If you decide to party with Oscar, wherever you may live, may I recommend that you proceed with great caution when selecting your fellow revelers. In other words, try to go with a conservative crowd. Now, granted, they’re less likely to give a rip what Hollywood is up to in the first place. But if you get stuck in a room full of lefties, they’ll all sit enraptured during the most ridiculously offensive political speeches by presenters and winners, and your blood pressure will be the worse for it. The Oscars have a long and rich history of offering up such tripe, and this year has several potent possibilities for some serious speechabuse. Perhaps you can work up some kind of drinking game – maybe a shot for every mention of homophobia, or Islamophobia, or unionphobia (that one might actually be pretty big this year… as of this writing, I haven’t heard of any bigmouthed actors heading to Madison to show support for the plight of the oppressed public employee unions… so Oscar night might be perfect to take a BOLD AND COURAGEOUS STAND that everyone in the auditorium will self-righteously applaud!)
ANYWAY. Here are some things to watch for, cheer for, sneer at, or amaze your friends with, on Oscar night. We’ll use the ten best picture nominees as a framework, because each one can be a jumping off point for something of interest - after all, there are less than six degrees of separation between any two things in Hollywood.
Let’s start with some kinda strange stuff from NPR…
10. Toy Story 3 – embracing your inner child
It is nearly universally agreed-upon that Toy Story 3 is truly a movie to love. A poignant storyline (toy owner Andy is all grown up and headed to college), top notch Pixar animation, and a director from the best cinema school in the country (Fight on, USC Trojans!).
However… the movie motivated some seriously weird doin’s over at National
Even that weirdness pales in comparison to this, which is... well, a little creepy.
NPR's Bob Mondello was inspired by character Andy wanting to hang on to one toy:
“When I got home, my partner reminded me that I’d done that too: Sitting on the shelf in my office is Mr. Teds, the teddy bear that accompanied me to the hospital when I got my tonsils out.”Here is Mr. Mondello, sans partner but cradling Mr. Teds:
And he goes on:
“When I mentioned this at work, it turned out that a lot of other NPR folks had kept a buddy from childhood, too. And since Mr. Teds hadn’t been able to pal around with any other toys in a lonnnnnng time, I suggested that they bring a few of them in for playtime.”If YOU are feeling playful like Mr. Teds, you can join in the fun here, as NPR staffers show off their favorite toys, games and books. (I was pretty disappointed that Vivian Schiller didn’t bring in her “Fun with Free Speech” game… but one of the staff members does have a stuffed “earth” that she says boasts both the Soviet Union and East Germany – hey, the world as NPR likes it!)
Next: Gay pride on parade…
9. The Kids Are All Right – uh, no they’re not
This is the easiest movie on the list to cross off your list to watch, because it’s a politically correct mish-mash that could have been churned out by the publicists at GLAAD.
That’s all you need to watch. I’m going to save you the price of a movie rental and two hours of your life. You’re welcome:
Nic and Jules are lesbians who got “married” and each got impregnated by the same anonymous sperm donor and thus have two children. These children are named Joni (after Joni Mitchell) and Laser (after… lasers?). Nic is the breadwinner and is more strict, while Jules is more relaxed and stays home.
See? They’re just like a traditional family! Well, except for the lesbian part and the sperm donor part. And the naming your kid Laser part.
Anyway. Laser and Joni find their biological father, Paul, with the assistance of a helpful sperm bank. Jules starts an affair with Paul because she doesn’t feel that Nic appreciates her.
See? They’re just like a traditional (dysfunctional) family! Well, except for the having an affair with your own sperm donor part.
Now – if the filmmakers had REALLY wanted to be courageous, they should have had Jules stay with Paul.
But of course, “turning straight” is verboten in Hollywood. So Jules dumps Paul and lives happily ever after with Nic.
The message of “Laser and Joni Have Two Mommies”? Well, to hell with the need for a father figure, for one thing. And of course the overarching message –
See? They’re just like us!
Who writes this stuff? Well, Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg wrote this particular stuff. Not cheering for them to win Best Original Screenplay, since this is neither “best” nor particularly original, no matter how “edgy” they think they’re being.
Next: Why you might not be able to watch the Academy Awards at all…
8. 127 Hours – that’s how long the Oscar broadcast is going to feel…
127 Hours is the dramatization of a true story about one Aron Ralston, a young outdoorsman who made the extremely ill-advised choice, one spring day, of rock climbing in a remote area without informing anyone where he was going. When his arm got pinned under an 800-pound rock, and after five days with nothing but a liter of water and not even a jacket, he… well, I feel kind of bad for ruining the last movie for you, so I won’t say anymore. But it’s gross.
Actor James Franco is nominated for Best Actor for the role, which is why it’s kind of bizarre that the Academy chose him to host the awards ceremony. In the past, hosting duties have fallen to bigger names who aren’t on the ballot. But James won’t be alone up there at the podium. Oh, no. In fact, he might not be able to get a word in. Because the Academy is pairing him with an up-and-coming actress who has already distinguished herself as the owner of a big, BIG mouth.
Anne Hathaway, who burst onto the public scene in The Princess Diaries, has proven herself to be a royal pain in the arse. For your reading pleasure, consider a few choice nuggets of little Anne’s wisdom.
On how to prioritize pressing world issues (Finally! Someone clears this all up!):
“My own personal feelings about it is when the world is kind of perfect, and we have those two things – when we’re at peace and everybody has a good job – although we should be working on these at the same time, I don’t mean to imply otherwise, I’m a really big advocate for health care and of course my heart lies with education.”Of course. On Obama:
“It was around the time that he gave his speech on race that I just said, ‘I can’t deny how I feel about you, Barack Obama. I want you to be the president. I want you in the White House… when he’s president, we’re going to find people changing on the inside.”Hmmm. Is this what change on the inside looks like?
Ignorant and opinionated – always a winning combination in a Hollywood starlet. PLEASE. SHUT. UP.
Next: Getting in the ring with a loser…
7. The Fighter – sordid tale with a sordid star
Another movie about boxing. Lots of people get hit, both in and out of the ring. Lots of people swear lots of times.
Actor Christian Bale is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the one-time up-and-coming boxer who has deteriorated into a walking skeleton of a crack addict. Bale lost a lot of weight to play the role of Dicky Eklund, and Hollywood likes to reward that kind of thing, so he may have a shot.
Considering that Bale is known for having a foul temper and possibly assaulting female members of his own family, betcha thought he was the sordid star of our headline. But you would be wrong!
Not nominated for Best Actor is Mark Wahlberg. That’s kind of refreshing that he didn't get a nod, because he’s a piece of work. Besides starring in two of the worst movies ever (the crassly anti-American Shooter, and a pig wallow in porn called Boogie Nights), the former rapper known as Marky Mark has an actual rap sheet. It involves throwing rocks at black schoolchildren while calling them the n-word, and attacking several Vietnamese men, blinding one and knocking another unconscious, while calling him, according to widely available reports, "Vietnam f-word-ing s-word." Well, he didn't really call him f-word-ing s-word. That would have been awkward. But you know what I mean.
Anyway, Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder, sentenced to two years, and served a whopping 45 days. He admits he has never tried to find the people he hurt and make amends. But who cares! He’s a really good actor, and he gave money to Obama, and to John Kerry! So it’s all good.
And although he didn’t get an acting nomination, he’s one of the producers of the film, which means he’ll get an Oscar if it wins Best Picture. Not cheering for that, either.
Next: It’s not just boxers getting hit this year – ballet takes a beating…
6. Black Swan – good vs. evil in a tutu
Think of all that is beautiful about the ballet. The grace, the elegance, the athleticism. The music (like the timeless Tchaikovsky classic Swan Lake). The artistry.
Okay, now turn that all on its head in a horror story of insanity and death. Welcome to Black Swan!
Ballet in general, and the New York City Ballet in particular, really do take a beating in this film. We see the freakishly deformed feet and bleeding and blackened toenails of a prima ballerina. We see her constantly vomiting. We see drugs and backstabbing, sexual politics, and nasty, manipulative, desperately unhappy people who do many unpleasant things. And when the star’s descent into madness really kicks in, we see a lot worse.
This is not the year’s best feel-good movie.
But it’s not even the year’s best feel-bad movie. I tend to agree with reviewer John Nolte over at Big Hollywood, who doesn’t really place this film in the top ten at all.
He points out, rightly so, that director Darren Aronofsky takes his central character down the road well-traveled:
“… her whole dilemma is yet another cliche. The good girl having to find her darkside? This is a completely played out concept, especially in the genre of films surrounding the arts. Imagine how much more fresh and interesting the story would’ve been had these those roles been reversed, with the bad girl having to find the good in herself to inhabit the White Swan.”He nails it. Again, we are treated to the spectacle of Hollywood doing what it always does, and then congratulating itself for being so brave, innovative and daring. Wish they had it in ‘em. And I’m not really feeling Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Nina as Best Actress, either… but she’s the favorite.
Ultimately, this good vs. evil, white vs. black swan story has no happy ending, and is pretty unsatisfying.
Next: Good vs. evil in an setting 180 degrees away from Manhattan…
5. Winter’s Bone – huh?
I know. I watched it and I’m still not exactly sure why it’s called that. And as my husband said while screening it, “this doesn’t exactly move along at a good clip, does it?”
No, it does not. Part of the plodding feeling probably comes from the over-the-top grimness of the setting. The primary color of this movie is gray. Families living in extreme poverty in the Ozarks, enduring squalor and (sometimes) hunger – a father on the run from the law, a mother who’s crazy, relatives and neighbors involved in all manner of illegal activity and general unpleasantness (there’s a lot of domestic abuse hinted at), and the threat of complete destitution. Like Black Swan, this ain’t no walk in the park.
The central character of Ree, the 17-year-old daughter willing to take heroic measures to protect and provide for her little brother, little sister, and incapacitated mother – well, Ree is a profoundly good person facing a formidable challenge. One can’t help but compare Ree’s tremendous obstacles with the artificially-induced agony in Black Swan. Likewise, mostly-unknown actress Jennifer Lawrence, who probably doesn’t have a prayer of beating Natalie Portman, offers a truly nuanced performance worthy of an Oscar.
And director Debra Granik (not nominated for directing) shows us little flashes of goodness and warmth in the midst of the otherwise unrelenting bleakness – like the Army recruiter who insightfully and gently offers Ree some good advice. Just about every character is fully formed and multi-dimensional, capable of being evil and capable of being good. Just like we are in real life. This isn’t nearly as beautiful a movie to watch (and hear) as Black Swan, but it is a much better story. Perhaps Granik will win an Oscar, however, as she and her writing partner are nominated for Adapted Screenplay.
Next: More on the good vs. evil front…
4. True Grit – the Coen brothers take on a classic
Which is better – the original, or the remake? (Although the Coens insist it’s not a remake; they say it’s just a different movie based on the same book. Uh…okay.)
John Wayne, one of the only true conservatives ever to come out of Hollywood, won the Best Actor Oscar for this role, Marshall Rooster Cogburn, way back in 1969. A proud anti-Communist. An icon.
Jeff Bridges, enormous contributor to Democrats big and small, including some of the most vile.
I don’t even think this is a fair fight. But hey, judge for yourself:
True Grit: 1969 vs 2010 from Amfidiusz on Vimeo.
Although I prefer the Duke, both movies explore the ins and outs of good vs. evil and the sacrifices and consequences associated with indulging in one at the expense of the other. The new version does boast young Hailee Steinfeld, who is particularly appealing as the daughter bent on bringing justice to the man who killed her father, and pays a hefty price for that pursuit. If Hailee wins, she will be among the youngest Oscar winners ever (but Tatum O’Neal still holds the record for Paper Moon at age 10).
Next: The film that defined a generation!!!!
3. The Social Network – believe the hype, be the hype
There. I just used a catchphrase popular with the generation in question to off-handedly dismiss The Social Network. This is not a Best Picture. It’s just an entertaining movie about a really smart guy who made it big. Well, he made it REALLY big, but still.
It’s fun to watch. Set at Harvard, the movie offers an inside peek at life at the academic top. And the dialogue is clever and witty. Too clever and witty, in fact. I kept thinking the same thing that crosses my mind when watching certain TV sitcoms – nobody talks this way without a screenwriter putting words in their mouth. Doesn’t ring true. So it’s hardly fitting that this script is up for Best Adapted Screenplay – every other movie in this category is better-written (127 Hours, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone).
Ah, but Hollywood loves the writer benefitting from this unearned largesse. Aaron Sorkin, who is suffering from perhaps the worst case EVER of Palin Derangement Syndrome, is a leftist bad boy who’s always got something (ill-conceived, ignorant, nasty and arrogant) to say.
Did I mention arrogant?
He just makes my skin crawl. I’m not a big fan of how he depicted most of the young women in this movie, either. Girls who can’t wait to get on their knees and service a couple of nerds in a bathroom, all because they started a website? Sounds like someone was indulging in his own little fantasy. *CoughAaronSorkincough*.
It may be fascinating to speculate (because, after all, it’s not exactly a documentary) on how this amazing tool we all use, Facebook, came into being. But I feel sorry for any generation that feels THIS is their definitive film.
Next: Drilling down to two movies that deserve to be at the top…
2. Inception – blowing your mind
All right, we may as well get this out of the way right up front. The first mind-blowing aspect of Inception is that its cast is mind-blowingly numbskulled. Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page are freakin’ babbling idiots. But don’t take my word for it:
Anybody else thinking what I’m thinking about Little Miss Know-it-all Ellen Page, and her lackey Gordon-Levitt? Is a hard slap across the face involved? Yeah, I know. Shame on us. Civility and all. Ah well, at least we didn’t make Hitler posters of them!
Anyway – admitted and acknowledged: This movie boasts one of the most remarkably dimwitted and yet smug casts ever put together on film.
Now that we have THAT out of the way… director Christopher Nolan (who did not get a directing nomination, but is nominated for Original Screenplay) has crafted an amazing movie. Ah. Maze. Ing. If you can suspend your distaste at his motley band of actors, you’ll be rewarded with something unlike anything you’ve seen before – and yet it’s all strangely familiar. Like déjà vu.
Yeah. It might just literally blow your mind.
My favorite thing about Inception was the collective gasp, in the packed opening-night-in-L.A. theater, that accompanied the final moment of the movie. Sucker punch! In a good way.
Next: We all know it’s going to win, right?
1. The King’s Speech – soaring above
If you had told me that my favorite movie of the year would be about an erstwhile monarch of the British Crown who stuttered… I would have told you my favorite movie of the year was Inception. But I would have been wrong.
See, I don’t even LIKE the Royals. I don’t understand the American obsession with them. Didn’t we fight a war to get away from these leeches? Aren’t our principles based on the ideas of all men being created equal, which is utterly at odds with the idea of monarchy? I mean, yeah, all little girls want to grow up to find Prince Charming and all – but he sure as heck doesn’t look like that loopy envirowack Prince Charles, or his equine-resembling son who’s already sporting an unbecoming receding hairline.
I know, I know. It’s not nice to make fun of the way people look. But really, what else are the Royals there for? They’re sure as heck not contributing much to British society. They should at least be pretty.
So I guess I’ve made my distaste for monarchy pretty clear.
But movies are all about the STORY. A great story can be about almost anything – and if populated with interesting characters, humor and heart – you’ve got a winner. Throw in an amazing director and a couple of consummate actors, and you just might have a shoe-in for Best Picture. And Best Director. And Best Actor. And Best Supporting Actor. And Screenplay. And maybe a few more.
Based on real events, this is the story of the current Queen’s dad. It doesn’t offer a sentimental view of the Crown, but paints a picture of royalty that seems fairly even-handed. It doesn’t seem an immensely attractive lifestyle, but it certainly doesn’t seem an awful burden, either.
Like Social Network, King’s Speech has a great deal of cleverly-written dialogue. In this case, however, it is at least within the realm of imagination that the characters may well have spoken this way, at least on occasion. But Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth absolutely breathe glowing life into the script with performances that capture the viewer’s heart.
I know, I know. Rush and Firth are probably flaming leftists, as well. Firth, in particular, has been a well-known champion of leftist causes in his home country. And based on early talk about one of his next big projects, I may be broadly denouncing him next year around this time.
But for now, just as I did with that hideous little troupe in Inception, I am going to ignore the politics of the actors in this beautifully-fashioned film.
A quick word about the music. As a classical music fan, I enjoy the creative use of great masterpieces to score a movie. I know Beethoven is overused, but the use of a movement from Beethoven’s 7th symphony to underscore the climactic “king’s speech” is both powerful and deeply moving.
One more quick note: This movie is rated R. For the dumbest possible reason. You'll know when you see it. But when you consider the soul-numbing dreck that gets a PG or PG-13 and thus is corrupting the souls, hearts and minds of our children - the fact that THIS movie is (theoretically) inaccessible to them is appalling.
Anyway. The King's Speech is awesome. No, the audience didn’t gasp in awe at a last-second plot twist. But we left the theater with our hearts uplifted and our spirits soaring a bit higher than when the movie began.
That is the highest calling of any art form – to lift the human spirit. And that is why The King’s Speech should – and most likely will – be lauded as 2011’s Best Picture.
Well, there you have it. A compendium of trivia, kudos and snarks to enrich your Oscar night experience.
Or... you could ignore the red carpet, turn off the TV, and read a good book, right?