Best Live Action Short Films
Worried about making his first confession, nine year old boy Sam and his best friend decide to play a prank so he will have something to confess. However, when the prank takes a tragic turn, Sam finds his guilt to be overwhelming. First things first- the cinematography is breathtaking and certainly noteworthy, but the dark story takes an unexpected turn towards the end which leaves the story in a weird place.
An eight year old boy has a crush on his teacher that he takes a little too far when he challenges her fiance to a duel to the death. This film started off sweet and funny, but quickly went to a dark and angsty place. The final scene, the duel which finds the eight year old boy with his father’s gun, was uncomfortable to watch and seemed very out of place. In the end, everything ties up nicely and it’s back to being light hearted again. All in all, it’s a strange ride, and while it’s as dark as The Confession, it’s not nearly as compelling.
God of Love
Ray, a lounge singer who excels in darts, prays daily for his love to be reciprocated by drum player Kelly, who is inexplicably in love with his best friend. The gods answer Ray in the form of a mysterious package of love inducing darts. In a year of very dark nominees, this film is such a breath of fresh air. It’s fast talking dialogue and artistic visuals make it feel like a modern film noir. In terms of sheer enjoyment, this was by far the best film of the bunch.
In the mid 1990’s in Burundi, a van is pulled over by a group of Hutus who separate the group to weed out and kill any rival tribe members, Tutsis. The film is intense and definitely keeps you engaged, but the violence seemed very watered down from what you’d expect to see. While the film attempts to make light of the fact that the Hutus really cannot tell who is a Tutsi and who is not, knowing that there was so much genocide during that time makes this film feel like it’s really holding back.
When David, a terminal cancer patient, is offered a wish through the Make a Wish foundation, he asks to lose his virginity. When the foundation can’t grant him his wish, David attempts to make it happen on his own, with the advice from the hospital priest, before time runs out. This story is so touching, and accomplishes a great task for a short by making you both laugh and cry.
What Will Win: Subject matter and what the Academy tends to favor would suggest that it’s a toss up between The Confession and Na Wewe, but I think that Wish 143‘s sweet story will win over voter’s hearts and edge out ahead the rest.
What Should Win: God of Love was my favorite by a landslide. It was original, smart, witty, and gorgeous to look at. It’s possible it could take the award home on Oscar night (it’s really anyone’s race!), but even if it doesn’t, I think we haven’t seen the last of the immensely talented writer/director/actor Luke Matheny.
Best Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon
A unique story about a viking kid who befriends the most vicious kind of dragon and learns from him that the species may be misunderstood. It’s a sweet film that definitely tugs on the heart strings, with a great score, interesting characters, and huge voice talent. However, many people’s early predictions felt this slot would either go to this film or Tangled, and I personally felt Tangled was a lot better.
From the director and writer of The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist is a bittersweet story about a struggling magician whose stage performances are being edged out by rock stars, so he takes a young girl under his wing and changes both their lives forever. Much like Triplets, it’s a story told completely by the visuals with hardly any dialogue to speak of, but you would never notice it because the characters interact so well and convey such personality with their actions. Unlike Triplets, though, it doesn’t have the incredible music to act as a soundtrack to this story, and it feels as though something is missing.
Toy Story 3
Woody, Buzz and the gang are back for this final installment that explores what happens to toys when their owner gets too old to play with them. When the toys are accidentally delivered to a day care center, they must learn the rules of their new home, while Woody tries to convince them they need to come back to Andy’s house. Every new character is such a great addition to the franchise, even the insanely creepy Big Baby, and some of our old characters get great subplots, like Barbie’s relationship with Ken. When the moment comes where you’re wondering if it will take a dark turn, if you’re not overcome by emotion and love for the characters you’ve seen through 3 films, then you might be a robot.
What Will Win: Toy Story 3. It wasn’t just the best animated film this year, but one of the best films.
What Should Win: There are some years where you could argue against the always front runnner Pixar, but this year isn’t one of them.
Short Animated Films
Day & Night
Pixar’s entry this year shows what happens when Day and Night meet and argue over who is better, only to realize they each have their own great qualities and traits and can get along. Insanely unique and well done, the animation is amazing as always and the story is different from Pixar’s usual fare.
Based on the children’s book of the same name, this short boasts some high profile UK voice talent with Helena Bonham Carter as the narrator, Robbie Coltrane as The Gruffalo, and Tom Wilkinson and John Hurt rounding out the supporting roles. It tells the story of a cunning mouse who goes for a stroll, outwitting enemies along the way with the threat that he is meeting a scary, made up predator, the Gruffalo. Only, the mouse finds out that the Gruffalo may not be so made up after all. The story is long, predictable, and at 27 minutes, tends to drag a bit. In the end, it’s a sweet children’s story with average animation.
A satirical take on an educational film, this short instructs you on how to pollute best by never reusing anything and throwing everything away. Because it’s so short (about 6 minutes), it’s obvious message doesn’t escalate to preachy, but with it’s rudimentary animation, it’s probably here for its relevance and nothing else.
The Lost Thing
In a place not unlike our world today, where many are too busy to stop and notice anything, a boy finds a lost thing on the beach and attempts to find it a home. The animation is beautiful and it’s message, while not very subtle, is conveyed in a unique way when the boy discovers a whole world of things right in front of us that everyone has seemingly forgotten.
Madagascar, A Journey Diary
A traveler has new experiences, including spiritual enlightenment, on a trip to Madagascar, as presented to us while flipping through his travel diary. In terms of animation, this is by far the most unique, as it flips through the diary every sketch comes to life and in every shot the animation is different. However, because it’s told in such a different way, the story can be slightly incohesive.
What Will Win: It’s a toss up whether the Academy will favor the star studded voice cast in The Gruffalo or the unique animation with a spiritual side in Madagascar, A Journey Diary. It really could be either, but I’m going to give the edge to Madagascar, based on last year’s Logorama win and the year before’s La Maison en Petits Cubes.
What Should Win: It’s hard to believe that Pixar is the underdog in this category, but I think Day and Night is one of it’s strongest shorts yet.
Best Sound Editing
The difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing can be a difficult one, but in the most basic terms, sound editing analyzes the actual sounds of a film, such as the practical sound taken on set and the sound effects, while sound mixing looks at how well all the sounds are put together with the music and the dialogue.
Great action = great sound, and Nolan is great at technical awards.
Toy Story 3
Pixar is always a contender, but almost never a winner in this category. It was a crying shame that Wall-E didn’t take this award home with it (the entire movie was made out of sound effects!) and Toy Story 3 doesn’t boast nearly the amount of impressive sound as that one.
Much like the original, the sound effects for this film makes the audience feel as though they’re in a video game, but unlike the original, there aren’t enough moments in the games or fleeing the master programmers to make this sound truly great.
A shoot em up western would be a great contender here, but True Grit gets more out of its silences than it does out of its sound.
The runaway train groans and grunts like a monster, completely personified by the sound effects in this film.
What Will Win:
Inception. It’s one of the biggest action movies of the year and the sound awards tend to favor these. But with a little luck, something could surprise and come through…
What Should Win:
Unstoppable. It’s definitely the underdog here since this is the film’s only nomination, but the sound effects escalate this movie from a simple, no brainer popcorn flick, to an enjoyable action film by making the runaway train it’s main character.
I had such mixed emotions when this movie came out. On the one hand, I was so excited to see it because the trailer looked incredible and I have an undying love for all things James Franco. But on the other hand, I was seriously scared, the way I used to get when I was a kid and was next in line for the front seat of a scary looking roller coaster. I wasn’t sure how well I’d handle the material that had people passing out at early screenings.
127 Hours is the true story of adventurous thrill seeker Aron Ralston, who spent 5 days with his right arm pinned under a boulder in Utah. This movie seemed to boil down to one important question- can James Franco carry a movie almost completely alone? The answer is a resounding yes. Franco’s performance is engaging and incredible. As Aron, his time trapped is spent alternating between being incredibly resourceful and daydreaming about all the things he should have done (for instance, tell someone where he went) that would have changed things. However, I think the film suffers because the end is known. Every moment spent with Aron as he’s trapped is coupled with a level of anxiety, waiting for what is to come. There is a daydream sequence where it begins to rain and Aron’s boulder is lifted away, freeing him and allowing him to escape. But we know the whole time this isn’t real- this isn’t how the story ends. The anxiety that sets in while waiting for the inevitable end result is so overwhelming that when the end does come, it’s a huge relief. It’s an incredible story, but the film remains distinctly average. The whole time I felt as though any moment it would push into being as amazing as it’s lead actor and as inspiring as its source material, but it couldn’t quite clear that hurdle.
Ever since the Academy implemented it’s 10 Best Picture slots, I like to look at selections and determine if I think they’d have been nominated in a 5 Best Picture year. This movie would not have been; it’s definite bottom 5 material. While it boasted a fantastic performance, it just couldn’t build off of that to make the film into something memorable as well. Because it doesn’t do it’s inspiring source material as much justice as expected, I don’t think it’s a strong contender in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.
As for Best Actor, in another year, James Franco might be a frontrunner. His performance as Aron is the best thing about this film. Unfortunately, he has some steep competition and as a first time nominee, he likely won’t take the award home.
The music, both Original Score and Original Song, evoke touching images and match Aron’s spirit and emotion throughout the film. But despite being inspirational, neither are unique enough to stand out amongst the contenders.
One thing the film does get right is its energy, and that is conveyed best through the editing. It’s music video-like beginning captures Aron’s liveliness, and as the film wears on, we are brought in and out of Aron’s thoughts and mind. There are big players in the Best Editing category this year, but the Academy could choose to honor the film here.
Best Original Score
I love film scores- they can evoke not just moments from the film, but the emotions as well. The best film scores will stick with you, so years to come when you hear a snippet you can still pinpoint the movie. If you can’t recall the scores from the nominees, iTunes is a great place to listen to the samples and remember (I had to with a few of the entries this year).
Danny Boyle always chooses his music well and while I couldn’t remember the score exactly offhand, a second listen was all I needed to remember how fantastic it was. It captured Aron’s energy and emotions throughout the film. It slows down for a rare, sweet moment of sun for Aron, then picks up for the dream sequence and during the final scene to convey the anxiety and urgency he is feeling.
How to Train Your Dragon
This had a great score, with a sweeping and epic theme, like so many great family movies before it. With it’s fairy tale, action packed style it reminds me of Hercules, with a little bit of Celtic music thrown in to capture the viking’s spirit. It’s truly grandiose and spectacular, but nothing original.
Now this score was both original AND epic. No second listen was necessary to remember the booming, intimidating notes of this summer movie’s theme. Borrowing and slowing down an Edith Piaf tune to weave through the score conveys the tragic romance that lies at the heart of the film.
The King’s Speech
A second listen on iTunes reminded me of this films both touching and, at times, playful score. But the piece of music I remembered most from this film was actually not part of the original score, but a Beethoven symphony that is played as King George delivers his speech.
The Social Network
This score stuck with me like no other did this year. From the soft, singular piano notes that play as we see beauty shots of Harvard’s campus, paired with the deep, booming notes warning of the conflict to come, to the faster, electronic music that plays as we are introduced to the final clubs, every note was executed perfectly. It’s so creative and a breath of fresh air to a category where sometimes the nominees can all start to sound alike.
What Will Win:
The Social Network. In just three solid notes, you are whisked back to a Harvard dorm room, Jesse Eisenberg’s face illuminated by the soft glow of his computer as his fingers clack away on his keyboard. Plus, the Academy will think they’re being hip by awarding Trent Reznor an Oscar (Remember Three 6 Mafia?)
What Should Win:
The Social Network. Inception and 127 Hours are close runners up this year, but while their scores are just great, Reznor’s score is iconic.