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How to Choose Best Picture

This is my article from Picktainment.com about this year’s Best Picture Oscar race…

Now that the 10 nominee thing has sunken in with the Academy voters, this year’s crop of Best Picture contenders round out 2010 well. You have the blockbusters (Inception, Toy Story 3), the surprise hits (The Social Network, The Fighter), the in-betweens (Black Swan, True Grit), the British contingency (The King’s Speech), the gritty indie (Winter’s Bone), the quirky indie (The Kids Are All Right) – and 127 Hours, which sort of doesn’t fall into any category.

Yet, even with all this variety, the race has really narrowed down to two films: The Social Network and The King’s Speech. The poignant, socially relative little movie about Facebook came out like gangbusters, gaining a steady, supportive word of mouth for its superb writing, excellent performances and clever directing. It then won almost every critic association accolade to be had, which gave it a home court advantage as the real meat of the award season began. It picked up the Golden Globe, but then King’s Speech started to gain its own momentum, winning the trifecta: the Actor, Producer and Director Guild awards. It seems now the British flick about King George VI– who overcame a debilitating stammer with the help of his loving wife, Elizabeth, and speech therapist Lionel Logue to lead England into WWII — is the clear frontrunner. It’s the one I’m choosing, that’s for sure.

But if you’ve been following the Picktainment podcasts, you’ll know that us Pick pundits believe this entire list is an impressive one and any one of these films are worthy of an Oscar. Let’s do a recap:

127 Hours: I’ve been partial to this film all along. I couldn’t take my eyes off the damn thing, even when James Franco has to cut his arm off in order to escape death. I mean, if you know the true story of mountaineer Aron Ralston, you know that part is coming, so you can just look away (or hide behind your notepad). It’s all the stuff leading up to this man’s battle against insurmountable odds, the way director Danny Boyle mixes reality with fantasy and Franco’s tour-de-force performance, that sets the film apart. Really, 127 Hours is a marvel.

Black Swan: An incredibly fascinating psycho-character study centering on a young ballerina’s descent into madness brought on by unrealistic pressures and her own crippling self-doubt. Natalie Portman has a perpetual look of pain on her face the entire movie, making us wince as she pulls her fingernails off but also keeping us wondering if she really IS being tortured by her perceived nemesis, Mila Kunis. Then there’s director Darren Aronofsky eclectic vision, turning something as beautiful as Swan Lake into Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Bravo.

Inception: Frankly, I didn’t understand all of it, but hell, I didn’t care. You have to suspend your disbelief in a fair amount of movies these days, but it’s particularly noteworthy when a writer/director like Christopher Nolan tries hard to make that disbelief seem pretty real. Dream within dream within dream, you’re right there, getting the film’s full effects. I’m not sure which part I liked the best, but I think it’s when that final “kick” brings all three levels of the dream together. It’s friggin’ intense. I’ll go see Nolan’s movies any day of the week.

The Fighter: It’s certainly a movie you’ve seen done a thousand times. A young up and coming fighter has to beat the odds to win the big title, but it’s just the odds that are different this time. Real-life Mickey Ward had to show some tough love with his manipulative family – particularly his crack-addicted brother, Dicky, and conniving mother, Alice – in order to become champion. And dramatized by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, respectively, The Fighter just zings. Let’s not forget Amy Adams, as Mickey’s tough-as-nails girlfriend and director David O. Russell for his clear guidance.

The Kids Are All Right: It’s one of those unassuming indie films about life, love — and two teenagers looking for their biological father after being raised by two loving lesbian mothers only to see one of those women have an affair with said sperm donor. Kids is like the Little Miss Sunshine of this year’s Best Pictures, with such brilliant performances from just about everyone – Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson – along with a crackerjack script from writer/director Lisa Cholodenko.

Toy Story 3: Honestly, have you ever heard of movie franchise being THIS successful? Even Godfather failed the third time around. But not Toy Story. It’s like the folks over at Pixar have some kind of magical power over the endearing, hilarious, tear-jerking adventures of Andy’s toys, finding new and inventive ways to further the story. Oh, how No. 3 made me cry, and in being a mom with almost grown kids, I have vowed never to throw away another toy ever again. Because I have thrown them away and it’s now eating me up inside.

True Grit: I’ve never been the biggest Western fan, but somehow when the Coen brothers do it, I like it. Besides the unbelievably talented teen Hailee Steinfeld, who not only holds her own with likes of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin but basically whips their asses, the best part of this Grit is the language. I don’t think I remember a cowboy movie in which everyone is so extremely eloquent and formal to one another. Gotta love Joel and Ethan Coen.

Winter’s Bone: OK, although it’s the one movie I have regrettably not seen – yet – I now have a firm grasp on what the film represents (thanks to my Pick colleague Rebecca Rose). Newcomer Jennifer Lawrence turns in an outstanding performance as an unflinching young women living in the Ozark mountains, who must find her wayward drug-dealing father before she and her siblings lose their house. I guess she has to navigate through one seriously messed up extended family to finally discover the truth. It’s the real grit in gritty.

And there you have it. If you haven’t seen all of these movies, I definitely recommend that you do. Good luck to all the Oscar pool players!