We’re in the second year of the Oscars’ ten-nominee format, and I’m just not sure how I feel about it. When I first heard about the change, I was all for it. It gave less likely films a shot at some glory—and after the year of the snubbing of The Dark Knight, that was more than welcome.
Sometimes, however, I miss the Years of Five. It just seemed like more of an accomplishment for the particular movies when you could only count on one hand the ones that had a shot at the gold. And while, particularly this year, I really like most of the nominees, I just find the whole process underwhelming.
I don’t know what I was expecting, really? Did I really think that the ballot would look identical to what I would have done? In fact, if you look at every major critic’s top 10 list of the year, it’s really just a compilation of the ten safest choices from all of them. No surprises, no bold decisions. Just more of the same. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a single critic’s top ten list that matched the nominees.
That being said, would my top ten have even stood a chance? (In short–no.) Well, seeing as I have yet to even unveil my top ten of the year (I don’t get paid for this, so it took me awhile to hit everything), I’m going to use these last two days that it’s still at least moderately relevant to roll it out, look long and hard at each one, and see which ones might have stood a chance for a nomination and if they are Best Picture nominee (there are four, plus an additional four in my five honorable mentions), would they have made the cut in a Year of Five?
Lots to ponder, let’s get started!
10. I Love You, Phillip Morris
If it weren’t for my long-standing Jim Carrey loyalty, I might not have even given this movie a shot. Distributors have been playing hot potato with it since it debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, recutting it, delaying it, and deeming it “too gay.” It wound up getting a very small release in December 2010 to positive but not glowing reviews. And then it went away. It’s too bad that it didn’t get more recognition, because it’s a very funny, energetic, and original movie. True, I probably wouldn’t have seen it if Jim Carrey wasn’t in it, but frankly it also wouldn’t have been as good. I saw one review describe his performance as “charismatic” and that’s exactly it. Carrey bounds through this film with a charm and audacity unmatched by anything else out there. It’s a true original, but the Oscars ignored it.
DID IT HAVE SHOT? Not really. It did garner a surprise adapted screenplay nomination by the Writer’s Guild of America, and most critics at least heaped praise on Carrey’s performance, but the Academy opted for the year’s other (and in my opinion, much lesser) gay comedy, The Kids Are All Right.
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Yes, I saw everything I was supposed to see this year, and yes I firmly place Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 among my ten best of the year—and higher than the number ten spot, no less. This penultimate installment in the Harry Potter franchise is an exciting, rousing (and dare I say magical?) adventure and without question the most emotionally mature film in the bunch. Many were critical of its structure, calling it just half a movie—and yes, it kind of is—but this piece of the final product performs its duties with such lush and engaging strokes and feels perfectly and satisfyingly whole unto itself. I applaud the makers of this film for taking the two-act approach with it and for executing it with such style, care, and fun. It was a terrific achievement that, needless to say, did not garner a Best Picture nomination.
DID IT HAVE A SHOT? Nope. The movie was a pretty substantial hit, but the aforementioned mixed reviews didn’t really give it the boost it would have needed to be in some form of contention. Besides, I just can’t see the Academy nominating the second-to-last Harry Potter film. Although if Part 2 blows people away, Oscar may want to finally recognize this terrific franchise.
8. Exit Through the Gift Shop
I was unfamiliar with the anonymous British street artist known as Banksy but his directorial debut is a wildly entertaining documentary (or alleged mockumentary) about an eccentric Frenchman who spent several years filming and documenting the exploits of Banksy and other street artists like Shepherd Fairey and Invader with no real plans of actually doing anything with the footage. The doc takes some very interesting turns in the final act and winds up being perhaps one of the wisest (and funniest) musings on modern art I’ve ever heard. It’s been suggested that the film might be a hoax, which would actually make it an even more fascinating film, when you consider the source. Either way, it’s a brilliant documentary and certainly among the year’s best films. It scored an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, but was nowhere to be found on the Best Picture ballot.
DID IT HAVE A SHOT? Well, I’ve never heard of a documentary being nominated for Best Picture and frankly, I’m not sure if they’re even eligible. However, if Foreign and Animated films are both eligible for Best Picture, then I don’t see why not. Come to think of it, I seem to remember Michael Moore did something in late 2004 that disqualified Fahrenheit 9/11 from being nominated for Best Documentary, but that didn’t matter because he was gunning for Best Picture. So I guess they are eligible (needless to say, though, Moore’s controversial film wound up not being nominated for anything…what a dumbass). Either way, due to all the competition and the fact that it was a pretty small film that not a lot of people saw, Exit Through the Gift Shop didn’t have much of a shot at the big one.
7. Black Swan
Director Darren Aronofsky’s fifth film is another notch of excellence on the director’s quite impressive belt. It’s no The Fountain, but what is? And it’s been awhile (perhaps since The Fountain) since we’ve had a good mindfuck movie, and while next to an Inland Empire or any Alejandro Jodorowsky movie, Black Swan resonates as sort of a Diet Mindfuck, it’s nevertheless a powerful ride. Aronofsky revels in his excesses a bit which results in more than a few love-it-or-hate-it moments that will surely spawn some fun post-viewing debate, but most importantly is that he doesn’t beat us to death with self-important thematic meditation. He makes the movie exactly what it should be—wild, entertaining, and fascinating. I think my favorite detail was probably Clint Mansell’s variation on Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” score. Understandably, it was ineligible for a Best Original Score nomination, but I wish adapted scores had a category of their own, because Mansell’s work is pretty damn strong.
YEAR OF FIVE? Tougher to say than one might initially think. With the ten-nominee format, it was an obvious lock, but in the old format, it’s a little less of sure thing. The Aronofsky directing nomination certainly helps, but the lack of a screenplay nomination plus the fact that it was snubbed in the sound categories—which it really should have gotten—mean that maybe the Academy didn’t love it that much. In a year of five, it’s very possible that Black Swan might have been one of those films that scores a directing nomination but no Best Picture nomination.
6. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
I’ve been rewatching episodes of Spaced a lot recently and it’s made me really admire the truly inspired choice of getting Edgar Wright to direct this film. I love that someone picked that director to go to and essentially tell him “Go nuts,” because frankly that’s what you’d have to tell any director to whom you’d give this material. And kudos to Universal or whoever it was that made the decision, because they picked the director I didn’t realize that I most wanted to see go nuts. Wright’s third film after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz hilariously parodies hipster social landscapes using classic arcade game imagery and conceits. It’s an endlessly quotable film with awesome music and the year’s (second) most inventive visual effects. Also noteworthy is that Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg, two actors noted for having a similar schtick both starred in films this year that brought out a darker side of their shy, awkward personas. One of them is nominated for an Oscar for it (and justly). The other one—and his whole damn movie too—got left in the dust. Unjust.
DID IT HAVE A SHOT? That’s a big hell no. Nevermind the fact that most critics really were quite fond of it, audiences simply weren’t going for it. With all its whacko special effects, it wasn’t exactly a cheap movie to make and it tanked at the box office. Not to mention the fact that it isn’t exactly Oscar fare, so while it would have had a better shot among ten nominees, it would have needed to be a hit. A big hit. And it was not.
5. The Social Network
The first time I saw David Fincher’s Facebook movie I liked it very much but wasn’t as positively drooly over it as everyone else was. However, if you’ll go back to my original review, you’ll see that I said that I would almost certainly like the film more after another viewing and that even so, it had a good shot at showing up on my top 10 list for the year. Seems I was right on both accounts. It’s a strong and damn entertaining piece of modern day filmmaking if there ever was one, and boasts probably the best ensemble performances of the year. And with Fincher’s visual sensibilities, it’s about 1,000 times more visually impressive than you’d ever expect a “Facebook movie” to be. Coupled with Aaron Sorkin’s sharp writing, it’s a one-of-a-kind combination that blows the lid off of the based-on-a-true-story mold. Everything clicks with this movie, and the Academy thought so too.
YEAR OF FIVE? Certainly. The Social Network was the heavy favorite for a long time, taking home every critics circle award and doing very well for itself at the Golden Globes. In recent weeks it’s taken a back seat to The King’s Speech. My prediction? Despite Tom Hooper’s DGA win, I have a strong feeling that Fincher will take Best Director and King’s Speech will nab Best Picture. It seems like one of those years.
I’ve written a lot about Christopher Nolan’s latest foray into the land of awesomeness, so I’ll just keep this brief. Inception is incredible. Grandiose science fiction has regained its footing very quickly after the overwhelming suck that was last year’s Avatar. Thank you, Mr. Nolan for again restoring my faith in American moviegoers. Can’t wait for The Dark Knight Rises. You fucking rock. And while they’re still sticklers in that damn directing category, the Academy knows it too, nominating your movie for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
YEAR OF FIVE? I doubt it. If Nolan had nabbed that much-deserved directing nomination (and if the movie didn’t miss out on that editing nomination which pissed me off so much) then I would be inclined to say yes, absolutely. But if they were still working with just five nominees this year, I’m afraid we would have seen that same Dark Knight snub from two years ago all over again.
3. True Grit
I love the Coen brothers. Nearly every time I see a new Coen brothers movie, it inspires me to double back and rewatch nearly everything they’ve ever done all over again. And True Grit was no different. Some are calling it their very best film. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far (I’d give at least Fargo and last year’s A Serious Man an edge over it), but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most purely enjoyable movies of this year. Performances are outstanding all around and it succeeds in being an engrossing, exciting, and very funny classic-style western that, to the surprise of many, eclipses the John Wayne original. I’m a little disappointed that there was exactly zero talk of a potential Best Supporting Actor nomination for Matt Damon (especially when he was nominated last year for his aggressively underwhelming work in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus), but with 10 nominations to its credit, I suppose that will have to do.
YEAR OF FIVE? Yeah, pretty sure. Again, this was a lock in a year of ten, but being shut out by a lot of precursors (especially the Globes) didn’t look too stunning for it. However, the Coens themselves were a bit of a surprise to show up in the Directing field, so their presence there (plus the fact that the movie made off with the second-highest number of nominations) shows that the Oscars really loved the film. It’s the Coens’ fourth movie to score a Best Picture nomination (and their third to do so in the last four years). I think it’s safe to say it would have been here.
2. The Red Riding Trilogy
Okay, so it’s three films, each by a different director, but they function as a whole. To be honest, this British crime epic about Yorkshire police corruption was the only movie from this year that I considered for a second might possibly unseat my number one film of the year. The Red Riding trilogy is probably the best movie I’ve ever seen about police corruption, as it shows us not just a tale of corruption but of the land of lawlessness which it cannot contain. Each entry has its own distinct identity, the first being a hard-boiled neo-noir, the second like the best police thrillers of the 1970s, and the third an introspective and redemptive morality tale. I originally set out to watch the trilogy over the course of maybe a week or two and instead watched the entire thing in a single day. (Yeah, that wasn’t a very productive day for me.) It’s a hell of a great watch, creating and populating a fascinating world that commands your attention at every turn.
DID IT HAVE A SHOT? Well, for several reasons, I’m not sure that it even qualified for the Oscars. For one thing, it premiered on British television in 2009, and it didn’t reach the States until its limited theatrical run in 2010. Also, I doubt it would have ever been nominated as a trilogy, which is really the way to see it. Both of those facts compounded by the fact that pretty much no one was talking about it come Oscar season make it seem to me that it never would have happened.
1. Shutter Island
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—February is becoming a damn fine month for a great movie to sneak up on you. In 2008, we had In Bruges, in 2009 there was Coraline, and last February gave us Martin Scorsese’s incredible (and incredibly underrated) Shutter Island. I kept waiting the entire year to see if I saw a better, more powerful, more absorbing and thrilling movie than this and it never happened. I realize there’s lots of love for The Aviator and certainly for the Oscar-winning The Departed, but for my money, this one is the best Scorsese-DiCaprio collaboration so far. Some brushed off the film because the twist ending was the same twist ending that countless other thrillers throw at you, and while that’s true, to focus on the “surprise” element is to miss the point. Shutter Island cleverly and carefully builds towards its reveal and when it happens, it’s not the surprise that hits you, but the emotion. Everything about this movie is a home run—the performances, the music, the look of it, everything. It’s nice to see that now that Martin Scorsese has his Oscar, he’s making riskier fare and still showing everyone just how it’s done.
DID IT HAVE A SHOT? I guess not. I saw a few people throwing it around as an alternate if movies like The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone didn’t end up making the cut, but the critical response to this film wasn’t thrilling and it was released way too early in the year to be remembered. I thought maybe it could at least score a much-deserved Best Cinematography nomination, but alas, it didn’t get a damn thing. Injustice, I say.
And finally, let’s have a moment to recognize some of the films that didn’t quite find a spot on this list. I always feel like it’s cheating to do honorable mentions, as your list should be your list and that should be that and you shouldn’t be allowed to weave in anything else. But dammit, each and every one of these films is absolutely worth mentioning and I can’t just ignore them! So, for the sake of compromise, let’s not call these the “honorable mentions.” Instead, let’s think of them as my “alternates,” or perhaps just simply numbers 11 through 15:
11. The King’s Speech
12. Toy Story 3
13. 127 Hours
15. Winter’s Bone
Oh and for the curious, my worst movie of the year was Secretariat. And this coming from a guy from Kentucky–I think I’m breaking some local law by saying I hated that movie, but my God! It’s terrible! And no one’s saying it!
So that’s it, ladies and gentlemen. All in all, it was a pretty good year for movies. Not a “woo-hoo” kind of year, but a pretty good year nonetheless. Let’s cross our fingers for 2011 and hope we get some more good ‘uns this year (I don’t know about you but I’m quite anxiously awaiting Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life…the trailer gives me goosebumps every time).
In the meantime, the Oscars are Sunday—come visit MovieChopShop.com to watch our Oscar telecast live from our home base in Louisville, Kentucky. We’ll be pissing and moaning and providing insightful commentary for all to enjoy. I wish I could be there in person, but alas I’m stuck in our nation’s shitty-ass capital. Be home soon, friends! Take care.