The big weekend is just about upon us. No, not the Super Bowl. We already had that one. The Oscars. The Academy Awards. That gaudiest of all gaudy award shows that allows all of us to feel like we are better judges of great cinema than the 6,000 or so members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who actually get to vote for the Best Picture of the Year.
And, of course, more often than not, we’re right and they’re wrong. After “Slumdog Millionaire” won in 2009 (over a truly memorable film like “Milk”), the bosses at the Academy (i.e., the studio execs) decided to increase the list of nominated films from the traditional five to ten. The result last year was a tad embarrassing, with the likes of “The Blind Side” getting recognition it certainly didn’t deserve on artistic merit.
This year’s list of nominees contains nothing comparably mediocre, although even ten wasn’t enough to earn recognition for several gems. As in past years, I’ll offer my assessment of those nominated and suggest some that are equally as good, if not better.
To get started, let’s talk documentaries. A strong case could be made for at least three this year to have been included in a list of the ten best.
The three are “Restrepo,” the brutally honest depiction of the war in Afghanistan from the perspective of the grunts who are fighting it (and dying in it); “Inside Job,” the true story of the economic meltdown of 2008, told with the kind of matter-of-fact candor that denies all but the most skilled deniers the ability to deny the truth; and “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” the insanely creative exploration of street art that becomes an exploration of just what qualifies as art at the same time that it raises questions as to whether it’s a documentary or a spoof.
Of the three, “Job” is probably the best and could well be the best film of the year, but the other two are close behind, “Restrepo” for its graphic view of the reality of a preposterous war, and “Gift Shop” for its inventiveness and genius.
And then there is the current offering from Mike Leigh, “Another Year,” which garnered only one nomination (for original screenplay), when it certainly should have been recognized as one of the best films (if not the best film) of the year. If you haven’t seen this beauty, do so at once or be forever cast as a weak excuse for a cinema buff.
As for the ten films that actually were nominated, here’s the way I rank them, starting with number 10, with the understanding, as always, that others will disagree for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the entirely subjective aspect of any attempt to rank works of art.
10. “Winter’s Bone” presented the life of one young woman in the backwoods of the Ozarks as she attempted to find her father. The story was in the search, not in the resolution, which took some of the sting out of what could have been a better movie, but was still a very good one.
9. “127 Hours” is better than anyone probably thought it would be when they sucked it up and went to see it (the self-amputation scene alone could easily have kept many away), and for director Danny Boyle, it’s definitely a step up from “Slumdog.”
8. “True Grit” is fun and beautifully shot (and the Coen Brothers are great film-makers), but it’s a remake of a western that wasn’t exactly crying out for another interpretation. Not the stuff of best picture awards, unless the award goes to the film that made the most money. Oh, wait, that is a major criteria, isn’t it?
7. “Toy Story 3” focused on the toys that the college-bound kid who used to play with them left behind, but it was really about all of us, from the recently grown up to those who gave up their childhood toys eons ago, only to realize they are always with us. As an animated film, it’s an amazing accomplishment.
6. “Inception” was the summer hit and is this year’s “Avatar.” It’s probably a better film than “Avatar,” but it doesn’t have nearly the philosophical underpinning that director Christopher Nolan probably thought he had included in it.
5. “The Kids Are All Right” presented a gay couple with adolescent children seeking their biological father. It was topical, funny, sad, and joyful, and it went where no mainstream film had gone before. Thus, it merits serious consideration as a best picture nominee.
4. “The Fighter” is a terrific film that is a lot more about human relationships in general and family relationships in particular than it is about boxing. It speaks in the same spirit as the original “Rocky” and could well stand the test of time as an equally admired film.
3. “Black Swan” is a powerful film, a film that takes chances, a film that achieves an artistic vision, a film that shakes, and doesn’t let go of, its viewer. It’s a triumph and will probably be the most remembered of the year’s nominees for pure artistic achievement.
2. “The King’s Speech” is a winner on all counts. It tells its story of the king who couldn’t speak and yet had to speak and of the teacher who helped him overcome his impediment so he could speak, and it’s all wrapped in the history of the onset of World War II. Great stuff on all counts.
1. “The Social Network” is my best picture of the year. It tells the story of the founding of Facebook intelligently in portraying all of its main characters as the people they probably are, and it presents the complete lack of anything remotely similar to a soul in the central character, whose genius dehumanizes him.
So, “Social Network” it is for me, although any of the top five would be acceptable, and, in truth, “Black Swan” would be the most satisfying, since it would be the least expected.
Now, the envelope please.