Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Getting into a debate with a friend of mine online about one of this year’s major Oscar contenders, I was inspired to write about Hollywood’s annual festival of self-love that starts with the critics awards in December and culminates with the awarding of Golden Phallic statues near the end of February.

There’s a part of me that loves awards season. I love the jockeying for position the studios do with ads promoting blurbs and “For Your Consideration” notices and DVD and theatrical releases timed for maximum Oscar exposure. But during said debate, the ultimate truth about Oscars (and awards of any kind) became clear- in the long run, none of it matters one bit.

Seriously, in 1998 “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture over “Saving Private Ryan.” But does anyone TRULY believe it was a better movie than “Ryan?” And let’s not forget that established classics like “Touch of Evil” and “Vertigo” weren’t even NOMINATED in 1958, and they’re better remembered than that year’s Best Picture winner “Gigi.” And who really thinks “Ordinary People” is a superior film to “Raging Bull” (or even “The Empire Strikes Back”), or “Ghandi” is still better than “E.T.?” Was Martin Scorsese really more deserving of an Oscar for “The Departed” than he was for “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “GoodFellas,” “The Last Temptation of Christ” or “The Age of Innocence?” Ditto Denzel Washington for “Training Day” over “Malcolm X” or “Courage Under Fire?” Hell, as much as I still love 1995 Best Picture winner “Braveheart,” I’d probably place it 4th now behind “12 Monkeys,” “Toy Story” and “Apollo 13” as that year’s best film.

If you really want to witness the irrelevance of the Oscars, however, look at a list of all of the people who haven’t won one over the years: Alfred Hitchcock (and his 1940 film “Rebecca” WON Best Picture), Cary Grant, Ennio Morricone, Sidney Lumet, Ingmar Bergman, Danny Elfman, Peter Sellers, Buster Keaton, Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini, Tim Burton, Edward Norton, Peter O’Toole and Gene Kelly. True, many of them would be awarded Honorary Oscars later, but none ever won a competitive Oscar. And how about Stanley Kubrick, who won his only Oscar for Visual Effects for “2001?” Or Charlie Chaplin, whose only competitive Oscar win went for Music for “Limelight?” And how about Orson Welles, who supposedly directed the greatest film of all-time in “Citizen Kane,” but only won an Oscar for that film’s screenplay?

The point is, awards like the Oscars are fundamentally meaningless except for the people who win them. In the long run, they have little value at assessing the historical importance of cinema or those who create it. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on this year’s Oscar nominations. So far, it’s been a dreadfully predictable season. Could that be changing? We’ll see coming next month. For now, enjoy!

Click here for my full pre-nomination selections list.

Best Picture
Oscar’s Final Ten
“The King’s Speech”
“Inception”
“Black Swan”
“The Social Network”
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit”
“127 Hours”
“Winter’s Bone”
“The Kids Are All Right”
“The Fighter”

Likes: For my money at least, all of the films deserve to be there- each of them rated 3 1/2 stars or higher.

Dislikes: That said, I would’ve loved to see “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Shutter Island” or “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” nominated over the last few choices.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”; “The ‘Millennium’ Trilogy”; “Inception”; “Black Swan”; “I’m Still Here”; “Leaves of Grass”; “How to Train Your Dragon”; “Exit Through the Gift Shop”; “Waiting for ‘Superman'”

Oscar’s Pick: “The King’s Speech.” True, “The Social Network” has been nearly unanimous in its domination of the early awards, but I think the box-office success (and this weekend’s Producer’s Guild win) for “Speech” will help make this a race again after the early (and often) success of “Network.”

Best Director
Oscar’s Final Five
Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”
David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, “True Grit”
Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”
David O. Russell, “The Fighter”

Likes: All of these guys are great choices…

Dislikes: …but the Coens knocked out Christopher Nolan (“Inception”). That said, I would’ve have rather seen Russell on the outside looking in rather than the Brothers Coen, if not for Nolan than at least Edgar Wright (“Scott Pilgrim”) or Neils Arden Oplev (“Dragon Tattoo”).

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Edgar Wright, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”; Christopher Nolan, “Inception”; Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”; Neils Arden Oplev, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”; Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”

Oscar’s Pick: David Fincher. Like his movie on Facebook, the “Fight Club” and “Se7en” director has been steamrolling through the earlier awards. And unless the Academy’s love of “True Grit” goes deeper than we think, I don’t see him losing the Oscar.

Best Actor
Oscar’s Final Five
Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”
James Franco, “127 Hours”
Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”
Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”
Javier Bardem, “Biutiful” (Haven’t Seen)

Likes: Voters got a surprise nominee in the race with Bardem, who has been somewhat below the radar but nonetheless impressed enough to land him among this year’s heavyweights.

Dislikes: Come on guys. No Edward Norton (“Leaves of Grass”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“Inception” or “Shutter Island”), Michael Cera (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) or Michael Nyqvist (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”)? I guess I’m not that surprised.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”; Joaquin Phoenix, “I’m Still Here”; Edward Norton, “Leaves of Grass”; James Franco, “127 Hours”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “Inception” & “Shutter Island”

Oscar’s Pick: Colin Firth. A SAG award should continue Firth’s string of wins leading up to his eventual Oscar win. And no, Bridges or Franco will not come from behind to win this year.

Best Actress
Oscar’s Final Five
Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”
Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole” (Haven’t Seen)
Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine” (Haven’t Seen)

Likes: That the young and talented Lawrence made the cut for her powerful turn as a young mother and daughter trying to clean up her father’s mistakes. And while I haven’t seen Kidman and Williams, it was nice to see both make the cut after they didn’t necessarily have assurances of getting nominated.

Dislikes: I’m sorry, but Julianne Moore was better than Bening in “The Kids Are All Right.” And I would have loved to see Noomi Rapace from “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” or Emma Stone from “Easy A” nominated to really mix things up.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”; Noomi Rapace, “The ‘Millennium’ Trilogy”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”; Julianne Moore, “The Kids Are All Right” & “Chloe”; Laura Benson, “Someone Else in the Evening”

Oscar’s Pick: Natalie Portman. The SAG will determine the eventual winner next weekend, but I think there’s just too much momentum for Portman right now for anyone else to come back and win.

Best Supporting Actor
Oscar’s Final Five
Christian Bale, “The Fighter”
Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech”
Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”
John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”
Jeremy Renner, “The Town”

Likes: John Hawkes has come out of nowhere for SAG and now Oscar nominations for his key role in the indie hit “Winter’s Bone.” And Jeremy Renner was able to survive the freeze-out of “The Town” to land his second straight Oscar nod.

Dislikes: While Hawkes is a pleasant surprise, I would have preferred other surprises like Kieran Culkin (“Scott Pilgrim”), Michael Keaton (“The Other Guys”), John Malkovich (“RED”) and Steve Carell (“Dinner for Schmucks”). Also, no nods for “Social Network’s” Andrew Garfield or Justin Timberlake is a bit disappointing.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”; Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech”; Kieran Culkin, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”; Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network”; Steve Carell, “Dinner for Schmucks”

Oscar’s Pick: Christian Bale. After a career of adventurous turns and controversy, Bale has finally given his peers a performance they can’t say no to. He does deserve it. It’s a great and powerful performance.

Best Supporting Actress
Oscar’s Final Five
Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”
Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”
Amy Adams, “The Fighter”
Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”
Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom” (Haven’t Seen)

Likes: Steinfeld has gotten some much-deserved recognition for a star-making turn in the Coen’s latest Oscar favorite. And both superb females from “The Fighter” got nominated…

Dislikes: …that said, Steinfeld is really in a leading role. And there was no room for Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey from “Black Swan” or Marion Cotillard from “Inception.” And while I’m disappointed Chloe Moretz didn’t get Oscar love, I have a feeling she’ll be getting in their good graces sooner rather than later; her next major role is in this year’s “Hugo Cabret”…directed by Martin Scorsese.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Chloe Grace Moretz, “Let Me In” & “Kick-Ass”; Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”; Mila Kunis, “Black Swan”; Celice de France, “Hereafter”; Marion Cotillard, “Inception”

Oscar’s Pick: Hailee Steinfeld. This is a category where surprises almost always happen. Jacki Weaver has come away with a lot of early awards, and Melissa Leo won the Golden Globe in this category. But I doubt the Academy will allow the box-office hit “True Grit” to go home empty-handed, meaning the superb Steinfeld will win her first Oscar for holding her own with Jeff Bridges, which is never an easy task.

Best Original Screenplay
Oscar’s Final Five
“Inception” (Christopher Nolan)
“The King’s Speech” (David Seidler)
“The Kids Are All Right” (Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg)
“The Fighter” (Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson)
“Another Year” (Mike Leigh) (Haven’t Seen)

Likes: At least Nolan got a nod for his complex and wickedly smart screenplay. Now when will he get a directing nod?

Dislikes: “The Fighter” was not as good a script as “Black Swan,” “Leaves of Grass” or other indies. It was just good formula.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Inception” (Christopher Nolan); “Black Swan” (Mark Heyman, Andrew Heinz, John McLaughlin); “The King’s Speech” (Donald Seidler); “I’m Still Here” (Casey Affleck & Joaquin Phoenix); “Leaves of Grass” (Tim Blake Nelson)

Oscar’s Pick: “The King’s Speech.” I’d love to see “Inception” surprise here, but look for “Speech” to win out as the race for the most Oscars heats up between it and “Network.”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Social Network” (Aaron Sorkin)
“Toy Story 3” (Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich)
“True Grit” (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
“127 Hours” (Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy)
“Winter’s Bone” (Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini)

Likes: Another strong category. Everyone is worthy…

Dislikes: …that said, I would’ve given anything to see “Scott Pilgrim,” “Dragon Tattoo,” or “How to Train Your Dragon” make the cut.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall); “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg); “The Social Network” (Aaron Sorkin); “Toy Story 3” (Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich); “How to Train Your Dragon” (William Davies, Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois)

Oscar’s Pick: “The Social Network.” Sorkin will make a clean sweep to the Oscar podium. One of the only categories that is truly etched in stone.

Best Original Score
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Social Network” (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross)
“Inception” (Hans Zimmer)
“127 Hours” (A.R. Rahman)
“How to Train Your Dragon” (John Powell)
“The King’s Speech” (Alexandre Desplat)

Likes: Great choices all. I’m glad to see Powell, who’s been a favorite of mine since his score for “Face/Off,” get his first nomination.

Dislikes: That said, there were better choices out there, and it’s too bad “Scott Pilgrim,” “Black Swan” and “True Grit” were deemed ineligible. This was just a great year for film scores.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “The Social Network” (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross); “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (Nigel Godrich); “Black Swan” (Clint Mansell); “Inception” (Hans Zimmer); “Let Me In” (Michael Giacchino)

Oscar’s Pick: “The Social Network.” Reznor and Ross will repeat their Globe win with an Oscar victory.

Best Original Song
Oscar’s Final Four
“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3” (Randy Newman)
“I See the Light” from “Tangled” (Alan Menken, Glenn Slater)
“If I Rise” from “127 Hours” (A.R. Rahman, Rollo Armstrong, Dido)
“Coming Home” from “Country Strong” (Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges) (Haven’t Seen)

Likes: A nice variety, and of the three I’ve heard were good choices…

Dislikes: …but there were much better choices out there. All of the ones on my personal hopefuls included. It’s just a real shame “Scott Pilgrim” was deemed ineligible (since most of the songs originated from the graphic novel series).

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Ramona” from “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (Beck); “Shine” from “Waiting for ‘Superman’” (John Legend); “Mother Knows Best” from “Tangled” (Alan Menken & Glenn Slater); “Threshold” from “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (Beck); “When Will My Life Begin?” from “Tangled” (Alan Menken & Glenn Slater)

Oscar’s Pick: “We Belong Together.” “I See the Light” could sneak by, but I think Randy Newman will win his second Oscar for his latest classic song for Pixar.

Best Animated Feature
Oscar’s Final Three
“How to Train Your Dragon”
“Toy Story 3”
“The Illusionist” (Haven’t Seen)

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “How to Train Your Dragon”; “Toy Story 3”; “Tangled”

Oscar’s Pick: “Toy Story 3.” I’d love to see Dreamworks win for their beloved “Dragon,” but no way does Oscar not give Best Picture nominee “Toy Story 3” the award.

Best Foreign Language Film
Oscar’s Final Five (Haven’t Seen Any)
“Biutiful” (Mexico)
“Dogtooth” (Greece)
“In a Better World” (Denmark)
“Incendies” (Canada)
“Outside the Law” (Algeria)

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”; “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”; “The Girl Who Played With Fire”; “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen”; “I Am Love”

Oscar’s Pick: “Biutiful.” This has been a bizarre category over the years, but I think the Mexican import “Biutiful” will end up winning the Oscar, which will be the first for the self-proclaimed “Mexican New Wave” filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Best Documentary Feature
Oscar’s Final Five
“Exit Through the Gift Shop”
“Inside Job”
“GasLand” (Haven’t Seen)
“Restrepo” (Haven’t Seen)
“Waste Land” (Haven’t Seen)

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Exit Through the Gift Shop”; “Waiting for ‘Superman’”; “The Art of the Steal”; “Inside Job”; “Best Worst Movie”

Oscar’s Pick: “Inside Job.” No “Waiting for ‘Superman'” is surprising, and while “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is one of the best documentaries ever, the elusive Banksy probably won’t be there to accept, leaving room for the economic documentary “Inside Job” to win.

Best Visual Effects
Oscar’s Final Five
“Inception”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I”
“Iron Man 2”
“Alice in Wonderland”
“Hereafter”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”; “Inception”; “TRON: Legacy”; “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I”; “Iron Man 2”

Oscar’s Pick: “Inception,” but no “Scott Pilgrim” or “TRON: Legacy?” For shame Academy!

Best Sound
Oscar’s Final Five
“Inception”
“The King’s Speech”
“The Social Network”
“True Grit”
“Salt”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”; “Black Swan”; “Inception”; “Shutter Island”; “TRON: Legacy”

Oscar’s Pick: “Inception.” “The Social Network” and “True Grit” might sneak in, but I think “Inception” will do a steady sweep of technical awards this year.

Best Sound Editing
Oscar’s Final Five
“Inception”
“TRON: Legacy”
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit”
“Unstoppable” (Haven’t Seen)

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Inception”; “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”; “TRON: Legacy”; “How to Train Your Dragon”; “Toy Story 3”

Oscar’s Pick: “TRON: Legacy.” “Inception” is also a good bet, but I think the the 3D “hit” will actually pick up this one.

Best Film Editing
Oscar’s Final Five
“Black Swan”
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“The King’s Speech”
“The Fighter”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Inception”; “Black Swan”; “Shutter Island”; “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”; “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

Oscar’s Pick: “127 Hours.” How “Inception” didn’t get nominated borders on the criminal, but Danny Boyle’s gripping “Hours” will probably win over “Swan.”

Best Cinematography
Oscar’s Final Five
“Black Swan”
“Inception”
“True Grit”
“The King’s Speech”
“The Social Network”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Black Swan”; “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”; “Inception”; “True Grit”; “The King’s Speech”

Oscar’s Pick: “True Grit.” All the nominees are worthy winners, but this year is finally master cinematographer Roger Deakins’s year for his first Oscar.

Best Art Direction
Oscar’s Final Five
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”
“True Grit”
“The King’s Speech”
“Alice in Wonderland”
“Inception”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I”; “True Grit”; “The King’s Speech”; “Black Swan”; “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen”

Oscar’s Pick: “The King’s Speech” will win over the more fantastical nominees.

Best Makeup
Oscar’s Final Three
“The Wolfman”
“Barney’s Version” (Haven’t Seen)
“The Way Back” (Haven’t Seen)

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Let Me In”; “Black Swan”; “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen”

Oscar’s Pick: Wow really? This is the list? Dare I say “The Wolfman” will be an Oscar winner? Bet on it.

Best Costume Design
Oscar’s Final Five
“The King’s Speech”
“True Grit”
“Alice in Wonderland”
“I Am Love”
“The Tempest” (Haven’t Seen)

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Black Swan”; “The King’s Speech”; “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen”; “True Grit”; “Agora”

Oscar’s Pick: “The King’s Speech.” Where is “Black Swan” in all of the technical categories? No matter- “Grit” could surprise, but “Speech” will probably win out in the end.

Now, onto the awards less likely to be cared about, and randomly-selected predictions.

Best Short Film- Live Action
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Confession”
“The Crush”
“God of Love”
“Na Wewe”
“Wish 143”

Oscar’s Pick: “The Confession”

Best Short Film- Animated
Oscar’s Final Five
“Day & Night”
“The Gruffalo”
“Let’s Pollute”
“The Lost Thing”
“Madagascar, a Journey Diary”

Oscar’s Pick: “Day & Night”

Best Documentary Short Subject
Oscar’s Final Five
“Killing in the Name”
“Poster Girl”
“Strangers No More”
“Sun Come Up”
“The Warriors of Qiugang”

Oscar’s Pick: “Poster Girl”

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle
http://www.sonic-cinema.com

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