March 2011

MARCH 2011: He Says, She Says - The Academy Awards

Author: Keith Kelson & Jean Wharton | Photographer: Photography by Anne


I have an Oscar lying around here somewhere. You know, the golden statue that Hollywood hands out to the best of the best in the movie business. Hey, I worked security and it pays to be helpful, friendly and discreet. I’ve helped my fair share of Hollywood’s movers and shakers avoid many embarrassing situations in my day. One grateful actor just happened to have an extra Oscar lying on the backseat of his Porsche, and when I refused to take money for helping him, he handed me the Oscar. While I am more than grateful, my benefactor drove off during my acceptance speech.

Like a large number of viewers, I usually watch the Academy Awards just to see the looks on the faces of the people who didn’t win. I also watch to see if the host is as good as Billy Crystal or Johnny Carson. Last year, the producers of the show actually considered letting Sacha Baron Cohen, the man behind the masterful cinema classics Borat and Bruno appear on live network television as the host of the Academy Awards. I would’ve sold my house to see that broadcast, but the board of governors had to be party poopers, insisting on another host.

My personal favorites this year for best picture are Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone or The King’s Speech. The four pictures I just listed are more than worthy of being named best film of the year. I used to watch reruns of The Big Valley on late night television as a kid when I should have been in bed—so I have a soft spot for westerns. I’m really pulling for True Grit to win. I’m also a big fan of the Toy Story franchise, and with this third and final installment, it would be a fitting tribute if it were named best picture. Winter’s Bone and The King’s Speech are also very good films which I will add to my personal movie collection.

Here are the films that I’m not picking to win and the very valid reasons why:

Inception is a film involving dreams and corporate espionage. This movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a guy who’s inserted into the dreams of his targets so he can gain their trust and “extract” vital info and any deep, dark secret they might be hiding. Corporate espionage via dream extraction? Yeah, that sounds like a viable way to obtain information. Most people went to see this flick because of DiCaprio and the wonky visual effects. Best visual effects is the only category for which Inception should be considered.

The Social Network is a film about the popular social networking site Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Let’s ignore the fact that Zuckerberg is notorious for lacking social skills in the real world, but a movie about Facebook? Take Mafia Wars, Bejeweled Blitz, Farmville and the other popular games away from Facebook, and what do you have? Another Internet fad that will run its course and be replaced by another Internet fad. You just know that somewhere there’s a Twitter movie in the works, but I’m still waiting on the MySpace movie.

The Kids Are All Right is another one of those movies focusing on the alternative lifestyle crowd and how they cope with the challenges of raising teenagers. Really? I mean, couldn’t they have made Police Academy 54: The Search for Kojak or something? Why isn’t this a very special episode of Seventh Heaven instead? It’s not the only feature film nominated for an Academy Award that should be a made-for-television movie.

The Black Swan is a film about a ballerina and her fragile mental state during a production of Swan Lake. Question: Is the main character being portrayed by Scarlett Johansson? No? How about the rival dancer? No? Next. I like to watch the occasional ballet performance, but a film about a deranged ballet dancer is not my idea of a major motion picture—a movie of the week on Lifetime Television maybe, but not worthy of an Academy Award. Kudos to the producers for the ballerina fight scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.

The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, is a film based on the real life of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward. I saw those fights that Ward had with the late Arturo Gatti, and those were some of the greatest boxing matches I have ever seen. Anyone who was ever involved with a hybrid R&B rap group like Wahlberg was in the ’90s just can’t be taken seriously. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch? To quote the hip, young trendy kids: Epic fail. Cast Bale as the lead, Hugh Jackman in the supporting role, let Wahlberg do his producer thing and The Fighter would have easily been one of my favorites for best picture.

I have to remember to buy some extra popcorn and Milk Duds for this year’s show. Anne Hathaway and James Franco are the hosts and should do well, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that Sacha Baron Cohen shows up instead.



There was a time when my wildest fantasies played out in the bathroom mirror while holding a youth soccer trophy and practicing my Academy Award acceptance speech. Teary eyed, I’d thank the people I’d abandoned along my heroically trotted path to superstardom. I may have applied some of my mother’s lipstick and perhaps borrowed a prom dress from my sister’s closet for the occasion. If you have even the slightest smile on your face reading this right now, it’s because you know you are guilty of the same. In my youth, I was certain that a life of fame and fortune awaited me, and each year, watching Academy Awards, my delusion was reignited. I emulated what I assumed fame and fortune would be, fancy clothes, beautiful hair and makeup, slick escort and flashing cameras. Years later, I see that fame is really simply one’s reputation and fortune is simply having the financial means to say yes rather than no.

Nonetheless, Hollywood didn’t get the memo that I wasn’t coming, and judging by the 2011 nominations, my absence certainly has not rocked the film industry off its charted trajectory. I won’t be on stage on Oscar night, but that doesn’t mean I am sans-audience: I have you! By the time this is published, the 83rd Academy Awards will have come to a close. Here are my predictions:

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Hands down, Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech.” His performance as the stammering King George was perfect from start to finish. Firth’s malleable and expressive face subtly tells part of the story while his spot-on articulation (or lack thereof) allows an amazing historical figure to become a relatable character. He will win; there is no question.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale in The Fighter. If you have not seen this inspiring true story biopic, be sure to do so regardless of who gets the golden statue. Bale completely transformed into Dick Eklund, a drug addict and former champion boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts who trains his younger half brother through tumultuous family tribulations. All traces of Bale’s previous roles, including as Bruce Wayne in Batman fall by the wayside in this convincing performance. If this is your first film experience with this talented British actor, be sure to check out some of his other work including, The Prestige, 3:10 to Yuma, and Empire of the Sun. I will be shocked if Bale doesn’t walk away with the golden guy.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
I don’t like it, not one bit, but the truth is that Natalie Portman will win the Academy Award. If you were able to stomach the bizarre, psychologically wrenching cinematic trip that was Black Swan, you certainly must have been taken by Portman’s performance as a ballerina with shaky confidence and an even shakier grasp on reality. Personally, I was so confused and disturbed by the film that I was distracted by both my discomfort as an audience member and my inner monolog that was asking me over and over during scene after scene, “Did that just happened?” The answer was yes, but I had to rely on others to remind me that Portman delivered an amazing performance.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
If I were to bet with my head, I’d say that Melissa Leo will win for her role as the overbearing, boxing manager mother in The Fighter. Leo convincingly plays the captivating leader to a gaggle of gals, her misfit daughters and the manager to her two welterweight boxing sons. Betting with my heart, I’d say Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. For a movie overpopulated with caricatures of the American Western, Steinfeld delivered an honest and stripped down Mattie Ross as daughter seeking vengeance for the murder of her father. With any luck, Steinfeld is at the beginning of a long career, hopefully devoid of Lohan pitfalls and full of other Oscar nods.

Best Director
In years past, I’ve followed the protocol that the Best Director win should go to the Best Picture winner. But since the director of the movie I’m voting for in the Best Picture category wasn’t nominated, my strategy is blown to hell. One would assume that the movie that is the best would have to stem from the best direction, right? Safe bet is Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech. The film has a little bit of everything for the audience: some laughs with tears, some history with creative licensing. Hooper must have had special insight into not only the British royal family, but Colin Firth as well, since his directing allowed Firth to shine even when the historical figure he was portraying actually did not.

Best Picture
I think that a movie deemed the best must have an epic quality to it—see Gladiator, Schlindler’s List, Gandhi, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, or The Bridge on the River Kwai. I don’t believe that small, quiet pictures encompass enough range to be considered the best of the year. Again, betting with my head, I think Black Swan will win, much to my dismay. But betting with my heart, I’d pick Inception. The movie was daringly unique, visually dynamic and richly portrayed, not to mention completely original. Rarely does a film bridge cutting-edge science fiction with emotional drama. A Best Picture requires a second or third viewing to understand the full nature of the film. Inception is one of those movies. I loved it from beginning to end. I was lucky to see it on IMAX…ahhh, the four-story tall Leonardo DiCaprio did not disappoint.

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