Having reviewed some of the worst movies of the year for this SlashGear column, I can finally set my sights on the best of the best, just in time for the Oscars. I'm only going to focus on one category, the most important one, the Best Picture. Full disclosure: I haven't seen all of the movies, but I've seen more of the ten nominees this year than in years past, and I've probably seen more than you have, because you didn't want to sit through the movie where the guy cuts his own arm off.
[Image credit: Kevin Harber]
"The Kids Are All Right" and "The Fighter"
These are the two I haven't seen. If one of them wins, I'll see it, as long as it's not The Fighter. Sorry, I just can't get myself interested. I like everyone involved, but just knowing that this was Mark Wahlberg's passion project for years has me turned off. First, it's a boxing movie, and there have already been enough great boxing movies. Second, passion projects are usually too long and too dull. I know, I'm like an Internet troll posting "TLDR" on this review, but unlike the trolls, I'll regret being wrong.
I did want to see The Kids Are All Right, but it was difficult to find the movie in a theater down here in Texas. Go figure. By the time I had a few free hours in a weekend, it was already gone. I refuse to watch these movies on my home television, too. That's the way most Academy voters see these movies, on DVD screener discs in the comfort of their own living rooms. I'm convinced that's why Avatar lost last year and a claustrophobic film like "The Hurt Locker" won. So, all of the other movies I saw in the theater on the big screen.
"The King's Speech"
This is the front runner. It is also the most boring movie of the bunch, which is why it will probably win. But it's a very dull movie. Maybe not if you're British, but I wouldn't want to sit through a movie about Harry Truman any more than I'm interested in King George VI. I know many viewers found this to be powerful and inspiring, and it was certainly a good movie, but you have to ask yourself, will you want to see this again? Will you buy the movie and show it to your children as an example of the great films of your youth? Of course not, because it's dull, and in 20 years nobody will want to sit through this movie again.
I also think the movie was a bit shallow. There are clearly some deep-rooted issues that the Prince, then the King, has to deal with from his own childhood. The relationship with his father and brother is hardly explored. I would have rather the screenwriters skipped most of the silly nonsense about Edward VIII's abdication of the throne and instead focused on the root causes of George VI's psychological issues. Perhaps they were being deferential, but they missed what could have been the most haunting moments of real character building.
"Black Swan" and "Winter's Bone"
I'm not sure why this movie got so much hype. I liked it very much, but I don't think it deserves a Best Picture nomination. I'm guessing that most people who loved this movie and want it to win either never saw "Requiem for a Dream," or they are huge fans of "Requiem" and want to see Aronofsky finally get his due. In either case, it's a finely crafted, eerie film, but I wouldn't say it's Aronofsky's best, nor is it the best film of the year. Perhaps I prefer the Aronofsky who asks grandiose questions about the nature of our relationship with society. Or, perhaps I just can't root for a movie that is, at its heart, about an artist who is consumed by her art. It just didn't feel large enough to be the winner this year.
I also loved "Winter's Bone," but it was a hard movie to watch. Throughout the film you're rooting for, um, what exactly? It almost seems like the heroine would be better off if she fails at her quest to find her missing father. There are neither heroes nor anti-heroes in this movie, and the bleak setting permeates the film so completely that it chills to the bone. I know that's the point, but in the same way that "Black Swan" did not seem grand enough in its scale, neither did "Winter's Bone."
Hooray for the Coen brothers! Finally making a movie that a wide audience can get behind. "True Grit" is an intense movie, though not in the scope of the Coen brothers' entire body of work. Of all the nominees I've mentioned so far, this is the first movie that I would keep watching if I flipped past it on HBO. It's bleak and gritty, not unlike "Winter's Bone," but it's also driven. However, it wasn't the best picture of the year. First of all, it's a remake. That doesn't disqualify it outright, but I do give more credit to original films than remakes in this category. Second, though I was enamored of the dialogue and script for this movie, I wasn't as thrilled with the acting as most other critics. Matt Damon seemed out of place. Jeff Bridges never lived up to the intense, murderous character he seems to define in his own court testimony about himself. Hailee Steinfeld was good, but her dialogue was so wordy and a bit too clever, which made the character less believable. Again, a good movie, but not the best.
I saw this movie because of an interview the director, Danny Boyle, did with NPR. He explained that his goal was to tell the story so that you are not cringing in anticipation waiting for the moment to happen. By the time James Franco cuts his arm off, the audience truly believes that it's the only option that he has left, and we should be rooting for him to do it already. In that, he succeeded. But when I think back on this film, all I remember is the cutting. It's beautifully filmed, and James Franco deserves an award for a compelling performance that carries the whole film through to its conclusion. I highly recommend seeing this movie, it's much better than you expect it will be. But it's not the best picture.
I can't figure out why this movie got so much hype. I think it's because most people missed "Memento," which is Christopher Nolan's triumph. Or maybe they didn't understand just how dark and sinister was the film "The Prestige." But "Inception" felt more like a stunt. It was a movie trying to be deliberately clever, when its conceit is not very interesting. Even the supposed twist at the end, if there is a twist, did not add much to the movie. In a way, the twist erases all of the commitment the audience has just put into two hours of movie watching, and that's the worst type of twist. It's a fantastic looking film, and it deserves awards for visual effects, but it's not the best picture of the year.
"Toy Story 3"
Didn't you love "Toy Story 3?" Of course you did. How could you not? Of all the nominees, this will undoubtedly be the best seller on DVD and Blu-Ray. It was not only a great animated movie, it was also a nice way to wrap-up the entire Toy Story saga. That said, I'm tired of the Toy Story saga. I didn't love the first movie. I find the characters a bit hokey, especially Woody. Maybe I'm too cynical to hope that a movie that is so steeped in peace, love and understanding wins best picture this year. Now "The Incredibles," that's an animated movie I could get behind for the award. But "Toy Story" feels somewhat formulaic and predictable. I'll buy this one to show my kids, but it wasn't the best picture.
The Best Picture of the Year
The best picture of the year was "The Social Network." That doesn't mean I think Facebook deserves an award, nor does it mean Mark Zuckerberg is responsible for great filmmaking. I had no illusions about the veracity of "The Social Network" story. But I think it was a fine film. Besides being so topical for today's changing digital culture, it had something larger to say about relationships and what it takes to succeed in such a fast-paced, competitive world. The acting was rock solid, especially the supporting characters. Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer, who played both Winklevoss twins, were interesting and fun to watch. I appreciated the ambiguity of the film. It's never clear who is the villain and who is the hero. David Fincher leaves the big questions unanswered, but still delivers a satisfying narrative. Plus, the intense score from Trent Reznor kept the film moving so quickly that it could have been an hour longer and still interesting.
Of all the nominees I saw, there was certainly not a bad picture in the bunch, but "The Social Network" deserves the title of Best Picture of the Year more than the rest of the pack.