Dark Horse: The King's Speech (I'm getting so sick of including this in every category as a win possibility)
Should Win: Inception

Sound Effects Editing
The nominees:
Toy Story 3
TRON Legacy
True Grit

Same story as before, only Inception has even less competition.
Will Win: Inception
Could Win: True Grit
Dark Horse: Toy Story 3
Should Win: TRON Legacy

Original Song
The nominees:
"If I Rise"-127 Hours
"Coming Home"-Country Strong
"I See the Light"-Tangled
"We Belong Together"-Toy Story 3

So Country Strong's not going to win. Past that, though, is anybody's guess. "If I Rise" won the Golden Globe in this category, but a lot of people don't like the song, or the movie. "I See the Light" is the only place to recognize Tangled, but obviously this movie doesn't have a huge amount of Academy love, since it wasn't nominated in animated feature. Alan Menken has won four times before, though. Is that a plus or a minus? I think the likeliest outcome is Toy Story 3: this category is a good place for voters to honor the film outside of animated feature. Plus, the song is bouncy, fun, and Randy Newman, of whom they're quite fond. Still, this category could go any of three ways, and it'll be interesting to see where the Oscar ends up.
Will Win: "We Belong Together"-Toy Story 3
Could Win: "I See the Light"-Tangled
Dark Horse: "If I Rise"-127 Hours
Should Win: "We Belong Together"-Toy Story 3

Animated Film
The nominees:
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

I don't think commentary is necessary here.
Will Win: Toy Story 3
Could Win: How to Train Your Dragon
Dark Horse: The Illusionist
Should Win: Toy Story 3

Foreign Language Film
The nominees:
Above the Law-Algeria
In a Better World-Denmark

Dogtooth won't win. Above the Law probably won't either. Some say Biutiful has the advantage, as it's the only film here to show up in any other category. It also has plenty of detractors, though. Incendies is either loved or hated. I'm thinking In A Better World for the win: it's supposed to be very good, and Susanne Bier, the director, has won here before.
Will Win: In a Better World-Denmark
Could Win: Incendies-Canada
Dark Horse: Biutiful-Mexico
Should Win: Dogtooth-Greece

Documentary Feature
The nominees:
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land

I feel like this should be pretty sewn up. Inside Job is allegedly very good, topical, and emotional. Then again, so are all the others. Waste Land is the crowd-pleaser, but it's subject is pretty lightweight. Gasland probably won't win. I'd love to see Restrepo take the prize, but my gut tells me it won't. Smart money is on Inside Job, but I'm gonna be silly and go with Exit Through the Gift Shop, because I bet the Academy wants to see what happens if Banksy wins an Oscar just as much as I do.
Will Win: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Could Win: Inside Job
Dark Horse: Waste Land
Should Win: Restrepo

There we have it. For those keeping score at home, films with multiple wins break down like this:
The King's Speech-7
The Social Network-3
Toy Story 3-2

I guess we'll see how things turn out, huh? What about y'all any predictions?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Best of 2010, part last: My Dream Oscar Ballot

Welcome back again. We're here to wrap the best of 2010 in a nice little bow and send it to someone who will love it. Today, I'm going to offer you guys a cheat-sheet for what I think is the best this year (in case 40 pages of lists feels too daunting to read); I'm giving you my Oscar Ballot. No commentary, no rankings, just five nominees, with the winner in bold. Just for funsies, I'll also denote actual Oscar nominees with asterisks, so y'all can see the surprising amount of overlap this year between my taste and the Academy's. So:

Best Picture
127 Hours*
Animal Kingdom
Black Swan*
Blue Valentine
How to Train Your Dragon
The Kids Are All Right*
The Social Network*
Toy Story 3*

Darren Aronofsky-Black Swan*
Danny Boyle-127 Hours
David Fincher-The Social Network*
Yorgos Lanthimos-Dogtooth
Roman Polanski-The Ghost Writer

Jeff Bridges-True Grit*
Jesse Eisenberg-The Social Network*
Colin Firth-The King's Speech*
James Franco-127 Hours*
Ryan Gosling-Blue Valentine

Annette Bening-The Kids Are All Right*
Julianne Moore-The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman-Black Swan*
Emma Stone-Easy A
Michelle Williams-Blue Valentine*

Supporting Actor
Christian Bale-The Fighter*
Andrew Garfield-The Social Network
Josh Hutcherson-The Kids Are All Right
Ben Mendelsohn-Animal Kingdom
Jeremy Renner-The Town*

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams-The Fighter*
Mila Kunis-Black Swan
Melissa Leo-The Fighter*
Lesley Manville-Another Year
Jacki Weaver-Animal Kingdom

Original Screenplay
Animal Kingdom
Black Swan
Easy A
The Kids Are All Right*
The King's Speech*

Adapted Screenplay
127 Hours*
The Ghost Writer
How to Train Your Dragon
The Social Network*
Toy Story 3*

Art Direction
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1*
The King's Speech*
Shutter Island
TRON Legacy

Costume Design
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
I Am Love*
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
TRON Legacy

Visual Effects
Clash of the Titans
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1*
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
TRON Legacy

Black Swan
Clash of the Titans

Film Editing
127 Hours*
Black Swan*
The Social Network*

Black Swan*
Shutter Island
True Grit*

Original Score
How to Train Your Dragon*
Red Hill
The Social Network*
Toy Story 3
TRON Legacy

Sound Mixing
127 Hours
Black Swan
How to Train Your Dragon
TRON Legacy

Sound Effects Editing
127 Hours
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
How to Train Your Dragon
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
TRON Legacy*

Original Song
"Sticks and Stones"-How to Train Your Dragon
"Black Sheep"-Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
"Mother Knows Best"-Tangled
"We Belong Together"-Toy Story 3*

Well, there we have it. Another year of movies done with. I'll probably return next week for a bit, just to discuss Oscar predictions/wins, but, until then, thanks much for reading!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Best of 2010, part 4: Tech Categories

Last list post for 2010, and it's a doozy, so I ought to get started. First things first though: I feel like I should define the categories I'm about to talk about, so here you go:
Art Direction: Production design: creating, designing, and building the world in which the movie takes place. Generally associated with set-building, but also stretches to conceptual aspects
Costume Design: ...The design of the costumes.
Visual Effects: Special Effects. CGI, models, etc.
Film Editing: Editing the movie: cutting in some places, lengthening in others. Generally responsible for the rhythm of a film, as well as keeping continuity and making sense of the plot.
Cinematography: In layman's terms, how pretty the movie is. Screen composition, lighting, camera techniques, etc.
Original Score: Music composed for the film itself.
Sound Mixing: Blending the four film sound elements (dialogue, sound effects, ambient noise, music) to create a coherent overall mix.
Sound Effects Editing: creating the sound elements and sound effects heard in the film.
Original Song: Songs written specifically for the film.

Art Direction
5. Shutter Island-Grand Guignol-inspired, instantly memorable locations. That grungy cell-block, the bright white patient ward, the creepy mausoleum in the woods.
4. The King's Speech-wonderfully specific set design, with locations built to look interesting for long periods of time. Lionel's study is delightfully off-kilter.
3. Inception-Paris dreamscapes, rotating hotels, and snowbound strongholds. This movie looks as classy as it feels.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-Our protagonists leave Hogwarts for the first time, and the world they discover is dark, surreal, and beautiful. Malfoy Manor and Godric's Hollow stick out in my mind.
1. TRON Legacy-Nothing could beat the creation of a new world. TRON's visualization of the secret world of computers is gorgeous and unique. I love Jeff Bridge's hidden townhouse, and the futuristic dance club.

Honorable Mention: Black Swan's terrifying apartments and foreboding performance spaces.

Costume Design
5. TRON Legacy-Sci-fi minimalism. The designs are simple, but evocative and memorable.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World-Clothing for the Canadian hipsters out there, and their slightly psychotic exes. All the threads are great and character-specific.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-Wizard-chic and scared teen formal-wear. The beginning wedding scene is a particular standout.
2. Burlesque-Delightfully wacky performance clothes. That dress made entirely out of fake pearls, or the one with the big silly handprints on it. Or what about that beautiful green dress Christina Aguilera wears with the huge train? Great stuff.
1. I Am Love-I love the incredibly rich colors used to garb this group of filthy rich Italians. These people dress like they're expensive food. Tilda Swinton's wardrobe is consistently gorgeous.

Honorable Mention: A melodramatic interpretation of ancient Greek fashion for Clash of the Titans.

Visual Effects
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World-Constantly appearing video game effects, coupled with flashy fight scenes.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-Dementors, giant snakes, silvery Patronuses. Plus, the duels look better than they ever have.
3. Clash of the Titans-So many monsters! Giant scorpions, winged horses, plus that ridiculous turtle-Kraken. Delightfully goofy work here.
2. Inception-Nolan and team tweak the laws of reality to jaw-dropping effect. Folding cities, exploding cafes, rotating hotels, and a disintigrating Limbo.
1. TRON Legacy-Beautifully evocative digital spaces, spectacular light cycle races, and the coolest fight scenes all year. Oh, and they de-aged Jeff Bridges too. How did the Academy not nominate this?! *despair*

Honorable Mention: Helping Nina transform, physically and mentally, in Black Swan.

3. Black Swan-lots of memorable gore effects; broken toe-nails, peeling skin, people getting stabbed. Plus that already icon Black Swan ballet makeup.
2. Splice-creating one of the strangest, most realistic almost-human creatures I've seen in a while. Dren looks too lifelike to exist.
1. Clash of the Titans-Lots of silly hair, A half-man-half-scorpion, those amazing, troll-like Fates, and that beautiful rendition of Charon, who looks like he's been carved out of driftwood.

Honorable Mention: The movie sucked, but everyone looked appropriately unhealthy in Frozen.

Film Editing
5. Michael Levine-Restrepo-sifting through a year's worth of footage to create a compelling, tightly structured film.
4. Lee Smith-Inception-sorting through a number of different plotlines in three different levels of reality and still coming out completely understandable in the end.
3. Jon Harris-127 Hours-splitscreens and quick cuts create a desperate rythm to counterpoint Aaron Ralston's own desperation.
2. Andrew Weisblum-Black Swan-Beautifully realized dance sequences, frenetic scenes of psychological distortion, and a plodding inevitability. Black Swan is edited like a train-wreck.
1. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall-The Social Network-Things like typing and coding shouldn't be interesting to watch, but the pulsing, churning rythm of the film makes it that way. This movie plunges in from the very first scene and doesn't come up for breath until the end.

Honorable Mention: The clean-cut, effortlessly suspenseful Animal Kingdom

5. Thimios Bakatakis-Dogtooth-Sumptuously lit with slightly off-kilter framing. I love the shot of the son playing with his airplane, where we can only see his hands and his toy.
4. Robert Richardson-Shutter Island-Contrasting between the low-key present day scenes, and the high-key flashbacks. The use of light in this film is nothing less than painterly. Points for that horrific concentration camp tracking shot.
3. Wall Pfister-Inception-Clean, competent, with evocative use of slow motion. The framing/camera choices are exquisite.
2. Roger Deakins-True Grit-It's not his best work, but even mediocre lensing from modern day demigod Roger Deakins is head and shoulders above the rest. Beautifully lit, intelligently filmed. The scene with the hanged man in the grove is really stunning.
1. Emmanuel Libatique-Black Swan-Beautifully monochrome shots with stunning compositions. Great use of reflective surfaces, both thematically and stylistically.

Honorable Mention: Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak's roving camera in 127 Hours

Original Score
Two notes: 1. I know the winner here won't be a surprise to anyone who has talked to me for five minutes for the last three months, but bear with me here.
2. This was a really close race. The top four slots could all have easily won in a different year, and I wouldn't be surprised if the top three all showed up on a best of decade list (if I'm still making lists in ten years...)
(I'll link to my favorite tracks from each movie.)
5. Randy Newman-Toy Story 3-A classic score in the best sense, Newman's compositions are big and bold, but find the right quiet beats to help the movie rip your heart out.
(Further listening: 'Sunnyside,' 'What About Daisy?')
4. Dmitri Golovko-Red Hill-A giddy Ennio Morricone-esque riff on Western music. Big trumpet themes, inventive percussion use, aggressive acoustic guitars.
(It's not on youtube, but if you have iTunes, search "Red Hill Soundtrack" and listen to a couple of the sampels. 'Alice's Theme,' 'Shane's Theme,' 'The Panther,' and 'Finale' all stick out to me.)
3. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross-The Social Network-totally atypical movie scoring. Pulsing electronic rythms, strange orchestrations, and the tiniest bit of decorative piano.
(Further listening: ''Hand Covers Bruise,' 'The Gentle Hum of Anxiety,' 'Complication With Optimistic Outcome')
2. John Powell-How to Train Your Dragon-I love this score. It's so huge. Big brass fanfares, Celtic/Irish influences, ethnic instruments. Plus it's just gorgeous. Just go listen to this score. It's awesome.
(Further listening: 'Test Drive,' 'Forbidden Friendship,' 'Romantic Flight,' 'Dragon Training')
1. Daft Punk-TRON Legacy-Come on, what else was it going to be? Daft Punk's score is an sometimes an orchestra, sometimes a dance hall anthem, and always, always awesome. This music elevated the movie beyond anything it could have been on its own.
(Further listening: ...Really, the whole score, but especially 'Son of Flynn,' 'End of Line,' 'The Game Has Changed,' 'C.L.U.,' 'Arena')

Honorable Mention: Inception has some greally fantastic tracks, but a few too many "BRAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUs" for me.

Sound Mixing
5. Inception-a complex wall of sound that never gets (too) muddled.
4. How to Train Your Dragon-huge dragon battles, aerial acrobatics, and just the right amount of quiet.
3. Black Swan-Nina is completely nuts, and it shows on the Sound Mix. Bird noises, whispering voices, and breaking glass are all incorprated alongside the bombastic Swan Lake score.
2. TRON Legacy-This film creates an entirely new space, with a soundscape of its own, and Daft Punk's music is effectively integrated to seem like part of the world itself.
1. 127 Hours-Sometimes the simplest design is the most effective. 127 Hours takes the few sounds it has and uses them to conjure the fear of being stuck in the same place for a long, long time.

Honorable Mention: living inside a tank that sounds like a sentient being in Lebanon.

Sound Effects Editing
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-This series has never sounded so interesting. Points for the duelling scenes, which sound unlike anything we've heard in movies before.
4. 127 Hours-The biggest cringe of the entire film is the sound of an arm breaking. This sound team plays the audience like a piano.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World-This movie is convinced it's a video game, and it sounds like it. Beeps, boops, 8-bit sound effects, and silliness.
2. TRON Legacy-Whirs, hums, mechanical screams, all in service of realizing a reality completely seperate from our own.
1. How to Train Your Dragon-Every type of dragon sounds unique and believable. Add in amazing combat, pyrotechnic, and weapons work, and all those great flying noises, and you've got something special.

Honorable Mention: Creating Nina's aural manifestations of her psychoses in Black Swan.

Original Song
5. "Express"-Burleseque-A trashy dance-hall anthem, belted as only Christina Aguilera can.
4. "We Belong Together"-Toy Story 3-Bouncy, energetic, happy. All the things you need to stop crying at the end of this movie.
3. "Mother Knows Best"-Tangled-A mix of saccharine sweetness and veiled threats.
2. "Black Sheep"-Scott Pilgrim vs. The World-An angry chick-rock anthem. It wouldn't be out of place at Lillith Fair. It's the best of Scott Pilgrim's decidedly awesome soundtrack.
1. "Sticks and Stones"-How to Train Your Dragon-It's a four-minute ball of pure joy. Fast-paced, energetic, and sometimes in Norwegian. What else could we want?

Well, there we have it. I'll finish up tomorrow with my dream Oscar ballot. Until then, what do you think?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Best of 2010, part 3: Acting

Here we are again. Today is all about acting, and, since I'm sure I don't need to define acting for you fine people, we'll get right to it. Here are the best performances of 2010.
I'll try to include clips of every performance, but no guarantees.

5. Colin Firth-The King's Speech
Funny story here. I'm not a huge fan of this performance, but this year suffered an ungodly dry spell of interesting performances in lead roles (of the movies I've seen anyway. I am missing quite a few films which reputedly feature great male performances). Still, I needed five, so Colin Firth stammers his way in. It's not a great performance, but it's a heartfelt one, and Firth hits all his emotional beats well. It's not a virtuoso performance on the level of A Single Man, but it's certainly passable in its own right.

4. Jesse Eisenberg-The Social Network
I love how internalized this performance is. I'm not sure Eisenberg raises his voice throughout the movie, nor does his body language ever seem anything less than restrained. This quiet, bound up approach is absolutely vital for The Social Network's take on Mark Zuckerberg. Instead of portraying him as a charismatic innovator or a stereotypical antihero, Jesse Eisenberg creates a quiet, frustrated little boy who stumbles into billions. Watching him morph from grumpy college boy to confused kid pretending to be an adult is fascinating.

3. Jeff Bridges-True Grit
This performance is sort of Crazy Heart: The Early Years, but I love it anyway. Admittedly, stumbling alcoholic is ground that Bridges has covered before, but he does it delightfully well. In True Grit, he infuses his performance with something woefully lacking from Crazy Heart: humor. Rooster Cogburn may be a burnout, but try telling him that to his face. This tongue-in-cheek self-importance lends the character some version of wounded dignity, which lends his legitimate fear and empathy for young Mattie Ross startling poignancy.

2. Ryan Gosling-Blue Valentine
Ryan Gosling had to play two different people in this movie: an excited young man with his whole life ahead of him, and the same man, four years later, who's had his optimism beaten out of him, but is still trying to hold onto the past. It's an interesting thing, having to play yourself four years older: it's not a large-enough time period to really affect you physically, four years of hardship have still changed who you are. Gosling's bravura performance finds the common threads between his younger and older selves, and exploits them to devastating effect. We can see both the young and the old man occupying the same space, and it's heartbreaking.

1. James Franco-127 Hours
(Best I can get is the trailer:
127 Hours is absolutely a one-man show. Without James Franco, there's no movie. And if his performance had fallen flat, the movie would have been unbearable. Lightning struck, though, and Franco gives a performance that's completely engrossing. He creates a fully realized, all-too recognizable individual; a man whose overconfidence isn't too much to be off-putting, but enough to get him into trouble. Watching this man, pinned under a rock, slowly come to terms with his own death, and his subsequent determination to avoid it, is extraordinary. Franco's screen presence is nothing less than magnetic.

Horable mention: Ryan Reynold's justifiably upset truck-driver in Buried

Best Actress
5. Emma Stone-Easy A
Sure, some people might be confused by a performance in a lightweight high-school comedy getting in over other, meatier parts, but I don't care. Emma Stone takes this movie, rips it apart, refashions it, and wears it on her chest. She owns the whole damn film. And rightfully so: her performance is effortlessly light and physical, her timing is perfect, and she brings a perfect sort of winking naivete to the proceedings. This is the very definition of a star-making turn: after this movie, Emma Stone's going to drown in role offers.

4. Annette Bening-The Kids Are All Right
I love the clip here, because it's just about the only time Annette Bening allows her character to be vulnerable. And even then, she spends the whole time pushing her feelings down and moving on. Her character always has to feel in control of her emotions, even when the world conspires to push them to the forefront. Bening is tough and assertive; almost too assertive, as if she wants to become the father figure that her children don't have. And then, when her grouchy exterior is finally violated, her lonely vulnerability is all too believable.

3. Michelle Williams-Blue Valentine
Like her on-screen partner Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams has to play two people throughout the course of the movie. Where Gosling's character was two version of the same person, however, Williams' character is two completely different individuals. The four years that pass during the movie exact a harsh toll on the younger, naive version, and turn her into a world-weary slave to her job and her marriage. Williams' transformation is astounding; her moments of realizing that she can never get back the love she's lost for her husband stick out in my memory.

2. Julianne Moore-The Kids Are All Right
Where Annette Bening is too tough and cold, Julianne Moore is a whirling dervish free spirit. She's trying so hard to be fun and cool and open, she's forgetting to be a real person. She's loving, but sometimes glaringly immature; many of her conversations are punctuated by petulant little asides. Still, her loneliness and her marital dissatisfaction are honestly and expertly portrayed. She manages to look like a victim, even as she acts in ways that threaten her entire family.

1. Natalie Portman-Black Swan
(believe it or not, the best I can get is a trailer.
Nina just wants to be perfect. Sure, she's nuts, emotionally unstable, violent, and bi-curious, but hey. To play this role, Natalie Portman had to hit pretty much every high and low in the spectrum of human emotion. Then she had to do it while dancing. Portman trained for months to be able to dance for the film. Her Nina is an emotionally sheltered little girl whose world slowly opens up to reveal all the things that go bump in the dark as Nina transforms herself into a woman and a swan. That final dialogue-less closeup: right before the end, while she's in her dressing-room, fixing her makeup, is alone worthy of an Oscar.

Honorable Mention: Nicole Kidman's fragile, slowly imploding mother in Rabbit Hole

Supporting Actor
5. Jeremy Renner-The Town
Violent, angry, and twitching with nervous energy, Renner is a perfect ball of manic gleeful energy. Points for the stressed brotherly relationship he sells with Affleck.

4. Josh Hutcherson-The Kids Are All Right
Though he's only 18, Hutcherson holds his own with far more practiced thespians, effortlessly capturing the emotional roller-coaster of wanting a father figure, finding one, and realizing that he's kind of a dick.

3. Ben Mendelsohn-Animal Kingdom
(no clip, and the trailer doesn't really feature him...Sorry!)
The second-best villain of the year. Mendelsohn's Pope can only be described as a sociopath: cold, calculating, not really there. His stare is almost too blank. It's unnerving.

2. Christian Bale-The Fighter
Christian Bale plays a strung-out junkie whose one shot at legitimacy and fame has passed. He holds on to that one memory while slowly strangling the life from those around him. Bale is energetic, charismatic, completely alive: in his eyes however, lingers just the right flash of bitterness and hate.

1. Andrew Garfield-The Social Network
It was a nail-biter between Garfield and Bale, but, in the end, Garfield's kicked puppy won out. Garfield's goofy energy, his Hardy Boys-style fundraising, and his confused, bitter betrayal make for some of the best scenes of the year.

Honorable Mention: Geoffrey Rush's amusingly cavalier speech therapist in The King's Speech

Supporting Actress
5. Mila Kunis-Black Swan
Strong, self-assured, sensual: everything Nina's not. Mila Kunis plays the real-life Black Swan, and pulls it off with smoky intensity.

4. Amy Adams-The Fighter
Loving and supportive, but tough as nails. Adams' blunt realism is a nice foil for the more optimistic worlds that the other characters inhabit.

3. Lesley Manville-Another Year
(Only a trailer, sorry:
Achingly vulnerable, lying to herself incessantly, and drinking too much, Lesley Manville provides a far more interesting story than the actual plot. One keeps hoping that the movie will give up and follow her around instead.

2. Melissa Leo-The Fighter
Melissa Leo chews the scenery with frantic intensity; she's a loud-mouthed mother to a changeling brood of well-haired spawn, and she loves it. Leo plays her like a Lady Macbeth in way over her head.

1. Jacki Weaver-Animal Kingdom
The best villain of the year, and the craziest mother as well, which was no mean feat, given this year's movie-obsession with overbearing mommies. Jacki Weaver is sunny, outgoing, friendly, and also the cold-blooded head of a crime-family. She does everything thinkable (and unthinkable) to protect her boys, and she does it with a smile on her face.

Honorable Mention: Marion Cotillard's vengeful dead spouse in Inception.

Well, there we have it. Tomorrow I post the tech awards, and on Sunday I'll wrap up with my dream Oscar ballot. Groovy!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Best of 2010, part 2: Directing and Screenplays

Hello again. Since yesterday's post was so devastatingly gargantuan, I'm going to follow it up with a short-ish post today, so maybe I can avoid carpal tunnel. Today, we'll look at a few specific behind-the-camera film aspects: directing and screenplays.

Best Director
5. Danny Boyle-127 Hours
It's not an easy task to stick a movie in a canyon for 90 minutes with an immobile protagonist and still be entertaining. To accomplish this feat, Danny Boyle used every cinematic trick in the book; split-screens, time-lapses, unpredictable camera placing, big zoom shots, interesting sound choices, etc., etc. 127 Hours is primarily an exercise in style. The screen just sweats Boyle visual style.

4. Roman Polanski-The Ghost Writer
Almost nothing endears a director to me like restraint does. The Ghost Writer is an ode to reigning one's impulses in and taking the careful, controlled route. This approach pays off in spades; The Ghost Writer is effortlessly paced, unnerving, almost painfully suspenseful. Not only do the visuals succeed, but Polanski somehow drew a fantastic performance from Pierce Brosnan, which is something near an impossibility.

3. Yorgos Lanthimos-Dogtooth
This movie could have gone so terribly wrong in so many, many ways. Only a perfectly executed tightrope walk could have landed this film's bizarre mashup of comedy and cat-murdering. Lanthimos maintains his film's unique tone throughout, never once stopping to pander to the audience, or flinch away from the story's uglier aspects, and he still manages to wring some guilty laughs out of the audience. Lanthimos must be a Schadenfreudist at heart, because the fun he has at his characters' expense is pretty horrific. It doesn't hurt that the film looks spectacular, either. Bonus points for some of the strange framing decisions.

2. David Fincher-The Social Network
David Fincher is something of a perfectionist. Not since Kubrick, I've read, has there been a director so slavishly devoted to monitoring every aspect of a film production. While this cold, sterilized approach may ring false with some storylines (not sure "cold and emotionless" were the best adjectives to bring to Benjamin Button), Fincher's style suits The Social Network perfectly. The whole movie is about building a tiny, perfectly controlled world. It only makes sense, then, that the world the characters inhabit is perfectly controlled. The film also achieves the strongest, most compelling rhythm of any film this year, no doubt due in large part to Mr. Fincher. It also must have been a major feat in itself just finding ways to make Aaron Sorkin's verbose screenplay sound perfectly natural. The Social Network is a great film, and a great film can't exist without a great director.

1. Darren Aronofsky-Black Swan
Yeah, yeah, no surprise who's at the top. Black Swan, like Dogtooth, is another flawless balancing act. It would have been all too easy for the movie to fall into silly, melodramatic territory. Aronofsky sure throws himself at the line between drama and camp, but always manages to keep at least one toe on the side of serious. What results is a genuinely disturbing movie, due in part to the seeming dissonance between the subject matter and gleefully malovolent way that it's handled. With Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky again proves that he would make the coolest horror movie we've seen in years. How insane would his rendition of an exorcism movie be? Aronfsky is also one of the most interesting visual directors working today. Moving past his earlier Requiem-esque style, he treats Black Swan with the same grainy, cinema-verite style that he used on The Wrestler. I've heard a few complaints about the seediness of it all, but what else should a story about a psychotic ballerina be but seedy? Black Swan shouldn't look like a postcard, and Aronofsky knew that. He nailed the visuals, the tone, and the performances; the three major obstacles a director has to face to create a great film.

Honorable Mention: David Michod's taut, intelligently paced work on Animal Kingdom

Best Original Screenplay
5. Mar Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin-Black Swan
The dialogue is minimalist, like so much else in the film, but the story achieves a sort of grandly tragic inevitability by chaining itself to 'Swan Lake.'
"Everything Beth does comes from within, from some dark impulse. I guess that's what makes her so thrilling to watch. So dangerous. Even perfect at times."

4. Will Gluck-Easy A
Witty, hilarious, full of genuine humans instead of stereotypes. How often in a teen comedy are the two funniest characters the parents?
Mr Griffith: I don't know what your generation's fascination is with documenting your every thought, but I can assure you, they're not all diamonds. 'Roman is having an OK day, just bought a Coke Zero at the gas station. Raise the roof.' Who gives a rat's ass?
Olive: That Roman! Another Coke Zero? He's incorrigible.

3. David Michod-Animal Kingdom
Conjures suspense from the most mundane situations, creates some of the most engaging and vicious characters of the year. Enough great twists and turns to keep the viewer from ever nailing down where the movie's going.
"Things survive because they're strong. You may think you're one of the strong creatures, but you're one of the weak ones. You've survived because you've been protected by the strong. But they're not strong anymore."

2. David Seidler-The King's Speech
Intelligent, emotionally resonant and incredibly light on its feet. The King's Speech understands and wonderfully conveys the processes by which friendships develop.
Queen Elizabeth: My husband's work involves a great deal of public speaking.
Lionel Logue: Then he should change jobs.
Queen Elizabeth: He can't.
Lionel Logue: What is he, an indentured servant?
Queen Elizabeth: Something like that.

1. Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Bloomberg-The Kids Are All Right
Wonderfully observed human comedy, and the year's most believable family. Writing this natural is something of a minor miracle.
"Marriage is hard. Just two people slogging through the shit, year after year, getting older, changing. It's a fucking marathon, okay? So, sometimes, you know, you're together for so long, that you just... You stop seeing the other person. You just see weird projections of your own junk. Instead of talking to each other, you go off the rails and act grubby and make stupid choices. I don't know, maybe if I read more Russian novels..."

Honorable Mention: Derek Cianfrance captures first love and romantic breakdown in Blue Valentine.

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. William David, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders-How to Train Your Dragon, based on the book by Cressida Cowell
Manages to sidestep a minefield of cliches to become funny, honest, and heartwarming.
Hiccup: He never listens! And when he does, it's with this disappointed scowl, like someone skimmed the meat on his sandwich. 'Excuse me, barmaid! I'm afraid you brought me the wrong offspring! I ordered a boy with extra-beefy arms, extra guts, and glory on the side. This is a talking fish-bone!'
Gobber: Now you're thinking about this all wrong. It's not so much what you look like, it's what's inside of you that he can't stand.
Hiccup: Thanks for summing that up.

4. Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy-127 Hours, based on the book by Aaron Ralston
Great scripts aren't always about the dialogue, and 127 Hours manages to tell a great story without anyone explaining it as it happens. Extra points for that gallows-humor self interview.
"This rock has been waiting for me my entire life. Its entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It's been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I've been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I've taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface."

3. Robert Harris and Roman Polanski-The Ghost Writer, based on the Robert Harris novel The Ghost.
Great dialogue, great pacing, and characters that leap off the screen. Fitting that a movie about a book should sound so literate.
"Do you know what I'd do if I was in power again? I'd have two queues at the airports. One for flights where we'd done no background checks, used no intelligence gained under torture, infringed no one's precious bloody civil liberties. The other for flights where we'd done everything possible to make passengers safe. Then we'd see which plane the Rycarts of this world would put their bloody kids on."

2. Michael Arndt-Toy Story 3, based on characters created by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich
The crowning achievement of an already impressive trilogy. An inspired mix of comedy and no-holds-barred tearjerking.
"Now Woody, he's been my pal for as long as I can remember. He's brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special, is he'll never give up on you... ever. He'll be there for you, no matter what."

1. Aaron Sorkin-The Social Network, based on the The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
This film is a scalpel; it cuts in all the right places at all the right times. There's not one ounce of fat. The dialogue is some of the sharpest I've heard in quite a while.
Gage: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don't want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Gage: Okay - no. You don't think I deserve your attention.
Mark Zuckerberg: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

...So, it wasn't as short a post as I had dreamed it would be, but these things to happen. I'm just terribly long-winded when it comes to movies. So where did I mess up? What did I get right? I'll continue tomorrow with the acting laurels.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Best of 2010, Part 1: Top 20, Zen Awards

Well hello there! Writing on this blog sort of feels like dressing up in full Aztec regalia and prancing around Mexico City: it happened frequently a long time ago, but doing it now just makes me feel a bit strange. That being said, I've been posting about my favorite movies of the year since I was fifteen, and I sure ain't gonna stop now. So, here begin the Zen Awards: the name sucks, I know, but tradition, dammit. Today, I'll do the best movies of the year, plus my annual silly awards. Tomorrow will come directing, acting, and screenplays (or just directing and screenplay if I'm feeling lazy). Next will be technical citations, and I'll finish up with my dream-Oscar ballot. Should be fun!
So, it occurred to me that y'all never really know what movies I've seen. I always preface posts like these with "I haven't seen ____" statements. This year, I believe in transparency. I'll list all the movies I've seen from the 2010 calendar year. If you wonder why some film/performance/whatever isn't included in some upcoming list, check to see if I've seen it. Chances are, I haven't. And, if I have, and you still wonder why I'm not talking about it, then chances are your movie taste sucks. Ok, that was a joke, but I'll stand by it. Argue with me! So here they are:
127 Hours, Alice in Wonderland, Animal Kingdom, Another Year, Black Swan, Blue Valentine, Buried, Burlesque, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Clash of the Titans, Conviction, Country Strong, Date Night, Despicable Me, Dogtooth, Easy A, Edge of Darkness, Exit Through the Gift Shop, The Expendables, The Fighter, Frozen, The Ghost Writer, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Green Zone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, How to Train Your Dragon, Howl, I Am Love, Inception, Iron Man 2, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, The Last Airbender, Lebanon, Legion, Let Me In, Letters to Juliet, Love and Other Drugs, Machete, Monsters, Never Let Me Go, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Piranha, Please Give, Rabbit Hole, Red, Red Hill, Restrepo, Robin Hood, Salt, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Secretariat, Shrek Forever After, Shutter Island, The Social Network, Somewhere, Splice, Tangled, The Town, Toy Story 3, TRON Legacy, True Grit, Unstoppable, Winter's Bone, The Wolfman
Well, there are your contenders. Now let's get to it, shall we?
The Best Films of 2010
20. I Am Love
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Not a perfect movie, but beautifully designed and realized. Guadagnino's tale of sexual repression and xenophobia among Italian billionaires is dazzlingly acted and wonderful to look at.

19. Buried
Directed by Rodrigo Cortes
This movie has the balls to drop Ryan Reynolds in a box for 90 minutes and just leave him there. the claustrophobia is palpable. I could have done with a better script (sans snake attacks, for instance), but the sheer chutzpah of the one location/one character premise is impressive.

18. Red Hill
Directed by Patrick Hughes
This utterly delightful mash-up of the Western and Cop drama genres, with its own distinct Australian flavor, had me grinning from square one. The film is wonderfully shot, full of (intentionally?) ridiculous action, and solid performances. Plus, it has a shootout in which a boomerang is involved. Only in Australian movies, man.

17. Please Give
Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Holofcener's quietly observed comedy about a woman with too much politically correct heart to succeed in her profession as a post-mortem apartment scavenger is both scathingly amusing. The ensemble performance drags this movie toward something nearing greatness.

16. The King's Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
Handsomely mounted, efficiently directed, well-performed, with a fantastically literate screenplay. The King's Speech is a great little time at the movies with an uplifting climax. I just wish it weren't going to win best picture.

15. True Grit
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
True Grit is a lesser Coen film, to be sure. That being said, even a lesser Coen film is better than many directors can even dream of accomplishing. Aided by demigod cinematographer Roger Deakins and a performance from Jeff Bridges far more Oscar-worthy than his Crazy Heart hamming, True Grit provides images and moments to stick with you long after other films have evaporated. The film missteps occasionally, and it lacks a strong emotional impact, but the film succeeds as a Swiss watch of film craftsmanship.

14. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Directed by Banksy
Banksy, best known for his guerrilla street art, comes to the multiplex with this strangely engrossing documentary. What begins as a film about the process of making such temporary art slowly morphs into a treatise on the definition of art itself, and where the line between art and cynical, manipulative images begins. This is easily one of the most entertaining films of the year, and it shines a spotlight on a rarely seen subculture.

13. Easy A
Directed by Will Gluck
I'm love a good comedy as much as the next guy; I'm just much more selective with what I consider 'good.' Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that Will Gluck's silly high-school movie is both incredibly funny and pretty damn smart. So many favorite moments; the best might involve the running gag about Huckleberry Finn, but as far as one-off moments go, it's hard to argue with the Quizno's Man accidentally infiltrating a protest ("not now, Quiznos!"). Add a star-making turn from Emma Stone and you've got the best, most intelligent comedy since Mean Girls.

12. The Fighter
Directed by David O. Russell
David O. Russell and a rockstar cast take material that could have been tired and melodramatic, and turn it into something fresh and alive. This film is really about the performances: Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale all do their best to steal the show from Mark Wahlberg, A reliable (if less showy) lead. The true stars might be the gaggle of seven well-coiffed women who play Wahlberg's sisters. The film wanders down a few dark roads, but emerges victorious in the end.

11. The Ghost Writer
Directed by Roman Polanski
Ewan McGregor, the Ghost, stumbles into a far-reaching political conspiracy when he agrees to ghost-write the memoirs of the ex-Prime Minister. This movie is the definition of classic thriller. It's lean, efficient, and as tightly wound as possible; crafted as only Polanski can do it. The last shot is amazing.

10. Animal Kingdom
Directed by David Michod
I can't believe this is David Michod's debut film. A crime thriller in the vein of GoodFellas, Animal Kingdom tracks the potential fall of a local Australian crime family. Our protagonist is the young, unwitting nephew, thrown to four lions in the shape of uncles, all presided over by one nasty den mother. Animal Kingdom conjures unbelievable tension from the smallest looks, words, and actions. Who knew that grocery-shopping, or backing down the driveway, could make me so apprehensive? The film wouldn't achieve the greatness it does, however, without the villainous turns by Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver, in particular. Weaver's conniving little mommy is one of the year's greatest screen characters.

9. Blue Valentine
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
It almost feels fair to file this one under 'disaster movie,' right next to The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. Blue Valentine tells the story of a couple at two points in their life: when they first fall in love, and when they know that they don't love each other anymore. I suppose this movie is bittersweet. Some parts of it are sweet, and some parts of it are indescribably bitter. The death throes of this relationship are almost violent in their pain and vulnerability. The two leads, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, demonstrate here why it would be fair to call them the best two actors of their generation.

8. 127 Hours
Directed by Danny Boyle
Y'all know I'm a Danny Boyle fan, and that I'm a fan of movies that experiment with cinematic form, so of course 127 Hours makes the cut. Boyle's camera seems to find itself just about everywhere: in the sky, among the rocks, in Aaron Ralston's camera, in Aaron Ralston's water bottle, in Aaron Ralston's arm...It makes a nice counterpoint to a main character who is essentially stuck in the exact same position for the majority of the movie. The film's frenetic style is balanced out by its static location and one single plot point (there's a rock on this man's arm. That's pretty much the crux of the film). Of course, 127 Hours wouldn't work without James Franco, who proves again how ridiculously talented he is.

7. Dogtooth
Directed by Yorgos Lagrimos
Dogtooth is possibly the most unique film of the year. It's a bizarre interpretation of home-schooled life, in which three children, all 20-somethings who have never left their house, are raised into a world completely different from our own. In their house, cats are murderous monsters, home videos are the only form of entertainment, planes routinely fall out of the sky into the lawn, and sex between siblings is a pretty groovy way to pass the time. Dogtooth is perversely violent, disturbingly sexual, and, admittedly, kind of funny. You've never seen anything like it, and, once you've seen it, you probably won't want to see anything like it ever again. The last shot, for my money, provides a much more intriguing question than the much-discussed "did the top fall?" that Inception offers.

6. The Kids Are All Right
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
To paraphrase a friend: "this movie writes awkward silences so well that I feel like I should say something." First off, Cholodenko's script is next to brilliant. Rarely do characters and situations feels so authentic and lived-in. Secondly: the acting is across-the-board fantastic. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, and Josh Hutcherson create such a cohesive family unit, it's honestly kind of difficult to remember that none of them are related. The Kids Are All Right is funny, honest, and quite moving, sometimes all at the same time. It probably might panic a few stuffy folks to see a gay family portrayed so very normally; by normally, I mean that their orientation is never the issue or the focus. Instead, much like real life, Nic and Jules have the same problems any other parents do, and confront them the same way many other parents would. This authenticity helps the movie become one of the finest films offered up this year.

5. How to Train Your Dragon
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Not gonna lie: I'm a little surprised this film managed to stay so high on my list. When the group I was with decided that this was the film we were going to see, I was more than a little disappointed. A Dreamworks movie? Everyone knows their films are tongue-in-cheek cutesy movies with too many pop culture references. Miracle of miracles! How to Train Your Dragon is actually a beautifully rendered, fantastically written, and thoroughly delightful movie. Perhaps it's John Powell's bombastic score that gets me, or the gorgeous animation (that learning-to-fly sequence is a stunner), or maybe the literate, intelligent screenplay that eschews cliche in favor of hard-won truths. Whatever specific factor it is that makes this film for me, there's no denying that How to Train Your Dragon was my most pleasant surprise all year, and one of the year's best films.

4. Restrepo
Directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Two documentaries in one top 20 list! Madness! Where Exit Through The Gift Shop was playful and light, though, Restrepo dives in with the intention of making you walk through the streets feeling lonely and confused. Honestly, Restrepo probably shouldn't even exist: the film was created by two journalist/documentarians who entrenched themselves for a year with a combat company in one of Afghanistan's deadliest combat zones. The footage that the film captures is absolutely astounding, and serves to redefine any civilian view of the kind of combat in Afghanistan. It's not just a miracle of documentary film-making: it's a piercing look at the psychological effects of battle on soldiers, and the commitments we ask of the young men who go to fight. Not every cause is worth fighting for, but every fight has a consequence, and Restrepo demonstrates that to shattering effect.

3. Toy Story 3
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Should I be surprised that a threequel ended up this high on the list? Nah, it's Pixar. Everything they touch turns to gold. Pixar movies have a penchant for dealing with themes far more grown up than their plot would suggest. Toy Story 3 tackles a very difficult subject: how to act when the person you love doesn't need you anymore. Heavy stuff for a movie about a bunch of toys. Sure, Toy Story 3 is funny. Hell, it's flat-out nuts; Mr. Tortilla-head, a mushroom cloud of monkeys, a murderous baby doll, what can only be described as a hateful view of toddlers. But Toy Story 3 doesn't just want to make you laugh--it wants you to cry. And it has no mercy. The last act, in which Woody, Buzz, and the gang, make peace with death and obsolescence, is heart-breaking. Then, it gives all the toys the thing they want more than anything else: the love and attention of their friend, if only for one afternoon. I'll be honest: I cried at the end of this movie. Three times. This movie reduces me to a blubbering manchild.

2. The Social Network
Directed by David Fincher
Here's the best screenplay of the year, shepherded by one of the best directorial jobs of the year, containing some of the best performances of the year. The Social Network pretty much has it all. It's far more entertaining and relevant than any movie about the founding of Facebook has any right to be. The movie succeeds, really, because it's not actually about the founding of Facebook: it's about loneliness, and the need for acceptance, and wanting to make a connection with someone, even though you're not sure how. It's about the things that power makes people do, and about the frailty of friendship compared with the temptation of fame and glory. The Social Network eloquently addresses all of this, while never missing a beat with its fast-paced, incredibly verbal dialogue. Throw in an amazing score by 9 Inch Nails front-man Trent Reznor, a killer ensemble, and the year's best editing rhythm, and you've got something truly special...

1. Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
...Not special enough to take #1, though. Admittedly, I'm a huge Aronofsky fan, so I might be a bit biased here. Black Swan takes a simple enough premise (ballerina wins huge role, struggles with pressure), and turns it into a writhing, quivering mess of psychological horror. This is the kind of film that crawls under your skin and dies there. It's stunningly shot, with an incredibly detailed and unnerving sound mix. Natalie Portman gives the performance of the year as a psychologically disturbed ingenue. The visuals are psychedelic, and by turns hypnotic and disturbing. The pace of the film is relentless. The story plods forward with a horrific inevitability. We can see what's coming a mile away, but can't escape it, which makes it all the more distressing. And of course, Darren Aronofsky. The man is a rockstar among directors. He's slain a Minotaur. He perfectly toes the line between psychological horror and sheer absurdity, creating one of the most fundamentally unnerving films I've seen recently. Black Swan succeeds on every level, and then some. It's a legitimately great movie, and is further proof that Aronofsky is one of the most important directors working today.

There we have it. Lord, that took a while. It's a good time, then, to let our hair down and enjoy ourselves. The awards that happen next will never come within 50 miles of the Oscars, though I wish they could. Next: The Zen Awards!

Best Scenes of the Year

10. The Mexicans break things-Machete

It's that big, delightfully ridiculous fight scene at the end, which includes every silly stereotype you could imagine (the ragtag army rides to battle in low-riders and taco trucks, and they do their slaying with garden tools). It also involves Lindsey Lohan dressed as a nun armed with automatic weapons, and this:

9. Family Dinner Turned Awkward-The Kids Are All Right
*spoiler warner!*
Nic finally decides to let Paul into the family life, discovers the affair, and does her best to keep cool. Tough.

8. The Three Brothers-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Really gorgeous shadow animation makes this my favorite part of any Harry Potter movie ever.
(Note: I know this video has a stupid, annoying song in it, but it's the only version of the scene on youtube that wasn't filmed in a theater.)

7. Hospital Fight-Blue Valentine
Dean and Cindy's relationship problems finally come to a disastrous head when Dean awakes from his ill-conceived hotel romp to find that his wife has left for work. He follows her there, and she finally tells him the truth about their doomed relationship. This is acting at its best.
(sorry, no video)

6. Test Drive-How to Train Your Dragon
Possibly the best argument I've seen for 3-D, and a flight scene to match anything from Avatar

5. Hey, I guess my tooth fell out-Dogtooth
The kids of Dogtooth have been told that they're only ready to leave the house when their dogtooth falls out. One of their children has a problem with patience on this front. This makes the list because it still makes me cringe.
(Warning: this is pretty violent.)

4. Eduardo Confronts Mark-The Social Network
Just great acting and great writing put together. Eduardo finds out his share of Facebook has been diluted to almost nothing, and he's a little upset.

3. Rotating Hallway Fight-Inception
I've got some problems with Inception, but it's impossible to deny how amazing that unbroken hallway shot is.

2. Nina's Dance and Transformation-Black Swan
Nina finally overcomes (becomes?) her demons for a moment to dance the part of the Black Swan, and finds herself transforming, growing feathers with every spin.
(note: the video doesn't show the cool part, which is the transformation. Just the dance.)

1. The End-Toy Story 3
I've given this award three years running, and Pixar has won it three times. Not a bad record. This scene wins because it makes me bawl like a child.

The "I'm Too Awesome to Have an Award Named After Me" Award for Outstanding Young Actors-Emily Hahn-Toy Story 3
Bonnie is absolutely one of the most adorable children I've ever encounted at the cinema, and a huge part of that is due to how well her character is voiced. So congrats, Emily Hahn! I've never heard of you, but I'm sure you're wonderful.

The New Image Award
-for movies that show us something completely original and unique.
Dogtooth-The world of this movie is so strange, it might as well be alien.
TRON Legacy-the movie wasn't particularly good, but its visualization of the inside of a computer is just dazzling.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-for the Tale of the Three Brothers animation scene, which we already discussed. Man, I loved that scene.

Best inanimate object in a movie
-Nina's music box-Black Swan. For being hypnotic and creepy, even when it's broken.
-Mark's fuck-you-flip-flops-The Social Network. For being alliterative and carrying a message.
-the boomerang-Red Hill. Because it's a BOOMERANG in a SHOOTOUT. Guys, this movie is really awesome.
-the Famous Amos cookie box-Burlesque. If you've seen this movie, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Day-um.
THE WINNER: The Dead-Baby-Box-Country Strong. I'm not lying. There is legitimately a dead baby box in this movie. I laughed for about five minutes straight.

The Child I'd Most Like to Punch in the Face With a Punch-Operated Shotgun
Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, and Will Poulter from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Man, this movie was awful. Bonus points to Will Poulter for managing to sound like an old British lesbian for two hours.

The "You're Not This Gay, but Dammit, You're Trying" Award
-Huckleberry Finn and his modern counterpart in Easy A. "Did you hear? Brandon just ran off with a big black guy!"
Honorable mention: all that distracting unintentional chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy Inception.

Best Worst Movie
The Last Airbender. This is honestly the funniest movie of the year. It's just jam-packed with profoundly retarded statements. It's the only movie I've seen in which Dev Patel, dressed in a tunic, yells "Give Me All Your Elderly!" to a crowd of frightened Inuits.

Absolute Worst Sex Scene
Splice. Because Adrien Brody's nose is scary enough when it's not nuzzling the deformed busom of a mutated alienbaby.

Incontrovertible Proof that Alice in Wonderland Sucks
I will never unsee this.

And finally:

The Worst Films of the Year
5. The Wolfman
This movie would have been great if it were pitched at a Mystery Science Theater 3000-spoof level. But no, they took it seriously. Anthony Hopkins gets lit on fire.

4. The Expendables
Overly long, overly violent, way too much Stallone. This movie kind of hates Hispanic people. Dolph Lundgren plays Stallone's lovable retarded sidekick who is given firearms more than can be considered safe.

3. Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton figured if he threw enough color and noise at the screen, he'd be ok. He was terribly wrong. Johnny Depp should have his legs removed as punishment.

2. Edge of Darkness
Mel Gibson's daughter is poisoned, and then shot in the stomach 4 hours later. Mel Gibson clearly doesn't know what people sound like, as he dances through the movie sounding like a giraffe getting raped.

The Peter Travers "Did I Really Just See That?" Award for Biggest Piece of Crap to Smear its Way onto Screens
Legion. Shark teeth, terrible effects, "acting" from some guy named Jeep. This movie was made to be ridiculed.

Well, there everything is. If anyone made it this far, leave a comment so I know you're still alive. Man, that was long.