Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oscar Hopefuls: Best Picture Profiles 2011

With the Academy Awards coming up on this Sunday night, it’s time to take one last look at all the contenders for the movie industry’s coveted top prize.

Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis,
Barbara Hershey & Winona Ryder
Directed by Darren Aronofsky for distribution by Fox Searchlight

“I just want to be perfect.
The Summary:
A ballerina (Natalie Portman) competing for the lead spot in the New York City ballet’s production of "Swan Lake," finds the pressure of the competition impacting her grasp on reality.

The Background:
Darren Aronofsky is known for dark edgy style and this drama had plenty of both.  It also has a number of nominations, including one for lead actress Natalie Portman, who is the heavy favorite. While Aronofsky is one of the most talented young directors on the scene, he’s always been shut out of the Academy Awards, but this year both him and his movie were recognized with nominations, a sure sign the voters are beginning to expand their very structured horizons.


Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo & Jack McGee
Directed by David O. Russell for distribution by Paramount Pictures


I'm the one who's fighting. Not you, not you, and not you.

The Summary:
The true story of “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Whalberg), a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts who rose to fame after a rocky early career.

The Background:
Traditionally boxing movies do extremely well during the awards season and Wahlberg has become an early odds on favorite to win big. Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams who play Wahlberg’s volatile brother, mother and love interest (respectively) have picking up buzz with every passing award ceremony. In fact many believe Bale and Leo are locks to win which could land Paramount’s tentpole a TKO on Oscar night.


Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page,
Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy & Michael Caine
Directed by Christopher Nolan for distribution by Warner Brothers

“Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.”

The Summary:
A skilled thief (Leonardo DiCaprio) who extracts secrets from people’s minds must reverse the process to reclaim his past and settle an old score.

The Background:
Warner Brothers knew it had something special in this action thriller from the incredibly talented Christopher Nolan; although they didn’t know just how special until the movie ballooned up the box office. The film succeeded because audiences now know what to expect from the thriller’s visionary director and as a result Warner Brothers was rewarded tenfold for their trust and patience. Now Nolan, his cast and the studio are all reaping the benefits this award season.

Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, 
Josh Hutcherson & Mark Ruffalo
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko for distribution by Focus Features

“marriage is hard... Just two people slogging through the sh*t, year after year, getting older, changing.”

The Summary:
Two children (Mia Wasikowska & Josh Hutcherson) conceived through artificial insemination and raised by lesbians (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore) track down their birth father (Mark Ruffalo) and introduce him into their lives.

The Background:
This is not your typical family movie and that’s why it works. With Bening and Moore, as a lesbian couple who have to come to grips with their kids desire to meet their birth father, the movie already had a solid foundation to build off of before the script was even finalized.  This is also one of those type of movies that the Academy had in mind when it expanded the Best Picture category to ten and as a result it was given the recognition it deserved.


Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter,
Guy Pearce & Michael Gambon.
Directed by Tom Hooper for distribution by The Weinstein Company

“If I am King, where is my power? Can I declare war? Form a government? Levy a tax? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority because they think that when I speak, I speak for them.”

The Summary:
The true story of how King George VI (Colin Firth) found his voice courtesy of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a maverick speech therapist called in to help him overcome a stutter.

The Background:
If early critic’s lists are to be believed, then this year’s “Best Picture” race is over and “The King’s Speech” is the winner. Breaking it down further, the movie has everything Academy voters love and with the Weinstein’s guiding the PR ship, it should have been a smooth ride across the award season waters. Although in the early stage of the Oscar race, the ship came across some rough sail as “The Social Network” went from dark horse to frontrunner. Although now after a slew of important victories under its belt, “Speech” could regain its status as King.


Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara & Lizzy Caplan
Directed by Danny Boyle for distribution by Fox Searchlight

“You know, I've been thinking. Everything is... just comes together. It's me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life”

The Summary:
The true story of hiker Aron Ralston (James Franco), who spent a harrowing 127 hours with his arm trapped under a boulder in an isolated Utah canyon.

The Background:
“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle chose to reunite with Fox Studios for his first film since his big Oscar win a few years ago and so far it looks to be paying off. Ralston’s story was already generating Oscar buzz well before its release, as was the actor portraying him. James Franco has built up an amazing following the last few years even though he basically dropped off the grid to go back to school. Although while Boyle was snubbed in the Best Director category (and in good company this year), both Franco and the film did pick up key nominations. It is unlikely either will triumph, but both will make voters give pause.


Starring: Jessie Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Joe Mazzello & Rashida Jones
Directed by David Fincher for distribution by Columbia Pictures (Sony)

“The internet's not written in pencil... It's written in ink.

The Summary:
The story behind the rise of the Facebook social networking phenomenon and the trouble sudden fame brought to its creator (Jesse Eisenberg)

The Background:
Similar to the social network website it is based on, the movie started out with some solid buzz and then literally exploded onto the scene. Talk went from it garnering a few nominations to later possibly dominating the field, before finding a middle ground on nomination morning. Although the question lately has become was it a case of “too much, too soon,” as the original frontrunner “The King’s Speech” has run the table as of late.


Starring (voices): Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty,
Michael Keaton, Timothy Dalton & Whoopi Goldberg
Directed by Lee Unkrich for distribution by Disney/Pixar

“So long... partner. 

The Summary:
As their owner prepares for college, a group of toys begin to realize they face an uncertain future.

The Background:
Pixar took its arguably most beloved set of characters and gave them a send-off worthy of the era of they helped usher in back in the late 1990’s. With this third and presumably final entry into the franchise, the studio has proven once again there’s animation and then there’s Pixar. Unfortunately, the Academy still believes that animated movies don’t belong on the same tier as their live-action counterparts. Yes, they have instituted a “Best Animated Film” award, but even that has come under controversy. It’s unfortunate that movies like this are given a nomination in what seems like name only. “Toy Story 3” was without a doubt one of the best movies of 2010, but it is highly unlikely it will receive the votes needed to win the big prize. While settling for “Best Animated Film” isn’t something to be taken lightly, this movie deserves more.


Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin,
Barry Pepper & Hailee Steinfeld
Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen for distribution by Paramount Pictures

“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God”

The Summary:
A fourteen year old girl (Hailee Steinfeld) turns to a trigger-happy US Marshal (Jeff Bridges) for help after her father is brutally murdered in front of her. Once she gets the Marshal on board, the situation becomes more complicated when she insists on joining him in tracking down the killer.

The Background:
In 1969, John Wayne starred in the original “True Grit” and picked up his first and only Best Actor Academy Award. With the Coen Brothers behind this 2010 remake, Paramount is hoping for similar luck for both the film and lead Jeff Bridges who also happens to be the reigning Best Actor winner. “Grit” started off as a dark horse courtesy of a slow run at the box office, but has quietly moved to the forefront and accumulated over $100 million at the box office.  This horse may now be a stud.


Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser,
 Kevin Breznaha & Garrett Dillahunt
Directed by Debra Granik for distribution by Lionsgate

“Never ask for what should be offered.

The Summary:
A teenage mother (Lawrence) must search the Ozarks for her deadbeat drug dealing father after he jumps bail prior to his trial.

The Background:
Every year the Academy nominates a handful of people and films that the majority of the movie-going public has never heard about at all.  This year a number of those slots were filled by “Winter’s Bone” and its talented stars Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes. A haunting drama, the movie has been on a number of critic’s year end lists and has enjoyed a nice second life on DVD. While it is unlikely to pull off any upsets, this time the prize may very well be the nomination.