BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Lincoln

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Lincoln
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and David Strathairn

The controversy surrounding Lincoln’s depiction of African Americans has been slightly dwarfed in the wake of Django Unchained.  There was still rampant, endlessly insightful discussion of it in all corners of the internet, but its subdued, melancholy pacing doesn’t place that issue front and center, and it is decidedly less confrontational than Tarantino’s bloody Southern.

After watching Spielberg’s political epic a second time, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the skill with which it was crafted.  Tony Kushner’s flair for language, the astonishing performances by everyone from Daniel Day-Lewis to Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, the production design- all of these meld to form a focused political thriller that ranks among Spielberg’s finest films.

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REVIEW: Higher Ground

Higher Ground
Directed by: Vera Farmiga
Written by: Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe (screenplay), Carolyn S. Briggs (novel)
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, John Hawkes and Taissa Farmiga

Vera Farmiga often has such a calming presence on a movie, which makes those times when emotions pour out of her all the more affecting.  In Higher Ground, she brings that talent not only as the movie’s star but as its director.  It is the story of the devout Christian woman Corinne and her lifelong grappling with faith.

Adapted by Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe from Briggs’ book This Dark World, Higher Ground transcends preaching to either side of the issue because nobody involved in its construction is laying judgment.  Corinne may be seen as a rebel by her congregation when she asks probing questions about the teachings of the Bible, but to an outsider in the audience they seem perfectly fine.

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And the winners should be…. 2011 Oscar Predictions (Matt’s Picks)

Best Picture

The Social Network
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
The Kids Are All Right
Inception
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
True Grit

Should Win I’d be the most happy with Social Network, Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right.  There’s no real Blind Side this year, but The King’s Speech is the least deserving… and it’s also one of the front-runners.
Will Win: The Social Network has a real shot, but so does The King’s Speech. Many have already handed it to King George, but I’m leaning toward King Zuckerberg.
Snubbed: There’s really no Blind Side this year among the nominees. However, over The King’s Speech I would’ve nominated The Ghost Writer, Enter the Void, White Material, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Splice or I Am Love.


Best Director

Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky- Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher- The Social Network
David O. Russell- The Fighter

Should Win: Aronofsky.  His direction on Black Swan was the best thing about the movie, which is saying a lot.  Fincher is also great, but so many other elements of Social Network would’ve worked on their own if not as well.  You can’t really say that about Black Swan.
Will Win: Fincher.  Even if The Social Network doesn’t walk away with the night’s biggest trophy, this one is a pretty safe bet.
Snubbed: Yes, yes, Christopher Nolan deserved a nomination  for Inception here over Tom Hooper, but don’t forget Danny Boyle.  His direction on 127 Hours was impeccable and his movie was better than both Inception and The King’s Speech.   I’d also throw in Lisa Cholodenko’s low-key genius in The Kid’s Are All Right, Gasper Noe’s hallucinatory brilliance in Enter the Void, Roman Polanski’s artful storytelling in The Ghost Writer and the mesmerizing work of Claire Denis in White Material.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone
Directed by: Debra Granik
Written by: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (screenplay), Daniel Woodrell (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey

In the realm of regional specific tales of mortality, Winter’s Bone is endowed with the element that puts it in the caliber of every other movie in this subgenre: hollowness.

Just like the dryness in Frozen River or the arid feeling in No Country for Old Men, the film holds an empty feeling that results from holding itself to the conventions of convention-bucking indie cinema. The conventions rely on being as minimalistic and realistic as possible, which is indeed interesting and brave, but results in a complete lack of tension, which is key for a character based thriller.

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The Best Performances of 2010

1. Annette Bening- The Kids Are All Right The kids might just be all right, but Annette Bening as a modern lesbian mother seeing her family spin out of control no matter how tightly wound her controlling character may be is more than all right, she’s fantastic. Her ability to play the character with such effortlessness and ease makes the audience forget they are watching film and instead submerse themselves into the troubles, anxieties and and love that her character Nic feels as she undergoes a common, but crucial stage in life. Key Scene: Even with so many to choose from, one scene one can’t forget after watching the film is the humorous yet explosive scene of seeing her daughter come home on a motorcycle with “donor-Dad” and finally releasing her feelings about his unwanted parenting.

2. Christian Bale- The Fighter– Bale steals scenes left and right in The Fighter, much like they were stolen from him in The Dark Knight. As the crack-addicted former boxing star of Lowell, Mass., he must now watch as his brother Micky chases after the dream with a clearer head.  Adding in humor only makes his character the sad clown, one that, unlike The Joker, you really feel for.  Key Scene: Bale singing a song with his mother (Melissa Leo) in the car after the two had just had a big argument.  The full spectrum of these two characters’ relationship comes to light thanks to this explosive and charming scene.

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