Having seen most of this year’s best picture nominees, I have to say: we have a good crop. But don’t ask me, ask moviegoers. Even as sales and attendance are down compared to last year (when Avatar dominated for weeks), many of the Oscar nominees are 2010’s standouts.
Social Network? $220 million worldwide. King’s Speech? A ridiculous $210 million (and counting). Black Swan? $200 million (and counting). Inception? $823 million. The Fighter? $105 million. True Grit? $193 million.
Many of these films happen to be among the year’s most adventurous, and among the most appropriately budgeted — The King’s Speech and Black Swan can boast production budgets under $20 million, and The Fighter is around there as well. Cheaper indie ($4 million) The Kids Are All Right did a respectable $30 million in box office grosses, similar to 127 Hours. Winter’s Bone, the “little indie that could,” has likely made enough to satisfy its distributor.
2011 promises to be the most sequel- and franchise-heavy year in history, so we should celebrate brave and quality films made frugally and marketed successfully. Hopefully investors will start looking to quality projects, not only marketable ideas.
In this spirit, and in lieu of my blogging hiatus, I decided to look back and reevaluate what I wrote — or refused to write — about the nominees I managed to see.
The King’s Speech
The critical consensus is converging around King’s Speech for the Best Picture win, which is fine, I suppose. The truth is I went into the film intent on reviewing it and left unable to say much. It strikes me as a fine, inoffensive film meant to draw in audiences who want to see something both serious and playful. It’s Oscar bait — darn good bait, but an obvious one.
Back in October I wrote: “Like a ballerina en pointe, Black Swan maintains an athletic sense of balance: between a woman’s weakness and strength, fear and courage, objectification and empowerment, not to mention horror and truth, natural and supernatural.”
And I stand by it, despite the backlash, which has notably come from women. I still revere the film: it’s challenging and rigorous, in numerous ways. But I saw it just before the peak of the hype — which matters.
The Kids Are All Right
Back in August I wrote: “Why is it so good? For one, there is the writing: sharp and erudite, perhaps a bit too “written” for some, but I happen to like such things… The acting is top-notch — you can’t go wrong with Bening, Moore and Ruffalo — and plot is creatively structured. For me, though, the critical love of The Kids Are All Right is missing two key components. First: gay audiences rarely ever get a family comedy worthy of praise, attention and repeated viewings. In this context alone, Kids is near Oscar-worthy (yes I know it won’t win). More importantly, Kids is one of the rare films in theaters, independent or Hollywood, which puts women at the center of the narrative.”
Too small to take the top prize, it still deserves every good review and dollar it’s earned.
The Social Network
Back in September I wrote: “The Social Network is your standard story about greed, sex and all that good stuff, but refreshingly told without any heroes or saviors. Arriving after the euphoria of the social networked aughties, it takes advantage of its license to be cynically, almost literally, dark.”
There’s been a backlash against this film as well, and it seems to me everyone who’s decided to hate it fails to realize the film is (or can be read as) a critique of all its characters and business of new media generally. If you think the movie celebrates its Harvard white-dude elites, of course you’ll hate it! I’m talking to you, Mr. White. But the brave thing about The Social Network is precisely its refusal to celebrate American entrepreneurialism and endear us to its key innovators.
Toy Story 3
Like The King’s Speech, I would have reviewed this one, but I was researching in Hong Kong at the time, and also, the movie didn’t need my ink. It’s a lovely little picture, a moving portrait of the cycle of life — but it doesn’t need 500 words from me.
Back in July I wrote: “For me, Inception is valuable as a vote of confidence by Hollywood in the power of giving a good director lots of cash to create something original. I weigh it against all the sequels and franchises we have (plus Avatar) and, against them, it comes out on top. But I’m not sure how much lies beneath the surface, and if it’s there, if it’s worth my time going there.”
I didn’t review Inception because I liked it but didn’t love it. And it’s really one of those films you have to love to voluntarily write about. I felt it was mostly a display of virtuosity — screenwriting, art direction, editing, etc. — without much to say about life or the world. Where’d the corporate conspiracy go? I’m still wondering. Read the prequel and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Back in December I wrote: “True Grit’s moral cleanliness and order might be surprising or jarring, but it is sheer entertainment. Even with its earnest protagonists and against the stark backdrop of the wilderness, it is one of the most fun and bizarre films of the year.”
True Grit might be simple by Coen standards, but there’s an oddness to the film, which is hard to pinpoint, but that I found exhilarating.
In the same review, I wrote: “In the end, Winter’s Bone story has, buried deep within, an entertaining odyssey on the level of True Grit. But in refusing to find any joy or dark humor in the lives of any of its characters, it abandons viewers.”
I’m thrilled Winter’s Bone got an Oscar nod. It was one of the most well-crafted, low-budget indies of the year. I found it a little cold, making it difficult to access the characters, but perhaps that’s just me. I still recommend anyone and everyone see it.
That’s it. See you after the Oscars!