Saturday, February 26, 2011


Every year yours truly matches wits with (or at least tries to think like) members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  And if you enter an Oscar® pool or play along at home, you’re doing the same.  So below are my wishes and predictions for Hollywood’s most glamorous night of 2011:

Best Picture

For some time now Conventional Wisdom (“CW”) has held that THE SOCIAL NETWORK was a lock for the evening’s big prize.  Not any more.  With the Directors Guild and Producers Guild unexpectedly crowning THE KING’S SPEECH, the Best Picture award is in play.  I have a feeling this is going to be one of those SAVING PRIVATE RYAN vs. SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE evenings.  I’m going to side with the monarchy this year.

Should Win:  WINTER’S BONE

Best Director

After the head-scratching decision of the Directors Guild, I fear Tom Hooper could win for THE KING’S SPEECH.  Of the Best Director nominees he’s my least favorite (I felt his and the cinematographer’s framing choices were self-conscious and distracting).  David Fincher’s attention to detail is stamped into every frame of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but he never calls attention to his craft.  This year I think (hope) the Academy is going to split the big prizes.

Should and Will Win:  David Fincher, THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Best Actress

This contest comes down to veteran Annette Bening in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and upstart Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN, if we hold with CW.  Which we do.  Before seeing TKAAR I would have put money on Bening.  After seeing the film, and how her role is closer to a supporting than lead performance, I’m switching to the hardworking Portman, who is in almost every frame.

Should Win:  Jennifer Lawrence, WINTER’S BONE
Will Win:  Natalie Portman, BLACK SWAN

Best Actor

Set aside the fact that Bardem and Bridges have both won already, and that Eisenberg and Franco have years ahead of them to rack up awards.  Set all that aside, because Colin Firth’s performance as George VI in THE KING’S SPEECH is the year’s best, bar none.  Long may he reign.

Should and Will Win:  Colin Firth, THE KING’S SPEECH

Best Supporting Actress

If there’s going to be a major upset, it will be in this category.  You have Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, equally good in THE FIGHTER.  You have the marvelous Hailee Steinfeld (who should have been nominated as lead actress) in TRUE GRIT.  And you have the mesmerizing Helena Bonham Carter in THE KING’S SPEECH.  (I haven’t forgotten Jacki Weaver in ANIMAL KINGDOM, though the Academy already has.)  This will be the voting equivalent of a catfight, and I believe the Queen Mother will outlast them.  But, then again, I could be wrong.

Should Win:  Hailee Steinfeld, TRUE GRIT
Will Win:  Helena Bonham Carter, THE KING’S SPEECH

Best Supporting Actor

CW has this one as a lock.  And I would agree.  (Though I would add that this is the strongest overall acting category.)  Christian Bale’s performance is showy but never sentimental, and it always feels organic.  He deserves the prize, though I wouldn’t mind if he shared it with the understated John Hawkes.

Should Win:  Christian Bale, THE FIGHTER and John Hawkes, WINTER’S BONE
Will Win:  Christian Bale, THE FIGHTER

Best Adapted Screenplay

Again, CW gave this to Aaron Sorkin and THE SOCIAL NETWORK a long time ago.  And I see no reason to alter that opinion.  The Coen Brothers and Boyle & Beaufoy have each won recently, and I don’t see an animated movie (even one as deserving as TOY STORY 3) winning a writing award.

Should Win:  Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini, WINTER’S BONE
Will Win:  Aaron Sorkin, THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Best Original Screenplay

With the clear momentum of THE KING’S SPEECH, you would be foolish to vote against David Seidler.

Should Win:  Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington, THE FIGHTER
Will Win:  David Seidler, THE KING’S SPEECH

Best Animated Film

Don’t get me wrong.  I wanted to see the Pixar folks fall flat on their face with a third TOY STORY installment released 10 years too late.  But it was the happiest crow I ever ate.

Should Win and Will Win:  TOY STORY 3

Best Foreign Language Film

I haven’t seen any of these nominees.  Despite the presence of Javier Bardem, I wouldn’t see BIUTIFUL if it was the last movie on earth.  Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is pretentious.  Suffering through BABEL and 21 GRAMS was enough.  I read about the nominated films and made an educated guess.


Best Documentary Feature

I didn’t see these either.  (Sue me.  I’ve been busy.)  I heard good things about EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, and it would tickle me if it won.  But I suspect INSIDE JOB’s timely dissection of the financial crisis will carry the day.


Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins is long overdue for this award, and TRUE GRIT looks fantastic.  I think he will win.  But don’t count out Wally Pfister for INCEPTION.  He’s been nominated for almost every Chris Nolan movie over the past several years, and could be seen by the Academy as equally deserving.

Should Win and Will Win:  Roger Deakins, TRUE GRIT

Best Film Editing

I love how Pamela Martin cut together THE FIGHTER.  But I think that this award will go to one of the front-runners of the evening, either THE KING’S SPEECH or THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

Should Win:  Pamela Martin, THE FIGHTER
Will Win:  Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Best Costume Design

When in doubt on the costume design award, go for the period piece.  If you have a choice between period pieces, go with a Best Picture front-runner.  In this case, either TRUE GRIT or THE KING’S SPEECH.

Should Win:  Mary Zophres, TRUE GRIT
Will Win:  Jenny Beavan, THE KING’S SPEECH

Best Art Direction

The rules for the art direction award are little different from but similar to the costume design rules.  Period pieces or fantasy films are popular with the academy in this category.  Choose those first.  But, again, it will most likely come down to front-running films.  So that leaves INCEPTION, THE KING’S SPEECH or TRUE GRIT.

Should Win:  TRUE GRIT

Best Original Score

We can take A.R. Rahman out, since he won for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.  John Powell and Hans Zimmer are likely placeholders so the composers of the two top films can slug it out.  Alexandre Desplat should have been nominated for THE GHOST WRITER and not THE KING’S SPEECH, and the Academy has been testing their street cred lately.  I’m going with the hipper choice this year.

Should Win and Will Win:  Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Best Original Song

I have always detested this category.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times there was a song deserving of a nomination, let alone a win.  This year I’m ambivalent.  A.R. Rahman and Randy Newman have won recently.  A country song won last year.  That leaves one choice.

Should Win:  “We Belong Together”, Randy Newman, TOY STORY 3
Will Win:  “I See the Light”, Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, TANGLED

Best Sound Mixing

The rule for this category is to go with a musical or a film about a musician, if available.  Absent that, look for an epic action movie or one of the front-runners.  That takes SALT off the table.  I sense that THE KING’S SPEECH and TRUE GRIT are considered less technically sophisticated than THE SOCIAL NETWORK.  I suspect it will come down to that or INCEPTION.  The outcome will depend on TSN’s momentum.

Should Win and Will Win:  THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Best Sound Editing

The placeholders in this category are TRON: LEGACY and UNSTOPPABLE.  If TRUE GRIT had a serious chance of winning Best Picture, I’d go with that.  But it doesn’t, sadly.  I would focus on INCEPTION and TOY STORY 3.  It could go either way.

Should Win and Will Win:  INCEPTION

Best Visual Effects

This one’s a gimme.

Should Win and Will Win:  INCEPTION

Best Makeup

Did anyone see any of these movies?  I sure didn’t.  THE WOLFMAN was the only one I noticed in theaters, and I would rather transform into a wolf and back on a continuous loop than see that Joe Johnston disaster.  Oh, the winner.  This one’s a tough call.  If there were period makeup, I’d go with that.  No.  The Academy likes fantasy makeup and aging makeup.  Who cares?  I’ll go with the fantasy makeup.


Best Documentary Short Subject

I read an article by someone who saw the movies.  This one sounded good.

Will Win:  SUN COME UP

Best Animated Short Subject

I read an article by someone who saw the movies.  This sounded like a title the voters would like.


Best Live Action Short Subject

Do I really need to again admit I have no clue?

Will Win:  GOD OF LOVE

Friday, February 25, 2011


Below are my favorite ten films of the year.  They may not be the best films.  They are certainly not perfect films.  They are films that struck a chord with me.  They resonated with me today, and I hope they will resonate with me years from now.  Most probably will not, but those are the breaks.  For that reason I also include my runners-up:  the films that on any other day would have made the ten but on this day did not.  Some of these may age better than their higher-ranked counterparts.  So here is a snapshot of 2010, ranked in alphabetical order:

THE FIGHTER  David O. Russell’s hardscrabble film is more than a boxing movie.  It is a movie about a family of fighters.  It is a film about how love and respect survive violent disagreement and self-destructive choices, about how carrying on to fight another day is its own form of victory.  Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams have been deservedly recognized for their fearless performances.  But Mark Wahlberg is rock solid and anchors this unsentimental and inspirational film.

THE GHOST WRITER  The world that Roman Polanski’s characters inhabit is bleak and edged with danger.  This marvelous throwback to the political thrillers of the ‘60s and ‘70s is suffused with paranoia.  Ewan McGregor plays ghostwriter to Pierce Brosnan’s former British Prime Minister.  The Ghost (as he’s known) begins to suspect his predecessor may have been killed in a far-ranging conspiracy.  The film finds Polanski at the top of his powers and contains the best final scene and best final shot of the year.

MOTHER (MADEO)  South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong weaves an off-kilter tale of unhealthy maternal love.  When a mentally handicapped young man is accused of a brutal murder, his overprotective mother turns part Nancy Drew, part Charles Bronson in her relentless quest to prove her son’s innocence.  Hye-Ja Kim as Mother is astonishing, and Bin Won as the son is nearly as good.  The twists are surprising but believable, and Mother’s final moments are devastating.

PLEASE GIVE  Writer/director Nicole Holofcener explores how many in society benefit from the misfortune and insecurities of others, and the pervasive guilt that that benefit engenders.  This sounds like heavy stuff, but Holofcener’s perceptions are both acute and generous.  Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet take these prickly yet recognizable characters and create moments of wild hilarity and quiet heartbreak.  This is Holofcener’s best yet.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD  Watching Edgar Wright’s visually giddy film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel, you feel as though you have entered the pages of a comic book via a video game.  The film chronicles Scott Pilgrim’s (an endearing Michael Cera) epic battles against Ramona Flower’s (an enigmatic Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil exes.  For the record there are two too many exes.  But the film is such a delirious delight, it’s easy to forgive its often exhilarating excesses.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK  Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, as portrayed by the terrific Jesse Eisenberg, understands how to connect people in a quantifiable way.  Quality connections are another matter, however.  At film’s end we know little more about Zuckerberg than we did before, and that’s as it should be.  Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin remind us that nothing can replace the human element for fostering meaningful connection.  No matter what Facebook would have us think.

SPLICE  The Frankenstein mythos is given a modern overhaul in this creepy, unsettling  thriller from director Vincent Natali.  Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody play our mad scientists, and we follow them over the ethical line as a genetic experiment goes horribly awry.  Natali’s film pushes the envelope of good taste and is reminiscent of the body horror films of David Cronenberg, but more personal and perverse.  Although not for everyone, fans of the genre can breathe a sigh of relief.

TOY STORY 3  I was deeply skeptical about this late-arriving sequel, but the magicians at Pixar quelled my concerns with a rich, rewarding and enormously entertaining film.  Deep-running concerns about aging and obsolescence are ever present; however, the filmmakers never forget the primary audience and keep the action nimble.  And unlike so many other animated films, the voice work here (by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and an all-star cast) never feels like stunt work.  It is a labor of love, and it shows in every frame.

TRUE GRIT  Joel and Ethan Coen re-imagine the John Wayne chestnut.  But instead of comfort food, it is a grimly humorous journey into the flinty heart of darkness.  Instead of warm burnished colors, the landscape is bleak and uninviting.  Instead of a moppet heroine, Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie as brittle and all business.  Instead of a loveable drunk, Jeff Bridges refuses easy sympathy for Cogburn.  And the Coens’ use of period language is glorious.  This is one to be savored.

WINTER’S BONE  Debra Granik’s gripping, atmospheric mystery drops you into the middle of poverty-stricken rural Missouri and leaves you to fend for yourself.  Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Ree, a 17-year-old girl who must find her ex-con father or lose the family home.  Equally terrific is the underrated John Hawkes as her dangerously loyal uncle.  The film’s stakes are high and the tension never lets up until the harrowing conclusion.  This one will stick with you long after the credits roll.

So that’s it.  My ten favorites of 2010.  And because it’s hard to limit the list to ten, below are some movies that bounced on and off the list:


Friday, February 18, 2011


I wrote my first blog in 1985, but it wasn’t called blogging then.  There wasn’t a name for it.  The internet hadn’t yet been invented by Al Gore, and Facebook and Twitter were 20 years away from foisting the mundane thoughts and activities of the roiling masses into cyberspace for all to be nonplussed by.  But in my junior year at Arizona State University, sequestered in a dorm room at Sahuaro Hall, I began publishing (read:  typing via IBM Selectric) what I called film capsules, a one- or two-sentence take on a movie playing at a nearby theatre.

I had abandoned the comfort and security of my small liberal arts college in middle-of-nowhere Minnesota to study theatre acting in one of the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, and I was depressed.  I was slow to make friends and took schoolwork (and myself) far too seriously.  All my friends (and my girlfriend) were 2,000 miles away.  So movies became my refuge.  My fellow dorm residents, aware of my pastime, began querying my opinion about the movies I had seen.  I grew tired of repeating myself.  So I started posting the film capsules on my door.

That was the beginning of The Pope’s Picks.  Over the years it evolved into an annual collection of reviews and Oscar® predictions (a ‘zine, to use the nomenclature of the ‘90s) sent to family, friends, and colleagues.  During the mid-‘90s I expanded the ‘zine to include video and revival house reviews, and special features, such as Tanks for the Memories (celebrating the year’s biggest money-losers) and Attack of the Summer Movie Glut (celebrating those artful studio tent-poles).  But I got old and tired and went back to basics in the early 2000s: current reviews and Oscar® predictions.

And then five years ago, my friend Michael Musa somehow persuaded me to put on a live show of movie and Oscar® commentary at a local watering hole the night before the Oscars®.  The Pope’s Picks LIVE was born.  I unwisely insisted on adding sketches, songs and trivia.  Happily, in year two Kurt Ramschissel stepped up and began contributing his own hilarious version of the Irving Thalberg Award (recipients have included Steven Seagal and Gary Coleman).  Helped no doubt by large quantities of alcohol, garlic fries, and the promise of karaoke afterward, folks have responded well.

Which brings us to the end and to the beginning.  The Pope’s Picks are now returning to blog form.  The plan is to post current reviews throughout the year at this blog spot.  And as each year ends and the Oscars® roll around, I will post a year-end review, together with Oscar® predictions and commentary.  At least that’s the plan for now.  The live show is also in transition.  This year it will be on-line (with a live after party for LA peeps).  Next year, who knows?  Check back for updates.

(If you’re interested in participating in the on-line live show this year, you can find us on Facebook at The Pope’s Picks vs. The World.)

So, welcome to The Pope’s Picks blog.