Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oscars 2011 Educated Guesses

Best Animated Feature
How To Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Who Will Win: It's not even close. As we learned last year with Up, doing double duty as a Best Picture nominee gives you a pretty big advantage in this category...and a win here is essentially a consolation price for Toy Story 3 since it's unlikely it will take the top prize. That's not to say the other two movies aren't good. How To Train Your Dragon is a solid movie and somewhere Rapunzel is seething that a small French cartoon like The Illusionist pushed her out of this race. Still, neither of them have what it takes to defeat another Pixar masterpiece. I'm told next year's Pixar film is Cars 2, so that may bode well for other films (One of the studio's only losses was the first Cars). For now though, another Oscar for Pixar.

My Choice: Toy Story 3. If you've seen it, you know that this choice needs no explanation.

Best Original Screenplay
Mike Leigh for Another Year
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington for The Fighter
Christopher Nolan for Inception
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right
David Siedler for The King's Speech

Who Will Win: I'm going with Christopher Nolan. It may sound like wishful thinking, but hear me out. With Nolan shut out of Best Director, this is really the only chance to reward him and the film (aside from an easy win in Best Visual Effects). The movie has a contingent of supporters within the Academy or it would not be a Best Picture nominee, and Nolan has already won this same honor at the 2011 Writer's Guild Awards. There's always a strong chance that The King's Speech could nab this one as part of an overall sweep, but this category doesn't always fall in line with the others.

My Choice: Nolan.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy for 127 Hours
Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network
Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3
Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit
Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini for Winter's Bone

Who Will Win: Aaron Sorkin's zinger-filled script for The Social Network has already earned him several prizes in the pre-Oscar competitions. I doubt the movie is leaving the Kodak Theater without at least one major award, and this is the best chance for a win.

My Choice: Very strong category. I find myself leaning towards the Coens, mostly for how unique the dialogue was in True Grit - intentionally archaic and stilted, but also quite funny.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams in The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech
Melissa Leo in The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom

Who Will Win: This category is famous for upsets, and I think one may be brewing. Melissa Leo has swept most of the pre-Oscar awards (or "playoffs," as I like to call them), but she has been helped by the confusion about whether the teenage Hailee Steinfeld should be in a leading or supporting category. Anyone who has watched True Grit knows that it is a leading role, but studios tend to push for supporting nominations for younger stars for whatever reason. Now that we have a direct matchup of the two, I think Steinfeld's going to take the prize in a photo finish.

My Choice: Steinfeld certainly deserves it for her ability to deliver the tongue-twister lines that the Coens wrote for her. I also wouldn't mind a win for Amy Adams, who did great work but has been overshadowed by Leo throughout this whole season.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale in The Fighter
John Hawkes in Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner in The Town
Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

Who Will Win: Bale's been the man to beat for this Oscars cycle, and I suspect his streak will continue. None of these other performances are as no-holds-barred crazy as he was in The Fighter. Still, he's not invincible. Rush's work in The King's Speech is highly regarded, and I could see him claiming the statue as well. For now, I'll stick with Bale. I'm hoping that Kayne West or someone else will interrupt his acceptance speech so he'll have a chance to show off that infamous temper...but people are usually pretty well-behaved at the Oscars.

My Choice: A duel between Bale and Rush is a win-win for me. Both of them were superb.

Best Actress
Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman in Black Swan
Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine

Who Will Win: Poor Annette Bening. She is a great actress and everyone seems to agree that she deserves an Oscar someday, but she always winds up playing second fiddle to someone else. This year it's Natalie Portman. You think Bale's performance was crazy? Watch out, cause Portman's revelatory work in Black Swan should propel her right to the top.

My Choice: Jennifer Lawrence.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem in Biutiful
Jeff Bridges in True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
Colin Firth in The King's Speech
James Franco in 127 Hours

Who Will Win: Firth, and commandingly so. None of these other actors, skilled as they are, have achieved the same momentum as Firth's stuttering King George VI. If I had to guess second place, I would go with Franco. The problem there is that Franco is also hosting this year's show, which makes for a really awkward dynamic that probably works against him in the end. Firth will reign.

My Choice: Firth, Franco, Eisenberg...I'd be happy with any of them.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit
David Fincher for The Social Network
Tom Hooper for The King's Speech
David O. Russell for The Fighter

Who Will Win: This is a brutally close race between Tom Hooper and David Fincher. Fincher is the respected veteran whose excellent work is probably reason why a movie about Facebook turned out to be so striking. Hooper is a newcomer who has impressed Hollywood by guiding The King's Speech with a steady hand. The reason I'm going with Hooper is because he has the Director's Guild of America award, which almost always coincides with the winner of this category. Still, once in a great while it turns out differently and this could be one of those times. Hooper is my tentative prediction, but it could go either way.

My Choice: Aronofsky or Fincher.

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

Who Will Win: Let's start narrowing it down. 127 Hours is too visceral, Black Swan is too sleazy, Inception is too cool (sad, isn't it?), The Kids Are All Right is too divisive, Toy Story 3 is too animated (that's even sadder), and Winter's Bone is too obscure. The remaining four have the most nominations, but we can eliminate two more. True Grit is very well made, but not especially serious or sincere. Best Picture winners need to have a certain stature, and the movie is too playful for that. The Fighter is closer, but that seems to be viewed as more of a showcase for great acting than a great film on its own.

So it comes down to a battle between The King's Speech and The Social Network. Unlike last year's Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker duel, where the polarizing Avatar was hurt by the Academy's preferential ballots, both of this year's top contenders have enjoyed near universal acclaim. It's a "head vs. heart" battle similar to the Forrest Gump/Pulp Fiction battle of 1994 (Gump won). Will it be the detached, witty and cynical film or the classy, uplifting one? The Social Network was a steamroller in the early award competitions, but as more people saw The King's Speech, it began to dominate the later guild awards. Social Network is often compared to Citizen Kane, given that they are both semi-truthful tales of brilliant, ambitious, but deeply flawed men. But back in 1941...Citizen Kane lost Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley. So maybe it is destined to have a rich legacy...but The King's Speech is probably going to win Best Picture.

My Choice: Toy Story 3. The decade-old Animated Feature category and the advent of ten nominees in this category were steps forward in recognizing the achievements of this genre, but the Academy membership as a whole still seems extremely reluctant to place these films on the same plateau as their live-action counterparts. Maybe someday.

I'm out. The winners will be revealed on February 27.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Clone Saga Revisited, Part Three

With the third volume in this new "Complete Clone Saga Epic" series, I've started to realize that Marvel is not kidding around when they say "complete." Every Spidey comic published during that era seems ripe for inclusion in these volumes regardless of whether or not it dealt with the core plotline. I certainly appreciate the throughness of this approach, but it works against them this time.

But where were we at the end of Volume 2? The original 1970s Clone Saga mastermind, The Jackal, had just returned and planted seeds of doubt about just who is the real Spider-Man - Peter Parker or Ben Reilly? We start this time with "Players and Pawns," a two-part tale featuring more of Jackal's shenanigans. There's also a third Peter Parker who emerges suddenly. Is he the real one? Spoiler alert - no. Jackal's smugness and puns get old quick, but at least this story is short. The most notable thing that happens is that Aunt May finally comes out of her coma.

But anyone who reads this volume is in for a serious endurance test before we get to see the emotional ramifcations of Aunt May's return. Specifically, it's time to wade through the five-part "Planet of the Symbiotes" storyline. This story was published outside the four main Spidey-titles in a series of "super special" one-shots. Special...this story is special the same way that Forrest Gump was special. Venom and Carnage were quite overexposed during the 1990s. I still think the over-the-top "Maximum Carnage" storyline is a guilty pleasure, but this story is one of the most absolutely godawful Spider-Man tales I've ever read. And keep in mind we're in the middle of the Clone Saga when we say this, so that carries some weight.

I'm not even going to try and summarize the sheer stupidity that passes for a plot in this comic abortion, but I will point out a fairly amusing mistake. At one point in this story, Eddie Brock and the two Spideys are chilling with Mary Jane as they hide out from the invading symbiotes (seriously, don't ask) and good old MJ is very cordial with her husband's duplicate. Nothing wrong with that on its own, except Mary Jane's first meeting with Reilly happens later on in this same volume and she's not exactly in the best mood at the time. So not only is the story terrible, it's not even placed in the right spot. Like I said, I do appreciate that Marvel wants to include all the stories where the clone appears, but honestly nobody would have cried foul if this one was missing.

So if you made it through that, you get rewarded with "The Gift," the story originally printed in Amazing Spider-Man #400. The "gift" of the title is the week that Aunt May gets to spend with Peter Parker before her death. Yep, this was the story when she bowed out of the Spidey universe (at least for a few years...let's not go there). It made sense. She had been in poor health since the early 1960s and it was probably time to send the old girl out with dignity.

That's exactly what J.M. DeMatteis did in this exemplary story. There's no action whatsoever and it relies totally on characters and dialogue to make its impact. As a pre-teen when this came out, it was easily the most emotional thing I had ever read...and it still holds it own when you read it as an adult. Once May has peacefully passed, this story ends with a big shock. There were a lot of "shocks" in the Clone Saga that felt as revelatory as Tuesday coming after Monday, but this was a big one. Just as May's funeral is over, the police show up and arrest Peter Parker. The charge? Murder.

The two-part "Aftershocks" story comes after this, and this stuff is decent enough. The only drawback is seeing that lame-o Judas Traveller show up again and do nothing but blow a few things up and then go on his merry way. The final storyline included in Volume 3 is "The Mark of Kaine." Remember him? Well, he was impossible to forget during this Clone business. We were told that this story would answer our questions about the mysterious figure, but it ultimately didn't answer much. The first half focused on Kaine's prophetic visions of Mary Jane's death, which he hopes to prevent by kidnapping her and hiding her underground. Naturally, neither of the Spider-Men are too happy with this. Parker breaks out of jail (assisted by Traveller...just go away already!) and even the moody third Parker joins in. In the second half, the story goes off the rails as the third Parker is revealed to be some genetic abomination who can shapeshift in the style of T-1000. Yeah, it's really weird...and some of the art is just ghastly. In the final part, Kaine picks fights with a bunch of Spidey's enemies...*yawn* The best part of this story is the scene where Reilly unselfishly decides to switch places with Peter and remain in jail so that he can be with Mary Jane while hunting the real murderer. It's pretty epic.

That does it for now. Next time, we get into the really bad Clone Saga stuff. At least we're done with Venom for a while.