11 February 2011

The Oscars, 2011 Edition

It’s that time of year again: awards season. I make an effort to see all of the films that are nominated for Best Picture, because they are also typically nominated in the other big categories and I always try to win the Oscar Ballot prediction games, even if I’m not playing with anyone else.  Overall, I thought that the nominees for Best Picture this year were all viable candidates for the prize, though some stood out more than others. I just finally saw Winter’s Bone last week and now I feel like I can accurately rate and review the Best Picture nominees:

Black Swan – Natalie Portman did an amazing job in this and I definitely think that she deserves all of the accolades that she is earning for this film. And I really liked the film, too, because my husband and I were still talk about it the next day. It got under my skin. I don’t know if I really thought it was the best picture of the year, though it was definitely one of the finest performances I can recall – not just this year. Grade: A
The Fighter – again, I thought that the performances, particularly that of Christian Bale, were excellent in this film, even though I still find myself struggling to take Mark Wahlberg seriously. I appreciate the “true-story” aspect of this film. I would see it again, but it didn’t move me. Grade: A
Inception – this movie was right up there with Black Swan, and I found myself still talking about it and thinking about it days later; I felt like it needed a second viewing just to start making sense of it, rather than because I thought it was amazing. I thought it was really good, but not quite as good as some of its fellow nominees. Grade: A-
The Kids are All Right – I hadn’t seen this movie before the Golden Globes, and the fact that it won Best Comedy and the commercials made it seem lighthearted led me to believe that I was going to watch something completely different from what it was. Yes, there were moments when I found myself laughing, but it was not a comedy.  The acting was good, and I understand that the premise was to show a portrait of what it means to be a family today. But it wasn’t my favorite. Grade: B+
The King's Speech – Colin Firth, like Natalie Portman, deserves all the accolades he is getting for this role. And the story is simultaneously accurate (feeling), moving and inspiring. But the thing that makes this film different from the other frontrunners is that it isn’t just an exercise in excellent acting (like Portman) or a really good story (like The Social Network); it has it all. Grade: A+
The Social Network – I was initially a little apprehensive about this movie; it seemed like one of those movies that was getting these excellent reviews and I wasn’t sure I bought the hype.  I must admit, however, that, after watching the movie, I understand what the hype was about (though I still think it was a tad excessive). The story was actually quite heartbreaking, and I think that was the strongest part of the movie. Grade: A
127 Hours – James Franco represents Colin Firth’s biggest competition in the Best Actor category, because he basically carried this entire movie on his own. I was very familiar with the story, as I read the book a few years ago and definitely intrigued by the fact that they were making it into a movie. Franco’s ability to make being pinned down by a rock intense, moving and a stressful experience makes it deserve more accolades than it is receiving. Grade: A
Toy Story 3 – I found out I was pregnant right before I saw this movie, so I was already feeling emotional when I saw it. I think I cried more during this movie than any others this past year, but I have the same issue with its inclusion in Best Picture that I had last year with Up. There is a separate category for Best Animated Picture, and what this does is a) spoils the race in that category and b) takes the place of another movie that could have been nominated (and maybe deserved it more). Grade: A-
True Grit – I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the original, since it’s been playing on AMC regularly lately, but I really enjoyed this film. People are saying that Hailee Steinfeld should have been nominated in the Best Actress category (and not Best Supporting Actress), but I’m sure she’s thrilled to be nominated either way. The entire cast, especially Jeff Bridges, did a great job. And I don’t even like westerns. Grade: A
Winter's Bone – I remember when this film came out, and it was unclear what the film was actually going to be about. After seeing it, I still kind of feel the same way. The acting was good, and the movie was good, but I had a hard time articulating why to my husband (who didn’t watch it with me). I felt like one of the main drawbacks of the movie was unexplained backstory of the clan and such. I felt like I needed a family tree to figure out exactly who Jennifer Lawrence she was talking to. And I still don’t completely understand what happened to the father, aside from him being dead. Grade: B+

                        Best Picture
                        Will Win: The King’s Speech
                        Could Win: The Social Network, Black Swan
                        Should Win: The King’s Speech

Best Actress                                          Best Actor
Will Win: Natalie Portman                Will Win: Colin Firth
Could Win: Annette Bening              Could Win: James Franco
Should Win: Natalie Portman            Should Win: Colin Firth

Best Supporting Actress                    Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Melissa Leo                       Will Win: Christian Bale
Could Win: Amy Adams                    Could Win: Geoffrey Rush
Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld            Should Win: Christian Bale

01 February 2011

Fall of Giants

I finished this book last month; we read it for book group, which was supposed to be in December but had to be postponed. I was actually glad it was postponed because it gave me a chance to finish the book. I was just really busy with everything else that was going on around the holiday season (but I’ll get to that in another post). Anyway, onto Fall of Giants.

Ken Follett’s tome – I use that word deliberately because, at over 1,000 pages, the book itself was quite hefty. This was an example of when I am really happy that I have a kindle – I know that I couldn’t carry a book that size around in my purse, and I like to read wherever I can. The kindle was a lifesaver with this book.

The stories in the book revolve around different families in different countries during World War I. Some of the characters were more likable and relatable than others, and some of the stories were more intriguing than others, but overall I really thought that Follett’s novel showed a very clear understanding of the period and the nuances of the different experiences of WWI. Follett could find a very lucrative career writing History books for people who need history to be personalized in order to really understand it; at times, especially during the battle sequences, the historical detail can begin to get a tiny bit dry, but I still found myself able to enjoy it, even though I don’t consider myself much of a military history enthusiast. (Incidentally, I read in the acknowledgments that Follett employs a company called “Research for Writers” in New York to help with his research for these massive undertakings – will you please hire me?)

I also really appreciate the fact that Follett clearly has a plan. I know that there are two more books in the series, and I think that I would have been let down a little if I had not known there was a sequel coming. The ending, which I thought did an excellent job of closing the action of the book, felt a little unfinished, but that’s because the story itself is unfinished.

I did feel like, at times, Follett was forcing the various characters to all have children at approximately the same time for the sake of the trilogy and, while I appreciated the insight into the battles, I wish that there hadn’t been quite so many in such detail. Other than these two criticisms, I really enjoyed the book, and I felt like I learned quite a bit from it, since he makes it a point to relate things that realistically could have happened, especially when he has real historical figures in the fictional story.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy history, who enjoy the time period, or simply enjoy an excellent story and appreciate Follett’s writing. It really pulls a person into the story.

My rating: 4.5/5