Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rabbit Hole

January 1, 2011

Rabbit Hole (2010) ****1/2
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

My tweet:

Rabbit Hole (2010)- What a surprise departure for Mitchell! Tricky subject matter handled with a great deal of acumen. ****1/2 of 5

Other thoughts:

In order to avoid being pigeonholed as a certain "type" of filmmaker, it might prove wise for an up and coming director to accept a project completely outside of his comfort zone. Not only is it helpful for one's reputation, but it also might help strengthen one's abilities as well, forcing a relatively new director to think in ways and tackle problems he hasn't come across in his career thus far. Though he's been around long enough that no one considers him "up and coming" anymore, M. Night Shyamalan did something similar this year by directing a live action 3D adaptation of a kids cartoon show instead of a Hitchcockian psychological thriller with a glimpse of the supernatural often coming by way of a "wow" moment at the end. It's always important to credit risk taking in Hollywood, but by most accounts, The Last Airbender proved to be a colossal disaster, with many critics claiming that Shyamalan was playing completely against his strength of masterfully suggesting the presence of the unseen by trying to tackle an action epic using CGI to emphasize candid visuals.

Therefore, one must choose his or her projects carefully. Rabbit Hole is John Cameron Mitchell's third film, and it couldn't be more different than his first two--2001's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a glam fest about a transsexual punk rocker, and 2006's Shortbus, a humorous comment on society by showcasing graphic real sex. Instead of another visually striking film for a niche audience, Mitchell chose as his next project to tackle an adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's very low key stage play about a couple dealing with the grief of the sudden death of their four year old son. Adding another difficult layer is the fact that we join the couple eight months after the tragedy, so we're restricted from the sort of explosive emotions one might expect immediately following something so harrowing.

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie who are clearly not doing well at all. Becca has become quite cynical and even downright cruel at times, which we see almost immediately when Becca berates another grieving couple for positing that God needed another angel in heaven in order to give some meaning to something beyond explanation. Becca is the last to learn that her sister is pregnant. This coupled with her mother's insistence on comparing Becca's son's death with the death of Becca's brother who was a thirty year old heroin addict when he died makes family interactions unbearable for her, and too often they don't end well.

Howie, on the other hand, is all-too-eager to try and take that next step, though his nightly ritual of watching a video of his son might be holding him back. He resents Becca for trying to erase evidence of his existence, at least that's how he sees it. He's even open to having another child, and after making the first romantic gesture towards her in eight months, she rejects him outright. As they grow apart, he connects with a woman from group therapy, played by Sandra Oh, whose husband just left her. They smoke pot nightly and clearly she would be willing to accept him romantically if he ever decides to pursue it.

Becca meanwhile has her own peculiar way of dealing with her feelings. She follows the school bus of the high school student who caused her son's death by accidentally hitting him with his car. Eventually, the two sit down for a conversation in a public park, which leads to an odd camaraderie between them. He shows her the comic book that he's working on called Rabbit Hole about parallel universes where everyone exists as themselves except by living lives different than they are in the real world. Becca finds this comforting.

Howie and Becca drift farther from each other with their dishonesty. Clearly, their son's death is either going to break them apart completely or somehow bring them together. Sadly, the odds are stacked against them. Either way, though, both have to figure out how to make it through each unbearably difficult day to the next one after that.

Rabbit Hole is not dealing with new material at all. If you want to watch a movie about a couple grieving the loss of a child, simply turn on the Lifetime Movie Channel and you're guaranteed to find something that day which is aiming to jerk the tears out of your eyes. Yet, Rabbit Hole is much smarter than that. This couple's struggle is thankfully foreign to most of us, and there is a place for heightened emotions and hyper-real dialogue within such a cruel tragedy. At the same time, there needs to be truthful insight or else we're left with just another manipulative manufactured weepfest.

Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screenplay himself, and he's able to keep us not only believing the struggles of our main characters, but also totally invested as well. We're presented with situations that are sort of expected but don't always play out in the most obvious ways. Take Becca's encounter with the high school kid named Jason, played by newcomer Miles Teller. Most people in Becca's situation probably wouldn't do what she did, but when the two are talking, the exchange feels very real, yet it still contains some mystery and intrigue. Is he taking the place of her son in her mind? Is she trying but not capable of forgiving him? Is she there simply to try and get answers to questions that really have no answers? There's not a single moment in Rabbit Hole where an actor does something totally unbelievable. Expectations are confounded, but never in a way that destroys believability altogether. This is tricky to do, especially considering how much we've seen this material in film and on television in the past.

Of course, perhaps the key to truth with this material lies with the performances. Aaron Eckhart has the more straightforward role of a man who wears his struggles on his sleeve. Eckhart, a fine actor, is certainly up for the challenge even if his performance isn't as compelling as Kidman's. Not only is Kidman one of the most talented actresses working today, but she's also one of the bravest, not afraid to take on projects with some of the most off-beat directors like Noah Baumbach and Lars von Trier. As a one-time gossip magazine staple, Kidman has proven over and over again that she's more than a pretty face. Here she gives one of her best performances as a woman on the verge of martial and personal destruction. She's cold to those around her, and yet she projects her struggles in her performance so well that we do warm to her at first through pity and later through respect. Granted, Kidman's accent work is a little bit questionable at times, but it's forgivable especially considering how good she is otherwise.

There's also a solid supporting cast including Diane Wiest as Becca's less sophisticated yet caring mother, Tammy Blanchard as her rough around the edges pregnant sister Izzy as well as the aforementioned Sandra Oh and Miles Teller. Mitchell's direction, though far from flashy, provides a texture which further helps to elevate this material beyond movie of the week pablum. The way he focuses on his actors' faces in just the right ways at just the right moments shows that he doesn't need visual flamboyance as a crutch for his talent behind the camera. Mitchell is one of the best directors working today. One only needs to watch all three disparate film to see this.

Kudos to John Cameron Mitchell and everyone involved for a wonderfully surprising, emotionally satisfying character study. The risk was well worth it. M. Night Shyamalan, on the other hand...well, I'll continue to root for you in the future.

Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Year End Movie Wrapup Blog-a-Thon- Day 4

December 31, 2010

And there you have it folks! Four days of analyzing the films and Oscar possibilities of 2010. I'm writing this introduction one hour and forty-five minutes before 2011! What a great way to end the year by sharing insights with three great lovers of film. Please feel free to comment on any of these posts to any one of us and I'll make sure your comment is seen by the intended recipient.

Key:
Sean Patrick Kernan's writing will be in maroon. Visit Sean's blog here.
Julian Stark's writing will be in green. Visit Julian's blog here.
Candice Frederick's writing will be in blue. Visit Candice's blog here.
My writing will be in orange.


Sean Patrick Kernan

What a great year this has been and to cap it off with this four day intensive look back at the best movies of the year with three of the most educated and unique bloggers on the net has been phenomenal. Candice, Brian and Julian thank you. Dear reader, please contribute as well, you can email me or on Candice, Brian and Julian's sites they have comment sections.

And, there is always Twitter


Candice @Reeltalker

Brian @bpdreview

Julian @202chicago

Sean @SeanPatriKernan

Julian Stark


I actually have to agree with Candice that Mark Ruffalo was better in Shutter Island. I actually didn’t see too much in his Kids Are All Right performance, even though it’s easily ranks high on my list of this year’s best films. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten about his work in Shutter Island, but that’s probably because it’s been so long since I’ve seen it.

Anyway, as far as my Oscar wishlist (alphabetical order) is concerned…


Lead Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception)

Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island)*

Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man 2)

Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)

Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass)


Lead Actress

Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)

Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs)

Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Anika Noni Rose (For Colored Girls)

Tilda Swinton (I Am Love)


Supporting Actor

Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Nicolas Cage (Kick-Ass)

Vincent Cassel (Black Swan)

Kieran Culkin (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World)

Zach Galifianakis (It’s Kind of a Funny Story)


Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (The Fighter)

Barbara Hershey (Black Swan)

Mila Kunis (Black Swan)

Juliette Lewis (Conviction)

Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass)


*I know that it’s a maximum of one nomination per category, but I can dream, can’t I?


However, here’s what I’m predicting (listed in order of most likely to win to least likely; essential locks for nominations are IN CAPS)


Lead Actor

COLIN FIRTH (THE KING’S SPEECH)

JESSE EISENBERG (THE SOCIAL NETWORK)

JAMES FRANCO (127 HOURS)

Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)

Robert Duvall (Get Low)


Lead Actress

NATALIE PORTMAN (BLACK SWAN)

ANNETTE BENING (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT)

JENNIFER LAWRENCE (WINTER’S BONE)

NICOLE KIDMAN (RABBIT HOLE) – close enough to being a lock to be considered one

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)


Supporting Actor

CHRISTIAN BALE (THE FIGHTER)

MARK RUFFALO (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT)

Andrew Garfield (The Social Network)

GEOFFREY RUSH (THE KING’S SPEECH)

Jeremy Renner (The Town)


Supporting Actress

MILA KUNIS (BLACK SWAN)

AMY ADAMS (THE FIGHTER)

MELISSA LEO (THE FIGHTER)

HELENA BONHAM CARTER (THE KING’S SPEECH)

Barbara Hershey (Black Swan)


Candice Frederick


To respond to Sean's question about my impression of Greenberg in more depth, I'll say this: Quite frankly I just wished someone other than Stiller played the role. I know he was supposed to be a smug guy, but he didn't give Greenberg any justice. As an actor I think he should have drawn some empathy from the audience to make them see his point of view, and he just didn't. I was disappointed. To me, that showed that he never fully understood the character enough to play him.


I would love The Town to receive a best picture nomination. Though I think too man folks would see it as a The Departed redux for it to stand alone and get recognized. But I definitely agree that Renner should get a nod. To me, his performance in that movie was better than Wahlberg's in The Departed.


And I agree that Wahlberg is swallowed by his terrific cast performances in The Fighter to be a real contender, but it looks like he'll get a nod. Armie Hammer was great in The Social Network but I really think with Sorkin's wonderful script his performance might have been written for him already.


I'm not getting all the love for Kick-Ass. I didn't think it was kickass at all; I thought it was lame But I know I'm in the minority on this one.


I just want to also add that I hope Inception gets more appreciate from the academy than some special effects nods. The script was great, as was the acting. I'd love to also see The Social Network, Black Swan, The Kids are All Right, and Night Catches Us up on the board for best picture. With a 10-movie slot, it might be safe to assume there may be a few duds, throaways, and/or curve balls in the mix. What do you think they'll be? Shutter Island maybe? Blue Valentine? I guess is 127 Hours, Winter's Bone, The King's Speech, and The Fighter as well.


Sean Patrick Kernan


Julian I am so with you on the Kick Ass love. That movie kicked my ass all over the theater and I loved every minute of it. Kick Ass was one of my favorite experiences at the movies in 2010 which is what I want to talk about before I also chime in on the Oscar talk. Two horror movies provided two of my other favorite experiences of the year. Going in to The Crazies I was expecting another lame zombie movie. What I got instead was a taut, witty horror movie that kept me consistently breathless with it's brilliant B-movie-ness. Breck Eisner may just have a career yet and that provides of the bigger surprises of the year. The other favorite experience of the year was The Last Exorcism a smart, self aware horror movie that took a TV actor, Patrick Fabian, and made him look like a superstar. Fabian's charm ropes you in and then once you are hooked director Daniel Stamm rips the rug out from under you in surprising fashion. Just when I thought I couldn't be surprised by a horror movie, The Last Exorcism actually made me jump in my seat.


It was not an exceptionally good year for comedy but a couple stood out for me. Get Him to the Greek is a movie I know Candice is not a fan of but it worked for me. I'm a fan of Russell Brand's schtick and Get Him to the Greek actually makes me eager to see his take on Arthur. The more surprising successes for me were Easy A and Going the Distance. Emma Stone nails every moment of Easy A despite being hampered by omniscient narration and a predictable High School setting. Stone's chemistry with Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as her parents is phenomenal and may be the funniest thing about a very funny movie. Going the Distance worked for me because of how unabashedly foul it was. It's not that I love four letter words but the proper employment of expletives works for me and Going the Distance, and especially Drew Barrymore, deploy expletives in the most unique and unexpected ways.


So, digging into the Oscar talk I think we are underestimating True Grit. We have to keep in mind how much the Academy loves something familiar, hence all the love for The King's Speech. The only thing the Academy loves more than familiarity is zeitgeist, hence the ultimate zeitgeist movie The Social Network getting so much love. True Grit has last year's Oscar winning lead actor. It has Oscar winners the Coen Brothers, pedigree my friends gets you along with the Academy, how else did Meryl Streep get nominated for half a movie in Julie and Julia. Matt Damon is a former Oscar winner and young Hailee Steinfeld has a great narrative, she was selected after a nationwide search of more than 17,000 other actresses and the performance is stunning. If not for the fact that True Grit is a remake it might be lock to win it all.


The Social Network will win this year because Fincher is due, the film is current and by Academy standards it's a hip choice. That's not a knock on The Social Network which is a phenomenal movie but it's not hip, your mom has a Facebook page now. If the Academy were truly hip we'd be talking about Tiny Furniture or I Am Love or Mother, movies that are hot with the tastemakers who are not running with the pack but are setting the pace. I don't claim to be one of those people, I don't have the time to keep up with them but I am aware enough to know what they are talking about and they stopped talking about The Social Network the minute Academy member mommies and daddies started appreciating it. Again, not a knock on The Social Network, merely an observation about the way our culture moves, the moment the Academy starts talking about Lena Dunham is the moment she will stop being hip.


Here is my list of the 10 movies the Academy will find acceptable..

The Social Network

The King's Speech

True Grit

Winter's Bone

The Town

Shutter Island

Toy Story 3

Black Swan

127 Hours

The Fighter


Watch out for The Way Back, Get Low, The Kids Are All Right, Rabbit Hole, How to Train Your Dragon and unfortunately Alice in Wonderland.


Winter's Bone is a strange case of a movie that critics have delivered all the way to the Academy. It's rare that critics have such power these days but without the critics Winter's Bone would have died on the vine. Instead, Winter's Bone has been making the papers nationwide for the past two weeks, sitting at or near the top of critics lists everywhere. Shutter Island is going to top Inception because the studio muscle has been stronger behind Shutter Island than behind Inception, a rare example where box office may hurt a nominee with the perception that it has been rewarded enough by box office dollars. Keep in mind that Lord of the Rings was the culmination of three films and not an honor for that particular. The notion that box office matters all that much should have been blown up by The Hurt Locker last year. Being a hit helps but for the image conscious Academy creating a hit movie is more fun than bandwagoning on a hit.

Candice I am happy to see you champion Night Catches Us. I wasn't as big of a fan of that film as you are but critics taking on a cause out of passion for the movie is always appealing to me, it's why I still love going to the movies and being a film critic, the chance to find a movie and tell as many people about it as will listen. I had an opportunity this year to be a champion for a tiny independent film that was shot just up the road from me here in Iowa. It's called 16 to Life and it's a charming little Juno-esque story of a small town girl looking for her first kiss on her 16th birthday. 16 to Life is a charming, ultra-literate and witty little comedy that is filled with these tiny perfect moments. I met the director Becky Smith and interviewed her on the radio and was really impressed and moved by how she and the cast were barnstorming this little movie from town to town and film festival to film festival where audiences were delighted enough to give it a couple awards. If you can find 16 to Life I urge you to check it out, it will be one of my last experiences at the movies in 2010.

Brian Dunn

Please someone promise me that we'll do something like this again next year. I've had a blast, and I feel like I've really been able to cement my own thoughts on the year as a whole by doing this. Again, I still have so many movies to see, and after this back and forth, I can't wait to get back to watching some of the great 2010 movies you all have mentioned that I haven't yet seen.

I haven't yet made my own list of what I think will be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, so I think I'll start formulating one by looking at Sean's choices.

The Social Network is a given, and it's also my favorite non-documentary film of 2010. I think Julian said that it's not a technically impressive film. I couldn't disagree more. Fincher's direction is certainly more subtle than someone like Christopher Nolan's for Inception, but his handiwork is certainly there on screen. No one does CGI the way Fincher does it. It's almost invisible how he's able to implement the CGI without ever drawing attention to it. He's done it again and again with Zodiac and Benjamin Button as other examples. The regatta scene in particular in The Social Network is perhaps the most viscerally exciting scene of the year, and that's all Fincher right there. Plus don't forget what he did with Armie Hammer's characters. By the way, I do think Hammer's fantastic, and he has gotten the recognition he deserves. I can understand Candice's and Sean's points about The Social Network not being the hip film because the Academy loves it, but I do think it will stand the test of time. I wouldn't be surprised to see it high on people's best of the decade lists in 2019. I also wouldn't be surprised to see it on something like the American Film Institute's list of the Greatest American Films in like 30 or 40 years. I truly believe it has the potential to be the movie of this generation. It will win, and it should.

The King's Speech (a really nice movie) is a given. I do agree that True Grit will be nominated for Best Picture. I don't think it will win much at all. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it goes home empty on Oscar night. Again I haven't seen it, but I have read many critics' reviews. I get the sense that many see it as a very solid movie, but as a Coen brothers film, it's not among their best work. The acting is good all around, and I'd love to see Matt Damon, a great actor, get nominated especially since I didn't even think about him until he was mentioned by the three of you. However, I haven't heard anything like "Jeff Bridges' best work" or "Matt Damon's best performance" or "the Coen Brothers' best film." I really do think it will be nominated though. And that whole argument that Julian refuted about the Globes not liking the Coens is ridiculous and Julian explained why perfectly.

I do think Winter's Bone will be nominated as well, and Sean's right that it is the critics that deserve credit for the buzz for it. It's a wonderful film, and it's the sort of film that never would have a chance of being nominated if there were still five nominees. Winter's Bone is exactly the sort of film that gives the ten BP nominee system merit. I think Candice mentioned that she didn't think The Town will be nominated. I disagree completely. It's gotten really good critical buzz and it's done well at the box office. I think it's a pretty sure bet that it will be nominated. Someone mentioned earlier that Ben Affleck might be a surprise nominee for Best Actor. He's good in the film, but I don't see that happening.

That brings me to Shutter Island. I liked Shutter Island. I was entertained by it, but wow, that film is polarizing. Some people hate it. Match that with the fact that it came out early in the year and that it's not among Scorsese's best and I think it's one that might get in, but probably won't. If it had been released later in the year, that might have given it a better shot, but I think the haters are going to have the last word on that one.

Toy Story 3 is a given. It's as charming as any film released this year. Black Swan is also a pretty sure thing in my opinion as well, even if I'm not totally in love with it. I actually think The Fighter is a definite. I don't think the moderate box office is going to hurt it. It's an Oscar bait kind of a film. It'll be nominated--at least I think so.

127 Hours is one of my favorite films of the year. I do think it will be nominated, but it might be the one that might disappoint me by slipping through the cracks. It's such a unique kind of a film and some Academy voters might have avoided it because of the subject matter. That being said, I still think it will get in.

So the nominees so far of Sean's that I agree with are:

The Social Network

The King's Speech

True Grit

Winter's Bone

The Town

Toy Story 3

Black Swan

127 Hours

The Fighter

That tenth spot will be an interesting one to say the least. Now I'll admit the sad fact that I only predicted seven of the 10 nominees last year, so that makes it difficult for me to even trust myself to predict the biggest wild card of the ten. I really really don't think Shutter Island will get in. So I think that tenth spot will in fact go to Inception. It's a great film. Everyone's seen it. It will be nominated for a number of technical awards. It's just been released on DVD. Christopher Nolan is unbelievably well respected. I think Inception's lack of early awards buzz won't matter that much. Critics groups don't vote for ten films. The Golden Globes' voting process is ridiculous because it's less than 100 people who like famous people and being bribed. The Academy is certainly a serious group of people so they won't nominate something like Iron Man 2, but I think the general moviegoing audience wants to see Inception nominated, and considering that it's also a great film, I think the Academy will award it.

The tenth movie that will be nominated will be:
Inception


If I'm wrong, it'll probably be among the following films: The Kids Are All Right, How to Train Your Dragon, Blue Valentine or Rabbit Hole. Again considering my track record from last year, I really do think The Kids Are All Right will be nominated in place of something. But I can't choose eleven films so I'll keep it off even though it's a wonderful movie.

Once again, thanks to Candice, Julian and Sean, and thanks to everyone who has read our exchange. 2011 is here, and I can't wait to start watching the movies we'll be discussing for next year's Blog-a-Thon.

2010 Year End Movie Wrapup Blog-a-Thon- Day 3

December 31, 2010

We continue our discussion by finishing up some thoughts on the best actresses of the year while primarily delving into those men who we think will and should be nominated for both the lead and supporting acting Oscars.

Brian Dunn

Day three and none of us have damned anyone else to hell or insulted each other's pets or anything like that. We should all be quite proud!

I'll move onto the male performances in a second, but I want to share a few final thoughts on the ladies. I spent so much time talking about who I thought would be nominated that I didn't really emphasize who I think deserves to win. Again, I haven't seen Kidman or Williams yet, but it looks like the award will probably be between Portman and Bening. I do think Portman is the best when she's at her best, so if she wins, which I'm inclined to think she will, then I won't be upset. However, I agree with the praise that you all have given to Bening. Not only is she wonderfully subtle in The Kids Are All Right, but she's lost twice to Hilary Swank in 1999 and 2005. The good news is that Swank has no chance of winning even if she does get nominated, which is unlikely. Unfortunately, I do think Portman's performance is hefty enough to take the Oscar. Granted, Bening might get some lifetime achievement votes which could put her over the top. I don't usually root for votes of this sort, but because Bening is so good and because Portman will probably win an Oscar in the future, I'll be crossing my fingers for Bening on Oscar night.

I also forgot completely about Greta Gerwig, who is a wonderful actress. Again, though, I wonder if voters have forgotten about her as well. I'd think she'd be more appropriate as a supporting actress for Greenberg, and I'd be thrilled if she did sneak in with a nomination. Again, though, I wouldn't put any money on that happening. I also totally agree with you Sean when you mention Rooney Mara. That opening scene is a masterwork in both acting and screenwriting. It sets up the Mark Zuckerberg character in a truly unconventional and brilliant way. I only knew Mara as the surprise choice to play the English language Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Her performance in The Social Network has me convinced that she'll be great. I'd also like to point out that once again Rebecca Hall is getting no awards buzz for being the best thing in a film--this year being The Town. She was the best part of Starter for 10, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Please Give. I'm getting annoyed that she's still ignored for her talent. Finally, it's worth noting the performance of Katie Jarvis is a wonderful little film called Fish Tank from January. No chance at all for a nomination, but she's good enough for sure.

Now to delve into the male performances of 2010. I haven't yet seen True Grit, but I don't think Bridges will be nominated for it. I think we can count on Colin Firth for The King's Speech, James Franco for 127 Hours and (pretty much) Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network. I do think Ryan Gosling will be nominated for Blue Valentine also. That leaves the fifth slot open. Robert Duvall in Get Low? Never ever count out Robert Duvall. I haven't seen it yet, but it's definitely his film. Sure, Bridges is a possibility, but so is Mark Wahlberg for The Fighter. He plays his role pretty quietly, but it's effective and I think The Fighter will receive a number of nominations. Wahlberg might just ride that wave to a nomination. I wouldn't count out Leonardo DiCaprio for Inception though. Upon second viewing of that film, I was absolutely blown away by his performance. He's truly excellent in it. Also, Javier Barden is supposed to be excellent in Biutiful. Also, is Carlos eligible for Oscars? If so, Edgar Ramirez gives one of the best performances I've ever seen in that film. It probably won't happen, but his performance is at least worth mentioning. So if I'm forced to predict at this point, the five will be: Firth, Franco, Eisenberg, Gosling and Duvall--or Firth, Franco, Eisenberg, Wahlberg and Duvall--or Firth, Franco, Eisenberg, Wahlberg and Gosling. Gahhhh!!!! This is so hard. All right, the first grouping. That's my choice and I'm sticking to it.

As for who deserves the Oscar, and keeping in mind that I haven't seen Blue Valentine or Get Low yet, I think Franco gives the best performance of the year. Firth is great, and he will probably win it, but like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, I'm not easily won over by a performance that relies on an acting crutch like autism or a stutter. Again, though, between A Single Man and The King's Speech, Firth has firmly established himself among the best actors out there, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him nominated often in the future. Franco is so good in such an off-beat film. His hosting gig and his still growing reputation as an actor will probably work against him. I think Eisenberg is amazing in The Social Network, and I'm thrilled that he's been gaining awards momentum. I was afraid that people would write him off because they think he can only play one type of role. Eisenberg's performance is one that could have been gimmicky or relying on a crutch since his character is so socially awkward, but he's perfect at delivering Sorkin's tricky dialogue. He's one of my favorite actors out there. If he wins, I'd be perfectly fine with that. I wouldn't count him out since he's won a number of critics awards, but I don't think a win for him is likely. This is Firth's award.

I already mentioned Ramirez in Carlos, but there are two other excellent performances that definitely won't be nominated that I think are good enough to be mentioned. Ben Stiller plays Greenberg with such truth, and he doesn't fall into the trap that so many comic actors do when playing dramatic roles by underplaying everything to appear more serious. It's a tricky character, and Stiller brings to it all the nuance that's necessary. He's surprisingly touching and reviling at the same time. I'd also like to point out Casey Affleck in Michael Winterbottom's film The Killer Inside Me. He plays a cop who leads a double life as a brutal serial killer. The film is graphically violent and ultimately sloppy, but Affleck is terrifying because he's so convincing as the boy next door type when he's not giving into his inner demons. He's one of the best actors working today.

I'm going to make a proclamation right now that Christian Bale WILL be walking home with the Supporting Actor Oscar for The Fighter. It's the archetypal Oscar performance. He's truly is the best thing about The Fighter. He's also one of those actors known for having more potential than maybe anyone else out there. I think Geoffrey Rush is just as good, if not even a little bit better in The King's Speech. I loved the humanity and humor that he brought to his role. He and HB Carter both bring the lightness and accessibility that makes The King's Speech more than another stuffy British drawing room costume picture. I think Ruffalo gives a career best performance in The Kids Are All Right. He'll be nominated for sure, and he'll have to be happy with that because he won't win. His performance, though, really cemented him as one of the best actors working today in my book. I still believe Andrew Garfield will be recognized for his work in The Social Network, despite his distracting accent problems. He's excellent in Never Let Me Go, so I'm on board with giving him some recognition even if his performance didn't completely work for me in TSN. I think the fifth spot is pretty open. Jeremy Renner might be nominated for The Town. He's good in that, and he's certainly one of the up and coming stars. Good will for his turn in Hurt Locker might help him sneak in. I'd like to see the rest of the buzzed about films to see if someone not on my radar screen might be worth considering. At this point, I think I'll lean toward that fifth spot being inhabited by a performance I have seen--John Hawkes for his great work in Winter's Bone as Teardrop. He's so frightening at first, which makes his ultimate virtue so surprising. Cassel from Black Swan might sneak in there, but I'm rooting against it. I doubt Michael Douglas will be nominated for the stupid Wall Street 2, but he's good in it and he certainly has the good will of the voters on his side. If there's going to be a surprise nominee anywhere, I think it'll be in this category. I'll never forget how floored I was that Michael Shannon was nominated for Revolutionary Road a few years ago. I didn't even know who he was and who he played when I first heard his name announced and I had seen Revolutionary Road at the time. Could certainly happen again this year.


Julian Stark


If guessing at the winner of Best Actress wasn’t hard enough, I have to decide on my personal favorite! Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right and Natalie Portman in Black Swan both have my two-way vote for performance of the year. Likewise, I can’t fully pick which of the two gets the Oscar in February.


Both are giving supposedly “career-best” work and have had impressive longevity in Hollywood. Of course, Bening has more seniority than Portman, but Portman has the film with broader support and more citations from critics groups.


I’d have to side with Portman for the win because she has the flashier performance, and sometimes flashier equates to better in the minds of Oscar voters. Then again, voters might be highly impressed with Bening’s subtle performance. More often than not, it seems that she’s giving bombastic performances in very diva-like roles, but her work as Nic in Kids is a far cry from that kind of role. She’s essentially playing against type, which could give her a boost.


As for the men this year in the Lead Actor race, I’m sorry to say it, but Carlos isn’t eligible for Oscar consideration. I believe it played on VOD before hitting theaters, and it’s been thus far recognized as a television miniseries. Though the Emmy Awards aren’t as esteemed as the Oscars, it’s very likely get some love there.


Colin Firth and Jesse Eisenberg are definitely in, and James Franco is essentially a lock, though not as cemented in the top five as Firth and Eisenberg.


Firth is the easy front-runner to win, and the only possibility for an upset would probably be Eisenberg, though it’s quite a stretch to say that anyone could beat Firth. If The Social Network will be as big of a hit with the Academy as we’re assuming it will be – and there’s no reason to think otherwise – won’t they want to shower it with awards? The Hurt Locker nabbed six trophies last year, and Slumdog Millionaire won eight the year prior. This isn’t really much of an “artistic” film in terms of technical achievement, so would the Academy give its leading man the gold to bump up the film’s number of wins?


I honestly don’t think that there’s a whole lot of room for that to happen, but if he upsets for SAG, he’s a major threat for the win.


After that, it gets kind of tricky. The three aforementioned men got in with SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall got in for SAG, while Ryan Gosling and Mark Wahlberg made the cut at the Globes. So, who gets in?


From the way it looks right now, Ryan Gosling is probably the most likely of the four to get in. Though SAG snubbed him, Blue Valentine is a highly acclaimed film; the lauding in particular is for the work done by Gosling and co-lead Michelle Williams. I’m calling the latter for an Actress nomination, and for some odd reason, I can’t see voters listing Williams as their top Actress choice without doing the same for Gosling in the category’s male counterpart.


Of course, that leaves one open spot. So is it Bridges, Duvall, or Wahlberg?


The least likely of these men to get in is probably Wahlberg. Though The Fighter did great in the Golden Globe nominations tally – five nods outside of Wahlberg’s – those nominations were announced before the film had a wide release. Voters were probably counting on it being a huge hit, and with A-list star and terrific marketing, not to mention a genre that tends to do well at the box office, it should have been one. The Fighter’s done admirable business so far, but it hasn’t done impressive business. Plus he hasn’t had the success with the critics groups that his co-stars have.


True Grit probably stole some of The Fighter’s thunder; both films obviously had a male demographic in mind, but one was more accessible thanks to its PG-13 rating. On that note, I’m not wholly convinced that Jeff Bridges is making the cut either, despite being in my top five at the moment. As a matter of fact, I’m not so sure that True Grit is going to be the major Academy player that people have made it out to be, though Roger Deakins will certainly be noted for the film’s marvelous cinematography

The lack of Golden Globe nominations for True Grit might be telling, even though I don’t want to give too much credit to this group that infamously gave an award to Pia Zadora over Kathleen Turner, not to mention nominated Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland for any kind of honor, but this is a precursor group.


When True Grit got a complete shut out, many argued that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association doesn’t like the Coen Brothers. If that’s the case, why did this group nominate award Javier Bardem for his work No Country for Old Men and nominate the film for Motion Picture Drama in 2007? Furthermore, why did they nominate Burn After Reading for two awards in 2008 and throw A Serious Man’s Michael Stuhlbarg a nomination last year?


Again, the Golden Globes aren’t the be-all and end-all of, well, anything, but not making the cut there could be indicative of True Grit having less Oscar success than many are expecting. That being said, I can’t see the film getting in for any of the big awards save for Adapted Screenplay and maybe Actor.


And what are we to make of Robert Duvall? For the majority of the season – even extending into the pre-season, he’s been an assumed Actor nominee for apparently career-best work in Get Low, but where did that buzz go? No big critics honors, no Golden Globe nomination, not even a mention from Indie Spirits. Virtually nothing to go on outside of that SAG nod that likely came from being a veteran actor. An Oscar bid is very possible, but I wouldn’t bank on it.


But who’s to say that Bridges, Duvall, and Wahlberg are the only men in contention for that hypothetical fifth spot? Will the Academy throw us a curveball and nominate Javier Bardem for the foreign-language flick Biutiful? Could Leonardo DiCaprio make the cut for one of his superb leading performances? While I’m at it, will Aaron Eckhart be nominated alongside his onscreen wife Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole? Heaven forbid that I’m missing another possibility!


Though I wouldn’t count on it, there is room in the race one of these left-field contenders to make the cut. DiCaprio obviously has the most Oscar-bound film among these potential curveballs with Inception, and he’s great in it, but it’s not an actor’s piece like Biutiful and Rabbit Hole.


In regards to how the Academy will vote in Supporting Actor, Christian Bale is the no-brainer to win. Mark Ruffalo, despite being ignored by the Globes, was recognized by the Screen Actors Guild and won the crucial New York Film Critics Circle Award, so he’s definitely in and the most likely to surprise with a win. Then again, does Bale really have any competition?


The third wheel in the race is probably Geoffrey Rush. He’s assured a nomination, but I see no possibility for an upset from him whatsoever. He’s already won before, is in a subtle role, and starred in that massive flop The Warrior’s Way just recently. Next in line might be Andrew Garfield for The Social Network. There is a whole lot of buzz attached to him right now (next Peter Parker), and as was said earlier, the Academy won’t hold back when it comes to nominating and awarding this film.


The last spot (like in Supporting Actress… and Actress) is up in the air from where I’m sitting. Jeremy Renner is in my lineup for now at number five, but something about predicting him just feels strange, even though the Golden Globes and SAG embraced him with nomination love.


Checking out the other possible contenders, a nomination for Michael Douglas in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps wouldn’t receive a warm welcome from me, but sympathy often turns into accolades in Hollywood, as was evidenced by his Golden Globe nod. There’s also John Hawkes for Winter’s Bone, who gives a great supporting performance and surprised us with a SAG nomination. There’s more support for that film than Money Never Sleeps; then again, John Hawkes isn’t Michael Douglas.


Brian, I definitely think that there could be a shocker nominee here, but I’m most expecting a jaw-dropping nod in the Supporting Actress race a la Maggie Gyllenhaal last year, though some people called that nod.


But back to Supporting Actor. Of those who didn’t receive a nomination from either the HFPA or SAG, I’d guess Vincent Cassel in the place of Jeremy Renner.


As for my personal opinions on the male performances this year, Jesse Eisenberg’s leading work in The Social Network is my absolute favorite male performance of the year. It might not be the best representation of Mark Zuckerberg himself, but it’s a perfect realization of the narcissistic and sociopathic Mark Zuckerberg that Aaron Sorkin intended for the film.


I also took very well to Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances this year in Inception and Shutter Island. I’d give him more credit for the former since there’s more of a reveal with that one as opposed to him simply going crazy, but both are fine showcases of immense acting talent.


I haven’t seen The King’s Speech just yet, so I can’t comment on Colin Firth’s lauded performance, but at long last, I’ve found someone who agrees with me about Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man! On that note, if Firth’s work is similar to Hoffman’s Rain Man, then I doubt that I’ll really care for it. I have yet to see James Franco in 127 Hours since the film didn’t open anywhere near me. I’m perhaps more interested, however, in seeing his acclaimed work in the less-than-acclaimed Howl. I’m sure he’s great in both and really curious to see each film.


On the supporting side, I’d say that Christian Bale and (sorry, Brian) Vincent Cassel are probably my two favorites this year. The former, as was mentioned earlier, is the definitive “Oscar role.” Druggie? Check. Big outbursts? Check. Stealing scenes? You’ve got it! Cassel, like the other supporting players, has to play into an essence of a character and a fantastical illusion of himself.


It also goes without saying that Robert Downey, Jr. gave one of my favorite male performances this year in Iron Man 2. It’s technically as strong as his work in the first film – blame the script – and the film itself is more of an Avengers commercial than anything, but I appreciated his way of developing the character.


Much to my surprise, an actor who I think deserved more recognition this year is Zach Galifianakis. He was absolutely hysterical in Due Date and really outshined Downey – something you’ll almost never hear me say about any performance. But it was his supporting work in the indie dramedy It’s Kind of a Funny Story that really impressed me. Not only did he prove his ability to play someone other than The Hangover’s Alan; he handled his character with a more subtle sense of humor and expertly navigated through some difficult dramatic material.


That being said, who are some other actors that didn’t get enough credit this year?


Sean Patrick Kernan


Ugh! Brian, you hit on my nightmare Oscar scenario, Michael Douglas getting Best Supporting Actor for Wall Street 2 because he almost died in real life. His Gordon Gekko redux was a solid turn but the film is so weak that it drowns all three leads. Oliver Stone is part of the trend I mentioned earlier about directors going mainstream only Stone's compromises ruined his film while The Fighter, True Grit and Rabbit Hole somehow turned out really well despite the compromises. Part of my problem with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was my personal expectations. When I heard Oliver Stone was going back to Wall Street at the height of the real life crisis where Wall Street had completely screwed the American people I was excited and was eagerly awaiting the legendary left wing director to get in a few good licks against the greedy pigs who tanked the economy. Instead, what we get in Wall Street 2 is a watered down version of the first film with Shia Le Beouf doing a weak spin on Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox (Sheen's cameo, an entirely different letdown in the same film).


Dipping into this Best Actor talk, I know Ben Stiller will not be nominated for Greenberg but I want to raise it just so Candice can give us the assessment of Greenberg she has teased so often on Twitter :). Colin Firth is the front runner. The performance is safe and predictable, compelling but not new; just the kind of old school stuffiness that the old farts in the Academy love. Plus, after losing out for his more aggressively interesting performance in A Single Man last year First is due. Jeff Bridges will be nominated and like Firth, it's the kind of performance that Academy oldsters really like. Mark Wahlberg is out for The Fighter because Bale, Adams and Leo sucked all the air out of the movie and suffocated his performance. Compared to all the colorful people around him Wahlberg's lead was a cypher left only to react to them. James Franco deserves the win here because his performance was so tough and yet so skilled and nuanced.


So, if Firth, Bridges and Franco are in that leaves two spots. One goes to Jesse Eisenberg for a complex turn that he makes look effortless. It's not easy to play a robot especially a human robot but Eisenberg nails it and in the end brings the melancholy in the saddest and most unexpected way, I've never felt so sorry for a refresh button. Robert Duvall deserves the other slot because in a career of amazing performances his work in Get Low may be his best ever. Yes, much of the appeal of Duvall's performance hinges on a big showy speech but it's one hell of a speech and he knocks it out of the park. That speech in Get Low ranks right up there with Bening singing Joni Mitchell as one of my favorites of the year. Ryan Gosling is a potential spoiler for Blue Valentine but I think Michelle Williams stole that movie from him. Gosling is good but she is so much better that he kind of gets overshadowed.


Leo DiCaprio was mentioned but for which movie? I was not a fan of Shutter Island a shockingly predictable thriller that marked Martin Scorsese finally showing his age after a series of brilliant films but the studio push for DiCaprio in Shutter Island is strong. I received multiple mailings and emails from the studio touting Shutter Island. The Inception campaign seems focused solely on the Best Picture pitch and not so much on the acting. If I may digress for a moment however, I would like to join the Marion Cotillard love-fest, she was amazing in Inception, the soul of the film really. Back to the actors, watch out for Ben Affleck in The Town an old school thriller, solid pedgree, good box office and Affleck is a good comeback story. My guess is that The Town is going to surprise people with a Best Picture nomination and if the momentum is strong Affleck pulls the upset nomination for Best Actor as a consolation prize for not getting a director nod.


Best Supporting Actor has basically been awarded to Christian Bale but there is still room to speculate on Geoffrey Rush who gives the more interesting performance in The King's Speech. There is an odd similarity really between the supporing players in The Fighter and in The King's Speech. In both films the supporting players are so colorful, unique and interesting that the leads fall into the shadow. That took the impact of both films down a peg for me because I wasn't as interested in Wahlberg in The Fighter or Firth in The King's Speech. The final moments of both lacked power because they stepped out of the shadow of the stronger performances and it was too late for me to really care more about them. Unlike Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network who rises above a great ensemble or Jeff Bridges who rises to the challenge of two stellar supporting performances, Firth and Wahlberg melt against the much stronger supporting players.


Julian, you mentioned Galifianakis in Due Date but do not forget his work in It's Kind of a Funny Story. That film was sadly missed at the box office but it is a really heartfelt performance in a wonderfully quirky film. You're absolutely right though about Galifiankakis outshining Downey Jr, not an easy task. Due Date was one of the few good comedies in a dismal year for laughs at the box office. Mark Ruffalo deserves to win, in my opinion, for The Kids Are All Right, such a great, nuanced performance. Ruffalo is so subtle in the way he evolves that character throughout that film that it's not till everything has become a mess that you realize how far he has come. I need to watch The Kids Are All Right again, a colleague and friend of mine just named it number one in her year end movie column and in the days we've been doing our blogathon Kids has recurred for me multiple times.


It is an absolute crime that Armie Hammer has not been honored for his work in The Social Network. It's not merely the challenge of playing twins but the brilliant ways he gave both Winkevoss's a life force of their own. I liked what Andrew Garfield did as Eduardo but Hammer's was the supporting performance in that film that stuck with me. There is another whole lengthy subtext in Armie Hammer's performance and the complexity of what the Winklevoss's stand for in The Social Network. I won't dig into it here as it might require a sixth viewing of The Social Network to nail it down but it's there and it's in Armie Hammer's performance as much as in Andrew Sorkin's script.


Matt Damon in True Grit is phenomenal in a showy performance. I love Damon when he is in character actor mode even more than I love him as a leading man. Damon finds so many interesting beats to play, his work rewards repeat viewers who find new things about his work each time. I have no doubt that if I watched True Grit I would find something I missed the first time in the way Damon played Le Beof. Jeremy Renner does something similar to Damon in The Town, a showy performance but with nuance and layers. Jem has an inner life that he only hints at, it's hidden behind his almost constant rage. As Renner transitions from ensemble lead to top supporting player and finally to fully fledged leading man we are going to see some unbelievable work.


Candice Frederick


Okay, fellas, I'm about to throw a wrench in things for just a bit:

Vincent Cassel has been brought up so many times throughout our discussion it made my head spin. I don't get all the raves. He was just another prop to me. Renner is far more compelling in The Town, than Cassel in Black Swan to me. And Annette Bening--who I really respect in the industry--has really played the annoyed and stuffy housewife role much of her career (brilliantly, might I add, but predictably). I much preferred her in Mother in Child (though I wouldn't be mad if she got nominated for Kids instead). It doesn't look like we're getting much love for Julianne Moore, huh? Always a nominee, never a winner? My vote is still for Kerry Washington in Mother in Child but, if I had to choose between the mainstream favorites, I'd go with either Melissa Leo or Julianne Moore (leaning more toward Moore though).

I'd agree with both Julian and Brian about using disabilities as a crutch one account only: it's so predictably, formulaic Oscar. But this is kind of why I was asking about wild cards before. This however doesn't take away from their talent, just kind of makes it more of a snoozefest for me. It looks like Firth will get a nod, but I'd actually like to see someone who played a character without a crutch get some recognition.

This brings me to Mark Ruffalo. It's funny how you both mention his performance in The Kids Are All Right, but not his far more compelling performance in Shutter Island. I enjoyed both films, but I enjoyed Ruffalo better in SI. Yes, he was the quintessential hippie, California guy in Kids, but that was all that was striking about that performance to me. It was effortless, but does it really take that much effort for the role? I don't know, but I thought the most compelling aspect of Kids was the relationship the parents had with each other, and their separate relationships with their kids. Ruffalo was a mere peg in their game to me.

I really respect Mark Wahlberg. I think his longevity in the industry says a lot about him, but he has yet to show me an Oscar-worthy performance. I actually thought The Fighter was one of his weaker performances to date. At times, he seemed almost lost in the film as everyone around him controlled the ship. I know that was also in part to a character trait, but I also felt no empathy for his character either, which is a problem for me.

Speaking of Jeff Bridges in True Grit, it's very rare that the academy recognizes the same character twice in a film. But this may in fact be a wild card for them. I'm a huge fan of Matt Damon's and wouldn't mind him getting some love from the academy as well. His time to win an Oscar for his superb acting is far overdue.

I actually wouldn't mind Franco taking home the Oscar that evening (if it can't be one of my personal favorites). His performance is very quirky and solid, and one I wouldn't ordinarily like. I always think solo performance movies lose my interest after a while. Granted, 127 Hours lulled at points to me, but there is no denying Franco's exquisite performance.

Good thing Winter's Bone had good performances because I did not feel the level of respect on the movie as a whole as many other people did. The story wasn't riveting at all to me, but the performances helped that a bit.

Eisenberg was really good in The Social Network. But I will say that his performance was the compilation of all other Eisenberg performances you've seen before, just escalate to fit this caricature of a character. Done well, might I add. But I was expecting him to do that performance, just like that. I also didn't get the same impact from Rooney Mara as you guys did. To me, she was the catalyst for the film, but not so much the heartbeat of it.

I'd love to see Gosling and Williams get their second Oscar nominations of their career for their performances in Blue Valentine. I can honestly say these two actors never cease to surprise me. They don't have a signature anything, but you just know that their performances, if anything, are going to be good. I can appreciate that about them.

I wasn't a fan of Greenberg like it seems like you all were. I was actually annoyed by it. But i will agree that Gerwig was probably the only reason I didn't give up on it completely. She was solid in the role, but just not really memorable or impact for me. On that same token Rebecca Hall, as you pointed out, Brian, was fantastic in Please Give, as was Catherine Keener for that matter. I am more inclined to say that Hall had the more engaging performance for me. It was her trademark mousy performance, but it worked so well for that character. Hall also gave one of the best lines in The Town to me, but I didn't really like her performance in it. I thought she was underplaying it a lot.

I like Robert Downey, Jr.--a lot. But he didn't give me anything to swoon over thsi year (same goes for Michael Douglas). And Galfianikis, eh, he needs a new shtick to me. Something...better.


Predictions aside, my wish list would be as follows (wild cards included):

Lead Actor: Gosling, Franco, Mackie, Eisenberg, Hawke (Brooklyn's Finest), DiCaprio (SI)
Lead Actress: Moore, Bening (Kids), Washington (Night Catches Us), Portman, Williams

Supp. Actor: Bale, Garfield, Damon, Renner, Ruffalo (SI)
Supp. Actress: Cotillard, Leo, Weaver, Steinfeld, Lewis (as in, Juliette)

but in actuality, the nominations will most likely go down as the following:

Lead actor: Gosling, Franco, Firth, Wahlberg, Eisenberg
Supp. actor: Bale, Garfield, Renner, Ruffalo (Kids), Rush

Lead actress: Moore, Bening (Kids), Portman, Williams, Kidman
Supp actress: Leo, Weaver, Steinfeld, Bonham Carter, Adams