This year, I watched like a billion movies, but only ten of them were nominated for best picture at the 13947394th Academy Awards, which are tomorrow night (on ABC for the interested). I was like, hey, why not talk about them?

A couple of years ago, the Academy decided to expand the number of possible nominations for best picture from five to ten, which has the potential to make Oscars a total gamechanger. As it is, it is now more likely that an awesome summer blockbuster has the chance to take home an Oscar, whereas before if your movie came out before Thanksgiving your chances were practically nonexistent. (Most people will tell you this is because The Dark Knight. They’re probably right.)

Now, the Oscars are a regular hodgepodge of must-see movies, ranging from the insanely claustrophobic like 127 Hours to sweeping epics like True Grit to psychological horror movies like Black Swan. One thing a lot of them have in common? Hand injuries! Man, if you have a problem with hand or finger perforation or amputation, I can tell you that you should avoid many of these movies. You’d think they were hand-picked by Robert Rodriguez. At least 24 fingers were lost in this year’s nominees, and plus some additional fingernails and probable future amputations.

Anyway, there are ten movies, so even at a couple of short paragraphs apiece this is post is a behemoth. As such, I’m including links so that you can do what I often do easily, and just skip through and read about the movies I really really liked and the movies I really really hated.  But just in case you still want to read about the movies you didn’t even see, everything is for the most part spoiler-free.  Except for Toy Story 3.  I had to spoil that one a bit.  And I think 127 Hours comes pre-spoiled.

127 HoursBlack SwanThe FighterInceptionThe Kids Are All RightThe King’s SpeechThe Social NetworkToy Story 3True GritWinter’s Bone

The Short, Short Version of This Post

Or, I guess you can just read the entire post behind the cut.

127 Hours

My friend said to me after seeing this movie, “It was inspiring. I mean it wasn’t inspiring. But I mean, it was…you know…inspiring.” I think that’s probably the best way to sum up this movie. It is somehow both terrifying, nerve-wracking, and also, makes you want to give everyone who looks thirsty your water bottle.

You know this movie. It’s the one about Aron Ralston, whom everybody in the western world probably remembers as the guy who sawed off his own arm with a pocket knife after being trapped underneath a boulder that fell on aforementioned arm for several days while hiking in Utah in 2003.

Personally, this movie basically indulged in all my worst fears about hiking. I woke up the morning after I saw it never so appreciative to have all my limbs. I’ve heard stories about audiences seeing this movie panicking–freaking out, passing out, having anxiety attacks, and personally, I don’t blame them. The most visceral scene is obviously the one in which he hacks off his own arm, and I’m telling you this as a warning, cuts through the nerve in it. I hadn’t thought this part through. Look, I’m not squeamish, but I spent hours massaging my arm afterwards grateful that it was still there.

This movie is good, for sure, but while it’s in turns inspiring and horrific, it’s not best picture material. Politically speaking, Danny Boyle is still pretty fresh off his Slumdog Millionaire win, and even if this was clearly among the best of the 10, it would still be a long shot as a result. But it isn’t. I think the real powerhouse here is James Franco.

Deep down inside, I spent several years kind of resenting the guy for his performance in Spider-man 2. People thought this movie was the cat’s pajamas but personally I’m pretty sure it was mostly phoned in, and that includes James Franco’s performance. I was pissed at him about this for ages and I’m still not pleased with Alfred Molina, but anyway, my point here is that over the years I’ve forgiven him. The past couple of years has been this massive confluence of Franco-related Events that have solidly convinced me that he’s actually one of the greatest people ever. How can someone go, in the span of a couple years, from a man who loves a body pillow named Kimiko to an actor on General Hospital to an Oscar nominee (while hosting the Oscars in the same year)? His performance in this movie was basically appalling because it was so fabulous. It’s worth seeing just for him, and honestly, I wish this man would win best actor. I truly think if anyone is going to upset Colin Firth it’s this guy. For bonus fun, check him out on Twitter (@jamesfranco), where he’s been tweeting a shitload of precious behind-the-scenes photos of this year’s Oscar prep, which most of you know he’s co-hosting with Anne Hatahway. WHICH IS ANOTHER THING THAT MAKES HIM AMAZING. That’s all I’m saying. So does this appearance on The Daily Show the evening following the Oscar nomination announcements (don’t worry, though: I know FOR A FACT that there’s enough water in those mini-fridges to keep him alive for quite some time):

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Intro – James Franco Is Stuck Under the Mini-Fridge
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

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Black Swan

For a short and sweet time I entertained the notion that Black Swan could possibly take home best picture. I figured that the buzz for The Social Network was lessening with the passage of time and that another movie had to step up and fill in for it. I thought that this movie was going to be Black Swan. (It turns out it was The King’s Speech.)

I was going to summarize every movie on this list briefly, but I have no idea how to summarize this movie. After I saw it, my friend asked me to spoil it for her. I honestly couldn’t even figure out how. My friend and I were sputtering trying to describe it: “Well, she has feathers, and…but she doesn’t…and her mom…her mom is like Piper Laurie on Carrie sometimes…Mila Kunis was there…!” It’s basically impossible, which is probably why this movie can’t win best picture. I’m not even sure how Darren Aronofsky got this movie financed. What was his logline? I think it must have been, “I’m Darren Aronofsky, and there’s a lesbian sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.” Sold! The most succinct explanation I can come up with is, it’s basically a fantastical-but-real-world version of “Swan Lake.” Considering it’s about staging a production of “Swan Lake,” that’s pretty meta.

In many ways the heroine of this movie, Natalie Portman’s Nina Sayers, is a lot like Hamlet. Stick with me. She goes through what ultimately becomes a mildly terrifying battle between sanity and insanity, to a point which nobody–neither Nina nor the audience–can discern the difference. She can’t figure out who’s really trying to stab her in the back and who she just THINKS is trying to stab her in the back. It drives her fucking crazy. That’s what makes this movie ultimately strong, and more than just garbled nonsense–it’s a pretty kickass psychological thriller that presents more of what Nina sees than what anyone on the outside would see. I mean you legitimately cannot figure out which parts are her going crazy and which parts are really happening. (And this isn’t because it’s sloppy. You’re clearly supposed to feel that way.) The only real way to understand it is to go half-mad in the process, which is kind of enjoyable if you’re into that sort of thing.

One day I think an Aronofosky production will take home best picture, but that day is not going to be tomorrow. A big tip is that it is the only movie on this list that DIDN’T get a nomination for its screenplay, which is basically like a huge slap in the face because there’s a spot for it, too. (I mean it would be one thing if, say, there were six best picture nominees based on original screenplays, since only five would be eligible, but there aren’t this year.) But I cannot see how anyone can knock Natalie Portman out of that best actress statuette. I’m not saying it’s never gonna happen because I learned long ago to never say that in the case of the Oscars (I would’ve bet you a million bucks that Brokeback Mountain was going to win best picture a few years ago), but I’m just saying if it does it will be ridiculous and disgusting and I will shout excessively. This is one well-deserved Oscar for Natalie Portman. She should actually also win for all the other categories, even if that makes no sense.

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The Fighter

Ahhh, The Fighter. Based on boxer Micky Ward and his drug-addicted brother Dicky (along with the rest of his batshit insane family), it’s, you know…well, it’s one of those movies about a boxer. This is why THIS movie won’t win: because I bet you just automatically figured out pretty much how this movie goes based on that. Stylistically it is not your average inspiring sports movie: alternately bizarre and heartwrenching, it took everyone I went to see it with a solid 20 minutes to stop saying, “Wow, this movie is really weird.” I didn’t expect anyone to hear that before I went in, but I guess I should have because I saw I Heart Huckabees.

I think this is one of the movies on this list that got carried to its nomination based on the strength of its performances. It got three nominations but it really should’ve gotten four: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and a backstabbingly-snubbed Marky Mark. (I say that with complete and total love. I personally think he got robbed for The Departed; I threw a shoe at my television when I found out he didn’t get nominated. Look, just because he used to be a rapper and underwear model should not mean he can’t be a serious actor. James Franco was on General Hospital! And also, they were both in Date Night. Deep down inside, I think that was Marky Mark’s performance of the year.) And they were all well-deserved. I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that if Christian Bale doesn’t win this Oscar, it will be UNPROFESSIONAL. Amateurs. But seriously, politically speaking, and we know how much politics are involved in the Oscars, this man should’ve won an Oscar at some point over the past decade for all kinds of different things and he didn’t even get NOMINATED for American Psycho which we all know is bullshit. And also artistically speaking, this man is a demigod. I have worshiped at the alter of His Holy Baleness for many years now, and even I have to admit this performance was absolutely disgustingly good. Like I said, he plays the lead character’s drug-addled brother, a has-been boxer who tries to coach his younger brother with good intent but ends up hurting him time and time again as he somehow manages to simultaneously deny and exploit his drug problem. You somehow want to root for him and against him at the same time. I try to avoid talking about “character depth” but seriously. If this guy’s character depth were a movie, it would be Inception. You know he’s hurting his brother Micky’s chances at success. You want Micky to succeed. But you know that if Micky dumps him, really, then Dicky’s never going to get over his drug problem, and you want that, but you worry that if Micky keeps him that Dicky’s STILL not going to get over his drug problem and then Micky and Dicky will BOTH fail, but you don’t want either of them to fail because you know that they love each other and really have each other’s best interests at heart even if Dicky really blows at it. Did I just blow your mind? Now you know how I felt when I saw Christian Bale’s performance.

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In my wildest dreams, in a world that caters to my every whim and fancy, in a spectacular place that I would never ever hate, this movie would win best picture.

Unfortunately the world has proven time and time again to be incongruous with my wildest dreams, or even my wildest dreams within my wildest dreams, and definitely within my wildest dreams within my wildest dreams within my wildest dreams.

I’m fairly certain that if you are the sort of person reading this blog you have seen or heard enough about this movie at this point not to find use in a summary, but it is, essentially, the most mind-bogglingly kick-ass concept ever. It’s basically, in short, a psychological heist movie, in which, as the tagline suggests, your mind is the scene of the crime. It has a lot of heist movie tropes: the dramatic one-liners, the good-looking cast, the assembling of that carefully-selected Danny Ocean sort of team who all get together to steal something really big where the stakes are high, except of course, in this case, what they’re stealing is almost akin to a man’s free will. That’s what makes it function so well: it’s something that most moviegoers are familiar with on a very basic level, but expanded upon in a fantastic way.

It has been years, years, since I saw a movie I have found as much to talk about with people as I have with this movie. I’m pretty sure the only movies out there that clock more discussion time with me than this are Lord of the Rings. I’m just saying that’s pretty fucking serious. I think that’s part of what makes this a very strong movie–the fact that you can see it 11 billion times and always see something different. Christopher Nolan has always had a “gift that keeps on giving” quality to his movies that I personally feel make them sort of underwhelming the first time, and then as you think about them, they start to become brain leeches, until finally they turn into full-blown obsessions. Despite guessing the ending, I still watch The Prestige repeatedly trying to figure out which twin is which. With Inception, Christopher Nolan managed to do something that most people would’ve told you was pretty much impossible: turn an intellectual philosophical mindfuck sci-fi into a summer blockbuster.

I am aware that this movie perhaps caters to a certain audience and that I am it, but I’m also perfectly capable of objectivelyjudging movies at this point and I’d still call this one the best on the list. There are a number of things that make its best picture chances nonexistent (which is kind of ironic since most people do think it was another Christopher Nolan film’s snub that caused the jump in possible nominees from five to ten): it came out far too long ago; the Academy hates Christopher Nolan; it hates sci-fi movies; it was both too action movie, and too complicated (honestly the Oscars tend to prefer simple ideas delivered elegantly), and I want it to win, so naturally, it cannot. But, as they say, haters gonna rotate. I’d’ve also liked to see more nominations for it. Like a shitload of acting noms. Specifically, and as weird as this sounds, Cillian Murphy, who along with Marion Cotillard provided basically all the emotion on this movie and it would’ve felt sort of soulless if it hadn’t been carried very adeptly by these two.

One thing consoles me, though, and that is that I think of all the movies on this list, this is going to be the one that people are still talking about in 50 years.

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The Kids Are All Right

Aha! The token comedy. There’s always one on this list, right?

The Kids Are All Right is a summer break in the life of that typical American nuclear family: two moms, two kids, and one sperm donor. The two moms–Annette Bening and Julianne Moore–were artificially inseminated 18 and 16 years ago respectively with the same sperm so their kids could be related. The two kids, the eldest (female and played by Mia Wasikowska) of whom is about to go off to college, decide that they want to meet the man who makes up half their DNA, so they contact him. As expected, shit begins to go seriously bananas. The more uptight doctor mom (Annette) isn’t too pleased with the pretentious organic food-eating restaurant-owning sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo, who is my favorite terrorist), while the more free-spirited and free-careered mom (Julianne) strikes up a curious friendship with him.

One thing that is awesome about this movie is how the lesbian thing is never really a big deal. It’s kind of nice to see that this isn’t like an “issue” movie, but really more a family drama than anything else. It’s definitely engaging and worth a watch, and again the performances are wonderful, but apart from what a breath of fresh air it is, it’s not the best on this list. Furthermore, Julianne Moore totally got screwed by awards committees the world over. She was fantastic, and hers and Annette Bening’s performances were more symbiotic than anything else so I find it deeply bothersome–and I suspect, so do Annette Bening and Julianne Moore–that one is getting critically lauded while the other is being left in the dust. What kills me is that I think this could have been the performance of a lifetime for Moore. I think one day both she and Bening will win Oscars, but this was Moore’s time to shine and it’s basically been overshadowed by a performance that was certainly her equal if not her inferior. Likewise, Bening was fantastic, but got thrown into the best actress category instead of the best supporting actress category, and as discussed earlier, Natalie Portman is pretty much a shoo-in for that one (but honestly if anyone will upset her, I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be Annette Bening). I’d’ve also liked to see Mia Wasikowska recognized, but I guess that’s a pipe dream. In another year, this movie could’ve had a real awards season shot. This year, it’s just a nice movie.

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The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech is the much-lauded story of the man who would be king, King George VI, and his speech impediment. Of course it’s about more than that–it’s almost like a coming-of-age story, about a man overcoming not just his stutter but his reservations about himself, a man pushed into the spotlight and into a high position of power after a lifetime of living in the shadow of his older brother–the better, faster, stronger, more important older brother who would one day be king.

When I say it like that even I’m pretty much impressed.

His wife, played marvelously by Helena Bonham Carter, pushes Albert (George VI’s given name) into seeking out the help of speech therapists to get over the stutter that contributes in a huge way to Albert’s low self-worth. Finally they hit gold when they find the unconventional actor-turned-speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helps Albert overcome not just the speech problem but the self-confidence thing, too. He teaches him important Life Lessons and everything.

I thought that my opinion on this movie was fairly unpopular. For quite some time I heard people talking about it as if it had been sent to earth by none other than God himself. Personally, while I was watching it, I kind of felt like I was Scott Pilgrim reading his e-mail. For a good half of the movie, I was pretty convinced something was going to happen that really revved me up to enjoy the rest of the movie. I pretty much spent the first half going, “This is……..! This is……….! This is………..!” until that halfway point when I resolved that I thought it was “boring.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I love every single actor in this movie. (Wait! Lie. I don’t like Guy Pearce.) The acting was amazing, to be honest, but the movie itself was too predictable for me to enjoy it very much. I don’t mean plotwise, either. Plot predictability is not a dealbreaker for me for the most part and it certainly cannot be when one is watching Oscar nominees. I mean seriously, I knew exactly what was going to happen when I went into 127 Hours and that didn’t impede my enjoyment of it at all. What I mean is that I feel like I’ve seen this movie 7,000 times before when watching other Oscar nominees, an inspiring tale with very nice acting about a man overcoming a personal obstacle to do greatness. While I’m aware there are only like seven plots out there anyway, not a single thing happened in this movie that made me think, “Wow, this is different and superior!” unless we count Colin Firth’s dashingness. And if the Oscars did that, which perhaps they should have, then many Colin Firth movies would have been Oscar winners before now. (But then, that’s just it! Speech impediment be damned, I don’t think this is anything like Colin Firth’s best work to date, and he’s going to win the Oscar this year because he’s reached that critical point in his career where it’s basically ridiculous not to have already given him an Oscar, and then he’s going to turn around and produce his acting oeuvre in like two years and he won’t win for it even though he deserves it because he’s just won for The King’s Speech.)

But anyway, when I started actually expressing this opinion, rather than keeping it a secret because I was afraid of some kind of lynch mob or something, I found that a surprising number ofpeople who don’t only watch movies like Big Momma’s House agreed with me: that it was kind of dull in all ways. Except Colin Firth’s handsomeness. It’s total Oscar fodder in basically every way and I’ve just about gotten to the point where I am sick to death of total Oscar fodder. What’s the point of allowing in ten nominees to shake things up if you’re just going to give the Oscar to the same old movie? (It should also be noted that most people who shared this opinion with me were quick to add that Helena Bonham Carter was amazing in it. I find it bizarre that I feel like her performance is totally underplayed by most of this movie’s fierce advocates and wholeheartedly supported by everyone who remains unconvinced by the rest of the movie. I agree with the sentiment that she was fantastic.)

It’s also gotten a political boost based on that old “this movie almost didn’t get made cliche.” Let me tell you something about that: brilliant advertising and nothing more. Most of the movies on this list almost didn’t get made. In fact, most movies almost don’t get made. It’s frankly a miracle that any movies at all DO get made. Do you want to know which movie almost didn’t get made? The Hobbit. If it ever gets made. The fact that this statement is so widespread about this particular movie is, like I said, advertising. Make no mistake. The Weinsteins (who produced this movie) are NOTORIOUS for this kind of campaigning. That also goes for the PG-13 re-release of this movie. Look, let me tell you something else about this movie: it is in no way necessary for it to be rated R for the movie to carry its full impact. The fact that it was rated R was a careful political move, something that gave this movie an extra edge–wait, this isn’t just an inspiring story about a man who overcomes a speech impediment. It’s an inspiring story about a man who overcomes a speech impediment that is only appropriate for people over the age of 17! The PG-13 re-release everybody keeps talking about maybe happening is more than likely a total fabrication designed to stir up buzz. Even if it does come out, the primary goal is probably not to increase monetary intake–if the movie wins best picture it will increase its box office intake anyway–but to generate more of that buzz, another good old-fashioned Weinstein trick. Sure, other people play this way, but the Weinsteins are fucking PROS at it. If there were a way to ever prove it, I’d be willing to bet you that the fact that this movie got anywhere at all, at the box office and with the Academy, was their involvement. They are good at this.

As the ceremony draws closer, I become more and more convinced that this is going to end up taking the Oscar, and I will be so disappointed. I mean, don’t get me wrong…it is by no means a bad movie. But it’s also not a mind-alteringly great movie, either, which is too bad because I think so many other movies on this list are.

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The Social Network

At this point if you know nothing about this movie it is likely that you do not have internet access and are not reading this article. The Facebook movie is of course about more than just the genesis of Facebook–it’s about how a small group of nerds who created what turned out to be an integral part of modern day social interaction suck at social interaction. Unlike many friendships, Facebook is not what brought the characters of this movie together but what tore them apart.

So, I’m going to talk a little bit more about this movie than the others, because there’s a strong possibility it could win the best picture Oscar and a lot of people don’t understand why anyone likes it at all. Okay, here it comes:

Blah blah blah brilliant screenplay by Aaron Sorkin blah blah biting social commentary blah blah reliance on technology & etc. But in all seriousness, it took me at least two weeks to absorb the mastery of this movie. I first saw it and I thought it was all right. I was repulsed by Mark Zuckerberg. I thought he basically had no redeeming qualities and I had no reason to want to root for him. Then, with the passage of time, it slowly occurred to me that Mark Zuckerberg was this year’s Daniel Plainview, and I didn’t have to like him to understand him and even sympathize with him. This movie slowly wormed its way into my subconscious until I was thinking about it constantly and nonstop. I think about it now every single time I visit Facebook. I’ve visited Facebook twice since I started writing this paragraph.

The most sympathetic character in the movie is of course not Zuckerberg but Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield who TOTALLY GOT ROBBED…of all the potential nominees who got screwed, his snub is the one that pisses me off the most), who, for those who aren’t Facebook nerds or haven’t seen the movie, was Zuckerberg’s friend who bankrolled Facebook in its early days. In the movie, and I can’t speak for its real world accuracy but I’m sure it’s romanticized, Eduardo is basically Mark’s best friend, and as Facebook begins to gain success and Zuckerberg, the creative mind behind Saverin’s dollar, takes some terrible advice from some terrible people and basically ends up sabotaging his friendship with Eduardo all in the name of a bit more money than he already had, which it seems Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg neither needs nor particularly cares about. I don’t think he ever intentionally makes the decision to choose money above Eduardo, but after enough poison poured in his ear by Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker (co-founder of Napster), ends up doing it anyway. The movie’s about a lot of other things, but I think in its core it’s about this particular friendship and how it went from relatively close to totally broken for reasons that, in retrospect, seem very stupid indeed.

A lot of people complain that they feel no emotion in this movie, and I think the complaint has some basis in reality. I don’t think of this movie as cold and emotionless at all, but like I said, it’s about a group of people who are perfectly terrible at social interaction. It’s less ironic than it sounds–somebody said in an interview I read, maybe Jesse Eisenberg, that perhaps makes Mark Zuckerberg the ideal creator of Facebook is his inability to integrate himself with his peers. He is always an outsider looking in, which makes him perfect as a kind of technological social anthropologist. He’s able to quantify and empiricize the social experience of college in skeletal internet terms, to create what would ultimately become one of the main forms of communication between a lot of young people for this precise reason–it eliminates the bullshit of other social networking sites and indeed of a lot of real world social interaction by cutting straight to the chase, by giving people a way of basically ascertaining all of the information they wanted to know about their peers (*but were afraid to ask). It gives them a way to communicate the essentials of who they are, and replaced for a lot of people a lot of the basic forms of one-on-one conversation, practically eliminating for me the need to call people on the phone, to text them, to IM them, to e-mail them…shit, practically eliminating the need to walk down the hall to see what time they want to go to lunch. This is part me harping on how great I think Facebook is, and part explanation of exactly how Facebook has absolutely and indispensably ingratiated its way into the social lives of so many. And yet, like having a telephone and occasionally using it doesn’t make you a great conversationalist, successfully operating or even creating Facebook doesn’t make you a social god.

So we have this group of people–Mark especially and even to a degree Eduardo–that, despite engineering the glue of a lot of day-to-day communication, weren’t able to hold their own friendship together. If Mark and Eduardo are able to identify their emotions to themselves, and how important their friendship with each other is, they certainly aren’t able to articulate it. They’re basically two frustrated dudes who quite simply can’t find ways to express themselves more complex than status updates, which is a shame because you can see in the small ways–the occasional gesture of kindness (or like when Eduardo rushes over to Mark’s place to make sure he’s okay like three seconds after Mark posts a LiveJournal update about how his girlfriend dumped him)–that they really did need each other.

Personally, I think all the nominations this movie received were much-deserved. In the same way that I think Superbad was the first high school movie in years to take note of normal people in high school, I think this is the first movie I’ve seen in a very long time to address the problem of letting simple things decimate important relationships because of inherent emotional ineptitude, which doesn’t sound like a common problem but I think it really is. You can say that this is a 21st century problem, one not helped by and maybe even in many cases CREATED by things like Facebook, but this is one of those movies that is much more about the left unsaid than anything else.

Only two movies on this list can win best picture this year. This is the second one. Up until a few weeks ago, this one seemed like the surefire win. It won most of the major awards up to that point, plus it includes Hollywood darling Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay which seems like the fast track to major critical success.  Based on the last couple of years’ winners, I think this one still has the edge: Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker were extremely nontraditional films that seemed to signal the fall of the period piece and the rise of the 21st-century drama in the eyes of the Academy.   Still, the way this year has turned out, you’re basically Team King’s Speech or Team Social Network, and I think it’s clear that I’m Team Social Network.

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Toy Story 3

The threequel to Pixar’s first major success, it didn’t surprise anybody that Toy Story 3 was a beautiful success. My friend with a shocking amount of Disney expertise told me that many moons ago, when Pixar and Disney were coming together, the Pixar people asked Disney how they made so much money, and Disney gave them a simple answer: we make really crappy sequels with the minimal amount of effort. And so they decided to make Toy Story 2. It was all set up to be a crappy straight-to-video kind of sequel when Pixar went, “Wait, we can be better than this,” and they worked so hard and so long on making Toy Story 2 a great movie that they actually had to institute rules about exactly how many hours you could work in a single shot because some people actually got really really sick from working those long hours. I don’t think they disappointed with Toy Story 2, but I will definitely say that Toy Story 3 removed all doubt that a threequel could be a good one and that Pixar wasn’t resolutely dedicated to making awesome movies even if they could still pull in a shitload of cash by putting in a quarter of the effort.

It seems hardly necessary to describe the plot of Toy Story 3, so I’ll keep it short: Woody, Buzz and the gang go through some serious shit as Andy is about to go off to college. Of course at age 18, Andy has been pretty much over playing with his toys for many years and that devastates them deeply, but until he had to pack up his room, he never had to make the decision whether or not to keep the much-beloved toys. Is it worth saving them for nostalgia’s sake, even if you know you’ll never play with them again, or are they giveaways, or are they so old and beat-up that they’re just trash?

Quite frankly that side of the story is heartbreaking enough. I think most of us have had similar experiences, those days when we realize we’re too old for these toys and we have to pack them up but we just can’t part with them because we do still fondly remember how much they used to matter to us and it’s hard to just let them go. But this movie obviously takes it further and makes us all suddenly glad that our toys aren’t secretly sentient because we’d just feel like terrible people leaving them unplayed-with in a toy box for all these years. It’s hard enough having to part with them, even if it’s just to put them away because we’re too old for them, now. But then imagine if they had feelings.

Every time a new Pixar movie comes out I cry a little bit more, but I’m pretty sure I hemorrhaged when I saw this movie. It’s a miracle I’m still alive. I basically just sat there weeping for like 25 minutes after this movie ended. When I saw a clip from it on the Golden Globes last month I started to cry. I tried explaining it to my family, who hadn’t seen it, and then I also started to cry. Basically if you saw this movie and didn’t cry you have no soul.

All right, I’m going to kind of spoil this movie for this paragraph. Just skip it if you haven’t seen the movie. I won’t be very specific, but I’m just warning you now. I’m pretty much going to assume for this paragraph that you’ve seen the movie already. The scene when Andy plays with his toys one last time is so heartwrenching that I’m actually crying just typing this (and naturally that was what they showed at the Golden Globes–fuck you, Golden Globes!). Like many kids, I was very attached to my toys. I’ve gone through times where I tried to go through them and figure out which ones to give away but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just couldn’t do it. I’d take them out and I’d remember all the good times and I’d put them back. For some reason I’d rather that no one ever have that toy than risk that someone else might get that toy and not appreciate it like I used to, which is probably why the moment when that little girl whose name I can’t remember in the movie pulls Woody out of the box when Andy didn’t anticipate giving him away was like one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen. The look on Andy’s face about says it all–the terrible conflict of realizing that even if someone would appreciate it more than you currently can, you just love it too much to really let it go. The fact that he lets him go, and the fact that Woody even jumped into that box to begin with, basically ties up the emotional conflict of the movie from both Andy’s perspective and from the toys’ perspectives so beautifully that it alone explains why this movie is on the best picture list.

This movie tackles some themes that were brought up in the second Toy Story (after all, Woody then has to make the choice whether he’d give up Andy, who won’t play with him and love him forever, for the chance to be appreciated by many from afar), but it has the benefit of something the second movie didn’t: time. I’m sure lots of kids who weren’t around when the first two came out saw this movie, but you know how people who grew up in sync with Harry Potter seem to have gained more from the experience than people who read them all in one go? It’s kind of like that. I was a kid when the first two movies came out. I still played with my toys. I had a hard time believing that there would ever be a day when I wouldn’t even though everybody told me that day would come. But that day DID come–the day I packed my things and left for college and had to acknowledge that I had in fact grown up and there was no denying it anymore. It’s a very common experience to be sure, but packed a huge emotional punch when I had grown up knowing Woody and Buzz like they were my own toys–indeed, some of those toys WERE my own toys–and had recently gone through that experience myself. These toys were so easily my toys, and I had forgotten how much I loved them in the intervening years, but then this movie came out and I remembered how much I loved these toys and my toys and how hard it was to give them up and I hoped that I had never done them a disservice if by some chance they WERE sentient after all.

It is such a beautiful idea executed with such finesse that it’s totally unsurprising that it got nominated now that ten nominees are possible. Unfortunately it basically stands no chance of winning, as this is only the third time ever that an animated film has even been nominated for best picture (the first two were Beauty and the Beast and last year’s Up), but I think just THAT it got nominated shows how appreciated an idea it was.

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True Grit

14-year-old Mattie Ross is pissed off that the law is doing nothing to catch her father’s murderer Tom Chaney and she’s not going to take it lightly. A 19th-century Arkansasian, she does the only logical thing she can do: cleverly talk her way into a small fortune and hire a supposedly-ruthless U.S. Marshal called Rooster Cogburn to find Chaney. Along the way they’re joined by a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (but none of that French shit, guys–it’s pronounced “LeBeef”) hunting Chaney for different reasons and a different bounty.

The story seems like a pure revenge story, but with its eclectic cast of characters it ends up being much more complex than that. Of course, adapted and directed by the Coen Brothers, that’s not surprising, because they love that kind of thing. Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn is struggling with the fact that he is aging and losing his skill, and that, after all his efforts, he’s ended up a lonely old man. Matt Damon’s LaBoeuff appears to be a completely irredeemable asshole at first, but ends up ultimately being a good person despite his initial testosterone-filled transgressions. Both end up being essentially good men, willing to do what they have to not to collect the bounty as it turns out but to help and protect the determined Mattie. And when all is said and done, Tom Chaney, rather than nefarious criminal mastermind, turns out to be a sad and somewhat slow-witted man who almost doesn’t seem smart enough to really understand the effect of his actions.

The really glorious part here is Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie. Mattie is the kind of no-nonsense tough-as-nails heroine that I feel like I’ve been waiting years to see in a movie. She’s not only smart as a whip but has more than her fair share of cunning and cleverness. She’s determined as fuck to get things done and she has above all things a very strong sense of justice. “Revenge” is indeed probably the wrong word for what Mattie is seeking after all. She just wants this man to get what he deserves, and shows frequently that she is not just willing to let the law make the choices but that she supports the law. (In fact, it’s pretty impressive how she can get so many things done in the 1870s by simply threatening people with lawsuits. That’s part of what makes her awesome–she knows what she’s talking about, all the time.) While the movie’s title is spoken by her about Rooster Cogburn before she gets to know him, it of course turns out that the person who has “true grit” in this movie is not any of the men but rather, Mattie herself. Mattie is stronger and more together than any of the men she meets in the movie, and she’s just 14. Hailee Steinfeld got a much-deserved Oscar nomination (though her category is best supporting actress and in a totally honest world she would be called the lead actress), and in a purer world without politics I think she’d’ve easily brought this one home, but I’m sure there’ll be much more Hailee Steinfeld in the future, and I can only hope that she reaps the awards of this performance for a long time even if they’re not format he Academy.

This movie manages both to be great fun, hugely intelligent, full of complicated and wonderful characters (and actors), beautiful to look at, and something to think about. It is truly a wonder to behold, BUT, as I mentioned before, this is a Coen Brothers production. Not only that, but it’s a Coen Brothers western. Basically what I’m saying is, a Coen Brothers western movie JUST won a best picture Oscar a couple years ago, so it’s not likely to happen again no matter how awesome the movie was, which is too bad, really.

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Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone is about a 17-year-old girl who goes in search of her father when her house in the crappiest part of the Ozarks is about to be repossessed by a bail bondsman because her dad skipped bail on charges of cooking meth. She pretty much singlehandedly takes care of her two younger siblings and her mother despite having no real source of income and that house is about all that is holding them together–she knows that if she can’t save that house, then her family will be torn asunder, which she refuses to stand for, so she goes on a quest met with a shocking amount of hostility to find out what has become of her father.

This movie is pretty much about how much it sucks to be in a crappy financial situation when all your relatives are assholes who cook and do meth and nobody cares enough about you to help you out thus ensuring that your future and your childhood is pretty much ruined because you feel a maternal responsibility for your family that no 17-year old should have to.

This is one of those “it was an honor to be nominated” movies this year. In another year, and perhaps with more vigorous Oscar campaigning, I think it could’ve had a real shot. It was kind of a no-nonsense gritty drama with a no-nonsense gritty heroine Rhee who was so likable because she had serious balls and didn’t take bullshit sitting down (though in a battle to the death between Rhee and Mattie, I’d put my money on Mattie). The Academy loves those. The same goes with the actress who played the heroine (Jennifer Lawrence). She was fantastic and she’s a teenager and Oscar voters looooooove that, but unfortunately, fantastic teenage actors usually lose no matter how great the performance on account of voters assuming they’ll win one of these days. Plus she’s competing against Natalie Portman. But I’m with the voters there: she’ll be back.

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The Short, Short Version

Best Picture: Honestly at this point it’s odds-on between The Social Network and The King’s Speech, but The Social Network has a slight edge from lots of prior awards season wins.
Best Director: David Fincher for The Social Network–this man has been in Hollywood for so long without winning an Oscar that it’s stupid at this point, but if anyone else CAN show him up, it’s The King’s Speech‘s Tom Hooper
Best Original Screenplay: Probably David Seidler’s The King’s Speech, but it’s possible that people may want to throw Christopher Nolan a bone for Inception
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network, easily
Best Actor: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech, but if anybody’s gonna bring him down it’ll likely be James Franco for 127 Hours
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale for The Fighter, but still in the running is Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech (but he’s already got an Oscar)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman for Black Swan…which seems so surefire it almost seems silly to say if not, then Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo for The Fighter, but she’s put her foot in her mouth so many times over the past couple of months that I think it could go to Amy Adams for the same film, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, OR Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech
Totally Fucking Snubbed: Christopher Nolan’s directing in Inception; Mark Wahlberg as best actor in The Fighter; Andrew Garfield as best supporting actor in The Social Network (though I honestly theorize his votes were split in the nomination process because of an outrageously good performance in Never Let Me Go, too); Mila Kunis as best supporting actress in Black Swan….who’d I forget? YOU TELL ME in the comments!

Anyway, what do you guys think? Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Wish you had a burrito right now?  I don’t know. That’s why you should tell me.