I recently saw "Black Swan"(about 3 weeks ago, but it took me this long to getting to write about it) which means I’ve seen what I believe are the top 5 of 2010 by Oscar’s standards. I wish I could say for certain that "Inception" and not "The Fighter" would have made the short-list under a five picture system, so I’ll do the next best thing: Continue to refuse to see "The Fighter" and just call it as 5 for 6.
Why aren’t I watching "The Fighter"? I am highly uninterested in boxing movies. There have been too many boxing movies over the years with little variation and I’m not convinced I’ll be seeing anything remotely original. Even Mark Wahlberg admitted as much. Boxing is also just way too easy a venue for metaphors about the human spirit. He gets knocked down in the rink, like he gets knocked down in life, oohhhh, I can relate to that. It’s symbolism for second graders.
Now that I’ve seen each of the best picture contenders (the ones worth seeing), I feel I can comment on this race.
A quick summary: “The King’s Speech” is a crusty British film about the shenanigans of the royal family, which let’s admit: The British royal family has never been interesting. Largely removed from actual power, they’re function is mainly to smile and attend important functions, meet with important people and mug for the camera. I can’t be the first cultural commentator to notice that they’re parallel over here in the states is becoming Paris Hilton, the Khardashians, Lauren Conrad, etc.
Still, the British royal family is important in the cultural context of having grown up British. To them, the royal family is understandably important, and the dramatic arts community here has had a strong affinity for all things British, which is why such duds as “Cavalcade” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” “Billy Elliott” “The Queen” (arguably not that much of a dud), “The Madness of King George” “Shakespeare in Love” “Mrs. Miniver” and many, many more films have succeeded at the Oscars just because they had to do with something British.
The “Social Network” came along and said: Don’t vote for another stuffy British film again. Vote for a film about something hip and current, like the story of Facebook. “The King’s Speech” had the defense: Just because we’re a film about something very British, doesn’t mean we’re a stuffy British film or a bad film. Voters should still give us a chance.”In my opinion, both of these films were what they said they’d be. “Social Network” made a movie about something current and hip and could also qualify as artfully made. I had the reaction of admiring many of its elements: The editing, the score, Aaron Sorkin’s more restrained script, and the performance by Jesse Eisenberg (neither of the other two leads impressed me much at all) were all impressive. “King’s Speech” was about something stuffy but was less stuffy than I expected. I suppose that’s the best I can say about it. I won’t say the film didn’t succeed, but I’ve also largely forgotten about it by now, except for the particularly innovative performances of Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bohman Carter.
My reaction to “True Grit” on the other hand wasn’t intellectual like it was to the Social Network. I didn’t say to myself, “I’m impressed.” I just felt a sense of “wow, that was something.” It was a movie that moved me emotionally. This is very ironic when you consider that while the Coen Brothers have been referred to as “film scholars” and they’ve shown a somewhat perverted interest in copying genres and stripping them of the elements that have given them emotional resonance . “True Grit” has a sense of quirkiness to it, but it really cares about telling it’s story.
As for the other two films:
"Black Swan" is a film that is without a doubt the boldest, most experimental of the films. Aranofsky is a filmmaker with a distinctive style that’s adding something new to the conversation and for that he deserves reward. Even though I haven’t seen Wrestler (I hate wrestling films in addition to boxing films), I imagine that it’s the perfect marriage of the Wrestler’s profile of an artist with self-esteem issues plot motif with Requiem for a Dream’s general reality-bending trippiness. In some ways, I very much didn’t enjoy Black Swan, but it’s a shame it didn’t enter the conversation for Best Picture or Best Director. It also was very deserving of technical awards like editing and cinametography.
"Inception" was the best film of the year I saw. Whether it had too much exposition or not, it was endlessly fascinating and a highly intelligent piece of work. Like Black Swan, it broke from the norm and took viewers outside of their comfort zone. The cast also delivered pretty heavily. Everyone from Cillian Murphy to Joseph Gordon-Leavitt to Tom Hardy were all on the same page. Again, it's too bad it didn't enter the conversation as the race wore on.