...and The Oscar goes to...

It’s almost Oscar night.  Accordingly, here are this filmmaker’s final thoughts in the run-up. These entirely subjective predilections – how could they be anything but? – are also somewhat selective.  I proffer my assessment based on categories in which I watched a majority of nominated films. Vamonos!

Black SwanThe King’s Speech, True Grit and Winter’s Bone are all highly commendable. Winter’s Bone is the best,  but it won’t win because it’s about the unspeakable – poverty and ignorance in America – it’s damn sad and almost no one saw it. I go with the worthy Black Swan by default.

Best Director:  tough call, but Darren Aronofsky gets the nod for visualizing artistry, horror, psychological trauma and sexuality in Black Swan.

I’d have never believed anyone but Natalie Portman should win Oscar for Best Actress out of Black Swan.  Then I saw Winter’s Bone.  Please, oh puh-leeez! Give this award to Jennifer Lawrence for her jaw-dropping, intense, yet nuanced, performance.

Colin Firth is wonderful in The King’s Speech.  Jeff Bridges is an American original, as much and as great as Clint Eastwood or Brian Wilson. Bridges proved it again in True Grit. However, Javier Bardem is incandescent inBiutiful.  Bardem deserves the Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress: the then thirteen-year-old Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. It’s the wrong category because her character carries the narrative of the film, but this is one Steinfeld can actually win.  You go, girl!

Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech. Caveat – I say this without having seen Christian Bale’s performance in The Fighter. People I respect greatly tell me that Bale is a deserving winner. However, Oscar would not go wrong with the extraordinary Man from Oz.

Incendies, directed by Quebecois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, is perhaps the best film of all. I hope it wins the Best Foreign Language Film categoryIt would put Villeneuve in the deserved company of Quebec film making greats like Denys Arcand, Claude Jutra and Jean-Claude Lauzon.  Further, as the Middle East blows up and transforms before our eyes, Incendies, likeWinter’s Bone, in its gaze into modern tribalism, is the most timely of fictional films. From the same category, Biutiful may have confounded the critics, but Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu remains one of the world’s great filmmakers. His latest film was, in my view, underrated. However, give the statue to Villeneuve. Right now!

Best adapted screenplay:  While I hate to deny Winter’s Bone anything, I give the nod to Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for having the genitalia and creativity to re-adapt, in an entirely different way, a work that had already won an Oscar for a previous version starring John Wayne.  That’s chutzpa.

Best cinematography: Matthew Libatique, Black Swan

Best Film Editing: Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan

Final thoughts:

1. The Social Network is widely nominated.  To me, as I’ve written earlier in this blog, that picture is a television movie-of-the-week in disguise. I don’t get it, but I know I’m in a small minority.  The film will win in at least one category. That will be me cringing.

2. A few years back, Clint Eastwood could do no wrong. He was on a deserved Oscar roll. In 2010, he released Hereafter, one of that great filmmakers most original works. Hmmm…I guess even Clint gets a slap now and again. I’d encourage you to  see Hereafter and judge for yourself whether it was worthy of Oscar nominations. I surely think so.

3. The Town, directed by Ben Affleck, also deserved a better fate.  If Affleck keeps working at that level, it won’t be long before Oscar notices.

Conundrum in True Grit

Confession time:  I loved True Grit.  It may mark the first time I felt moved by a Coen Bros. film.  I’ve often laughed, been disturbed, and have been impressed by Joel and Ethan Coen’s ever broadening cinematic vision, butTrue Grit got to me.  Maybe it’s the ‘road movie’ escapades of a 14 year-old character named Mattie Ross with vengeance in her heart (played brilliantly by Hailee Steinfeld), her horse, the grizzled gun-slinging Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, unparalleled as usual) and a sometimes comic performance by the versatile Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger that worked so well for me.

The film is both a classic John Ford western with beautiful scenery, great sets and some well-filmed action (wait for the sight of Mattie Ross attempting to cross a very wide, fast moving river on her horse);  but it’s also an ‘acid’ western in the tradition of Arthur Penn’s The Missouri Breaks, or perhaps even more, Jim Jarmusch’s  Dead Man, in that it subverts the ‘western’ genre while augmenting it.

It’s also a re-make. None other than John Wayne won Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in a 1978 True Grit. Both films are based on source material by the novelist Charles Portis.

Here’s my dilemma:  the protagonists, under the urging of the wannabe vengeful angel Mattie, head off into “Indian Territory”.  A problem arises in a film that otherwise complicates many iconic ‘western’ approaches: with the exception of a few children who are swatted around by Rooster, there appear to be no Indians in ‘the Territory’. While I am unfamiliar with Portis’ novel, the absence of Indian characters seems odd.  I’m uncomfortable offering such a critique, that could fairly be considered awkwardly ‘politically correct’, because the Coen brothers have made a fabulously entertaining film. Still I wonder about that scripting choice.

Allow me to now make a partial Oscar assessment.  Bear in mind that I have yet to see 127 Hours, Inception or The Fighter. Having stated that caveat: I say it’s a toss up between Black Swan and True Grit for best film. The King’s Speech is lovely, but very mainstream. And, as I have written earlier in this space, The Social Network struck me as an MOW worthy, shallow caricature that does not belong in the same conversation.

I’m off next to see Montreal director Denis Villeneuve’s, Incendies, Canada’s entry in the Best Foreign Language film category.