Roll out the red carpet and get ready to toast Tinseltown - it's time again for the "Women's Super Bowl." That's right - Oscar night. With 10 films up for best picture, watching all of the nominees was no small task. But yesterday, I finished "Operation Oscar" just in time to ogle the gowns (and James Franco :) during tonight's broadcast. I don't profess to be a film critic; rather I'm just a person who likes film. So, here's my two cents worth on this year's "Top 10," loosely in rank order according to my personal criteria of writing (I love snappy dialogue), acting, and overall likability, or the "entertainment factor."
#10. Black Swan - Portman should be commended for her dancing (which was convincing and indicative of a bonafide prima ballerina) but I wish she had spent as much time on her acting as she did on her ballet training. This film comes in at number 10 for me, as one of the most over-hyped films of the year. While certain scenes were artistically filmed and beautifully rendered, to understand and empathize with mental illness I'd rather watch A Beautiful Mind again (and again) than delve into the dark, and at times, hokey, depths of this movie's "Swan Lake." Loved the dancing, could've done without the lesbian love scene (imagined or not), but I wonder if it would have gotten as much attention, especially from male moviegoers, without it? Hmm....Portman will likely win for Best Actress tonight, even though she should win for "Best Dancer" in a movie (new category I just made up :) and leave the acting to the likes of Benning, Kidman, and even the 14-year-old Steinfeld of True Grit. I do like that this movie offered SNL and other satirical shows the opportunity to create some hilarious spoofs - see Jim Carrey's interpretation of Black Swan.
#9. The Kids Are Alright - This movie is enjoyable, with moments that make you laugh-out-loud, and moments twinged with poignancy and pain. This movie is not good enough to be a best picture, but Benning is excellent (now there's some acting - take notes Portman) and Ruffalo is charming as always. A great, fresh, dramedy, that depicts a less than conventional family that yet any family can relate to.
#8. Inception - this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat for sure. It's original, it's eye candy filled with eerie effects, and it's intense. It is not a best picture - but it is one of the best, suspenseful popcorn movies I've seen in a long time. And I would rather be trapped in Leonardo DiCaprio character's mind than Portman's any day :).
#7. Toy Story 3 - this movie is, in a word -- sweet -- without being saccharine. I loved Toy Story and Toy Story 2), and 3 doesn't disappoint either. For a trilogy of movies that began with a high standard, this is really, really hard to pull off (although it doesn't stop Hollywood from releasing lame sequels in droves). In fact, I can't think of another trilogy of movies that can hold a candle to this one for consistent enjoyment, (and I'm including The Godfather trilogy, because we all know how disappointing #3 turned out to be...) In some ways, these movies keep getting better. Hats off to Pixar, for taking their time in develop the execution and evolution of Andy's beloved toys since their initial 1995 debut.
#6. The Fighter - Christian Bale is tremendous, as is the entire ensemble, in this somewhat predictable, based on a true story, boxing drama. It took me a little while to "settle in" to this film - the initial jerky camera shots and thick Boston accents take some adjustment. Superb acting, and the handheld camera filming technique, make this film feel very real and immediate - as if you the viewer are a part of this loud, bizarre, tacky and dysfunctional family.
#5. The Social Network - very snappy writing, fresh, and for the most part, fun and fast-paced. I didn't expect much of this film and it delivered so much more than I expected. While I've read many stories questioning the authenticity and liberties the filmmakers took to portray this "based on a true" story, I do think the exaggerations and/or embellishments probably made for a more compelling movie. The end of this movie is unsettling - as a Facebook user I felt like a pawn in some master-mind nerd's big plan...that being said, I'm still "status updating" and "friending" with a frenzy, over 7 months after the film's debut.
#4 Winter's Bone - quiet, dark and bleak. Not much seems to happen in this movie of a young Ozark girl's quest to find her delinquent, drug addict father to avoid losing her home and keeping her family together. But the climax is stomach-turning and the characters in this film are heart-breaking, pathetic renderings of human nature at its lowest. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as the lead and the heroine of the story - she, like Steinfeld, show strength and, well, true grit....
#3 True Grit - freshest re-make ever made. I could close my eyes and still enjoy this movie - the writing is that good. Steinfeld shines as the young heroine, and single-handedly steals the show in my opinion (no disrespect to Bridges, Damon and Brolin). The Coen brothers strike gold again.
#2 127 Hours - I wasn't prepared to "enjoy" this movie. In fact, I thought it was going to feel like sitting for 127 hours, or in real time wasting 2 1/2 hours of my life that I would never get back. But I did enjoy it, if you can use that word to describe watching a man saw off his arm with a blunt pocketknife. While Franco is easy on the eyes, watching him for 94 minutes alone would not have been enough to save this film. His acting, however, is convincing; I felt frantic, parched, desperate, and loopy right alongside him. The filming is also creative - the use of screen strips to juxtapose the human rat race with the starkness of nature was eye-catching and compelling.
#1 The King's Speech - well-written, well-acted, and entertaining. This film hits all three criteria for me. Firth will likely win for Best Actor tonight, an honor that is overdue and rightfully his. If Franco makes you feel trapped in a canyon, Firth makes you feel like you'd rather be trapped in a canyon than be a public figure forced to speak publicly with an uncooperative stammer. Rush is delightful as Firth's speech coach, friend and mentor, and audiences leave feeling relieved and refreshed by this historic tale of a King and his speech.
The top 10 in a nutshell....what's your pick?