The nominees for Best Picture, 2011:
127 Hours: Hyperactive yet engaging true story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who hacked off his own arm to save his life after being trapped in a Utah canyon for days.
Black Swan: Trippy tale of a dancer’s decent into madness as she gives it all for her art.
Inception: Ultimately, an action movie set in a sort of Jungian dreamscape, where new age thieves not only steal dreams, but cause trouble by leaving behind counterfeit ones.
The Fighter: Real-life story of a working class stiff who overcomes long odds and a family straight out of Jerry Springer to become a contender.
The Kids Are All Right: Lesbian moms struggle to maintain a long-term relationship, raise two teenagers, and fend off the hunky sperm donor who’s interested in meeting his progeny…and one of the moms.
The King’s Speech: The Duke of York overcomes a debilitating speech impediment, a host of neuroses, and class prejudice to rise to the throne and rally England against Hitler.
The Social Network: The pyrrhic triumph of a maniacally driven nerd over his maniacally driven jock rivals.
Toy Story 3: A franchise is brought to a close with Andy all grown up and Woody and the gang coping with what comes next.
True Grit: A Protestant wet dream of a western, jam-packed with violence, vengeance, good and bad counter-balanced with a devil’s dose of laughter.
Winter’s Bone: A hillbilly teenager, stuck looking after her mom and raising her younger siblings, goes off in search of her meth-cooking father in order to save the family farm in a kind of Ozark Odyssey.
For this year’s Best Picture race, let’s start off by eliminating 127 Hours, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, and Winter’s Bone. That leaves us with five movies.
Black Swan and The Fighter are long shots to win, which cuts the field to three.
My criteria, when looking at this award, is which movie will people still be talking about in 20 or 50 years? Which movie is so good or so entertaining or so…special that it will stand the test of time, and not become some dated joke, like “Oliver” or “Dances With Wolves”?
Of the three movies that remain, there is The King’s Speech, the kind of movie that Hollywood loves to bestow honors upon – dignified, historical, and important-seeming; The Social Network, a very “now” kind of story that has captured a watershed event in our culture; and finally, True Grit, an earnest and old fashioned western that doesn’t appear to be couching some political message in its entertainment. It’s a throw back, really.
If I had a vote, it would go to True Grit. It’s great story telling, blending humor, adventure, and solemnity. The cast is pitch-perfect, with Jeff Bridges, perhaps the finest actor of his generation, still at the top of his game; Hailee Steinfeld not a bit stilted in her 1800’s diction; Matt Damon unselfconsciously pompous; and Josh Brolin with the difficult task of playing dumb and doing it brilliantly. The Coens have conquered another genre, and in the process, they’ve created an instant classic.
This is all highly subjective, of course, but when you look at things like story, direction, acting, sets, and music, you see that True Grit matches The King’s Speech and The Social Network in every category. That said, I don’t think the Academy will agree with my take, as westerns are usually given short shrift this time of year.
Even though it will go down as one of the very best of the Coen brothers’ films, True Grit will lose out to The Social Network on February 27th.