Oscar Predictions 2011

This will be the first year in a decade where I would not be able to catch the Oscars live (thanks for nothing, Singapore Armed Forces.) but thankfully due to the advents in technology I fully expect to be up to date on the results via various social media platforms. Unfortunately for most of you, the Oscars will also only be screened “live” locally on Star Movies, which I have a feeling is not a channel many people subscribe to. For completeness, I will be making predictions in the documentary and short film categories although most of these are “blind” guesses excepting animated short film (I’ve seen the trailers or clips for most of these categories’ nominees though). Without further ado:

Best Motion Picture of the Year
"Black Swan" Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
"The Fighter" David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
"Inception" Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
"The Kids Are All Right" Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
"The King's Speech" Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
"127 Hours" Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
"The Social Network" Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
"Toy Story 3" Darla K. Anderson, Producer
"True Grit" Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
"Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

Should win: The Social Network
Prediction: The King’s Speech

If it were up to me I think The Social Network should sweep most of the awards, being the best film I’ve seen in 2010. However, it’s an early release and seems to have lost some momentum, while The King’s Speech seems to be riding a late wave and picking up awards left right centre. While this is no knock against The King’s Speech, which is an excellent film, The Social Network is even better in my eyes. This would be one category in which I would be happy if my prediction was wrong. Although there are ten nominations this year like the last, none of the other films apart from Inception really stand much of a chance, but Inception was released even earlier than The Social Network and has gotten even less love from the Academy in terms of nominations. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Javier Bardem in "Biutiful"
Jeff Bridges in "True Grit"
Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network"
Colin Firth in "The King's Speech"
James Franco in "127 Hours"

Should win: Colin Firth
Prediction: Colin Firth

Colin Firth was amazing in The King’s Speech, and has been sweeping almost all the awards so far. I don’t see how the Academy would be voting otherwise. Jeff Bridges is unlikely to win another one so soon, and much as James Franco was very good in 127 Hours I don’t think it would be good enough to upset the front runner.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Annette Bening in "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine"

Should win: Natalie Portman
Prediction: Natalie Portman

Sorry ladies, this is probably the most locked-down category of the night. Natalie Portman not only puts in an amazing performance, but crazy-acting seems to be an Academy favourite too. And the strength of having won almost every single acting nod in the lead up to the Oscars means it would take a miracle for any of the other four nominees to win.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale in "The Fighter"
John Hawkes in "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner in "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo in "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech"

Should win: Christian Bale
Prediction: Christian Bale

This is a close one between Bale and Rush, but I feel that Christian Bale’s body of work has been a very impressive one and this should be the role that finally nabs it for him, However, Geoffrey Rush may ride the crest of the King’s Speech tsunami to once again deny Bale the statuette, though I hope that won’t be the case.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams in "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech"
Melissa Leo in "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom"
Should win: Melissa Leo
Prediction: Hailee Steinfeld

My original choice would be Melissa Leo who honestly does the better job, but voters are likely to lean toward rewarding an ingénue instead of Leo. Also, Leo has two other things working against her – the poor PR stunt of buying Consideration ads for herself, and the possibility that Amy Adams’ nomination may force a split for voters who are supporting The Fighter. Steinfeld’s acting may not have been the best of the lot but it’s still very good considering her age. Plus, she really is a lead actress put into the supporting actress category so Hailee has an advantage there too. 

Best Achievement in Directing
"Black Swan" Darren Aronofsky
"The Fighter" David O. Russell
"The King's Speech" Tom Hooper
"The Social Network" David Fincher
"True Grit" Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Should win: David Fincher
Prediction: Tom Hooper

This one is a toughie for me – the Directors’ Guild Award usually heralds the eventual winner of the Best Director in the Oscars, but David Fincher made such a mesmerizing film that it would seem like a great disservice to award this win to anyone else. But the DGA chose Tom Hooper to win this year, which may not bode well for Fincher.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
"Another Year" Written by Mike Leigh
"The Fighter" Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
"Inception" Written by Christopher Nolan
"The Kids Are All Right" Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
"The King's Speech" Screenplay by David Seidler
Should win: Inception
Prediction: Inception

Hands down one of the most fascinating original screenplays in the past few years, if not the entire decade. I just don’t see any of the other screenplays being much of contenders except maybe The King’s Speech.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
"127 Hours" Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
"The Social Network" Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
"Toy Story 3" Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
"True Grit" Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
"Winter's Bone" Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Should win: The Social Network
Prediction: The Social Network

There’s no doubt in my mind that Aaron Sorkin should win for his exceptional screenplay for The Social Network. It’s incredibly captivating from start to finish and everything is just so well put together that the Oscar simply MUST go to him.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
"Black Swan" Matthew Libatique
"Inception" Wally Pfister
"The King's Speech" Danny Cohen
"The Social Network" Jeff Cronenweth
"True Grit" Roger Deakins

Prediction: Roger Deakins

It’s a toss-up between Roger Deakins and Wally Pfister, both of whom have not won any Oscars despite being nominated many times. I am personally leaning towards Roger Deakins because his cinematography in True Grit is one of the best things about the film, plus it’s just more accessible than Pfister’s work on Inception.  

Best Achievement in Editing
"Black Swan" Andrew Weisblum
"The Fighter" Pamela Martin
"The King's Speech" Tariq Anwar
"127 Hours" Jon Harris
"The Social Network" Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Prediction: The Social Network

The extremely tight editing in The Social Network is an integral reason why I felt it was the best film of 2010.

Best Achievement in Art Direction
"Alice in Wonderland"
Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1"
Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
"The King's Speech"
Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
"True Grit"
Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

Prediction: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland is the film with the most obvious art direction in this list of nominees, and as such stands a greater chance of resonating with the voters.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
"Alice in Wonderland" Colleen Atwood
"I Am Love" Antonella Cannarozzi
"The King's Speech" Jenny Beavan
"The Tempest" Sandy Powell
"True Grit" Mary Zophres

Prediction: The King’s Speech

Period films tend to win this category so I’m going with The King’s Speech, probably the most watched period film amongst those nominated.

Best Achievement in Makeup
"Barney's Version" Adrien Morot
"The Way Back" Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
"The Wolfman" Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Prediction: The Wolfman

I’m guessing it’s going to go to Rick Baker on the nostalgia reason alone (An American Werewolf in London is the first winner in this category, and it was to Rick Baker).

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
"How to Train Your Dragon" John Powell
"Inception" Hans Zimmer
"The King's Speech" Alexandre Desplat
"127 Hours" A.R. Rahman
"The Social Network" Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Prediction: The King’s Speech

Much as I would like Trent Reznor to win, after awarding it to A.R. Rahman two years back I’m guessing it’s going back to basics and a classical score is going to win this.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
"Coming Home" from "Country Strong" Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
"I See the Light" from "Tangled" Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
"If I Rise" from "127 Hours" Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
"We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Prediction: We Belong Together

I’m not really a fan of any of the nominated songs this year, but since this traditionally goes to animated films, I will pick the more high-profile of the two to win this.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
"Inception" Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
"The King's Speech" Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
"Salt" Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
"The Social Network" Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
"True Grit" Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Prediction: Inception

I hardly get these technical awards right, but I am guessing Inception wins out the rest for the two Sound categories.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
"Inception" Richard King
"Toy Story 3" Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
"Tron: Legacy" Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
"True Grit" Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
"Unstoppable" Mark P. Stoeckinger

Prediction: Inception

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
"Alice in Wonderland" Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
"Hereafter" Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
"Inception" Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
"Iron Man 2" Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick
Prediction: Inception

Personally I think Inception is one of the most visually astounding films of 2010. Alice in Wonderland looks too oddball, Hereafter’s only claim to glory would be the tsunami scene in the beginning of the film, and the other two are sequels which I feel have a far lower chance of winning.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
"How to Train Your Dragon" Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
"The Illusionist" Sylvain Chomet
"Toy Story 3" Lee Unkrich

Prediction: Toy Story 3. Duh.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
"Biutiful" Mexico
"Dogtooth" Greece
"In a Better World" Denmark
"Incendies" Canada
"Outside the Law" Algeria

Prediction: Incendies

Best Documentary (Feature)
"Exit Through the Gift Shop" Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
"Gasland" Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
"Inside Job" Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
"Restrepo" Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
"Waste Land" Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Prediction: Restrepo

Best Documentary (Short Subject)
"Killing in the Name" Nominees to be determined
"Poster Girl" Nominees to be determined
"Strangers No More" Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
"Sun Come Up" Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
"The Warriors of Qiugang" Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Prediction: Killing in the Name

Best Short Film (Animated)
"Day & Night" Teddy Newton
"The Gruffalo" Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
"Let's Pollute" Geefwee Boedoe
"The Lost Thing" Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
"Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)" Bastien Dubois

Prediction: Day & Night (Yes, another Pixar product. Surprise surprise)

Best Short Film (Live Action)
"The Confession" Tanel Toom
"The Crush" Michael Creagh
"God of Love" Luke Matheny
"Na Wewe" Ivan Goldschmidt
"Wish 143" Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Prediction: Na Wewe

True Grit * * *

Genre: Western

Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen

Writers: Ethan & Joel Coen, based on the novel of the same name by Charles Portis

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Running Length: 110 minutes

Synopsis: Set in the Old West around the end of the 19th century, 14-year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is out to seek vengeance for her murdered father. The murderer is a man called Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who has fled into Indian territory after committing the crime. As the local law enforcement is no help, Mattie instead seeks out the help of a bounty hunter Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a tough drunkard who’s supposed to be at the top of his game. Although initially disinterested in the chase, Cogburn has a change of heart when Mattie offers a handsome reward. Also accompanying Mattie and Cogburn is LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger who is hunting Chaney for the assassination of a Senator. A curious camaraderie forms between the trio, and the tough journey tests their mettle, especially for Mattie.

Review: True Grit sticks so true to the Western formula that it’s almost shocking that the usually quirky, offbeat Coen Brothers are behind the film. Although this is ostensibly a remake of the 1969 film starring the iconic John Wayne, this version by the Coens should more accurately be considered as a standalone interpretation of the Charles Portis novel. With a deft mix of comedy, character study and good old hardcore Western action, True Grit is one of the best Western films in recent years (in fact probably the best since Unforgiven), but remains a tough sell to audiences who are not fans of the genre.

There are a number of good performances to be found in True Grit. Jeff Bridges wisely chooses not to emulate John Wayne’s (Oscar winning) performance in the 1969 film, but actually puts across a better, more nuanced performance than what Wayne managed to achieve. There are still traces of Wayne’s Cogburn in Bridges’ portrayal, but these are kept to a minimum and it never feels like a facsimile. However, it is unlikely that Jeff Bridge’s Oscar nomination this year will lead to a win. Matt Damon is also understatedly effective as LaBoeuf, and apart from Mattie is probably the next most likeable character in the film.

However, the true standout is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who delivers the difficult dialogue with ease, and with a very believable, fiercely committed portrayal, Steinfeld’s Mattie easily becomes the emotional centre of the film. It’s far easier to be vested in this Mattie’s outcome than in the original film, as Kim Darby’s performance and role was eclipsed by John Wayne’s star power.   

Like many Westerns, the pacing of True Grit is slow and deliberate. Audiences who are able to settle into the groove of the movie will find themselves enjoying a film with a strong plot and amazing aesthetics (Roger Deakins’ cinematography is nothing short of flawless).  However, there’s a good reason why Westerns have fallen out of favour even amongst directors, and the bottom line is that most cinemagoers simply aren’t patient enough for slow burn movies like this one.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars) 


127 Hours * * *

Genre: Drama
Director: Danny Boyle

Writers: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

Cast: James Franco

Running Length: 94 minutes

Synopsis: 127 Hours tells the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), an adventurer who makes the mistake of embarking on a canyoneering trip without letting anyone know where he’s going. A freak accident finds Aron trapped in a crevasse, a boulder crushing his right arm and pinning him down. He tries everything to try to free himself, but with only a small number of tools – including a blunt utility knife – Aron realizes that he may very well die in the crevasse if he doesn’t take drastic action.

Review: With 127 Hours, Danny Boyle has managed to film what seemed like an unfilmable account – how do you make the ordeal of a lone adventurer being trapped in a canyon for five days an interesting commercial film? It’s impressive what Boyle had achieved with what is essentially a static movie, and is very reminiscent of how Buried played out almost entirely in a wooden coffin. This isn’t exactly an action film nor is it a thriller, but 127 Hours is very captivating, thanks to an excellent performance by James Franco and the masterful direction of Danny Boyle. However, the more squeamish should be warned that there is an extremely graphic and realistic sequence later in the movie which may make for extremely disconcerting viewing. 

Apart from the first fifteen minutes of the film (which features some fantastic landscape shots of the canyon), and a brief interlude which introduces Aron Ralston and his encounter with two lost female hikers, 127 Hours basically sticks with the protagonist throughout his five day ordeal. This means that James Franco is basically in every scene, every step of the way, and much like Natalie Portman in Black Swan he gives the performance of a lifetime. It’s intense and yet totally believable, and the audience is led to feel what he feels every step of the way. Although there are fleeting flashback and fantasy sequences, the focus never moves away from Franco for long. Like Ryan Reynolds in Buried, this is the role that breaks Franco away from the classification of “featherweight thespian”.

(Some viewers may be familiar with the story of Aron Ralston, but those who are not may do well to skip over this portion of the review if they wish to avoid spoilers.) Danny Boyle follows through Aron’s entire ordeal, including his decision to finally self-amputate his trapped limb to save himself. This now-infamous scene is filmed “as is”, the camera not shying away from the complete process, documenting in excruciating detail how Aron fractured his arm then slowly hacked away at his own soft tissue with a blunt utility knife. Although there are far gorier scenes in slasher or horror films, this particular sequence is much more believable and as such is far more difficult to sit through. 

Although 127 Hours may tend towards being a little too showy at times (in particular the fantasy sequences), it cannot be denied that Danny Boyle has managed to create a very resonant film that will stick in the minds of many viewers for a long time. He takes more artistic license than most of the documentarians that have featured the same story, but this is an uplifting (at least at the end), inspiring tale about the strength of the human spirit that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)


Just Go With It * * 1/2

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Dennis Dugan

Writers: Timothy Dowling & Allan Loeb, based on the screenplay for Cactus Flower by I.A.L Diamond

Cast: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, Nick Swardson, Bailee Madison, Griffin Gluck

Running Length: 114 minutes

Synopsis: Danny (Adam Sandler) is a successful plastic surgeon who has had his heart broken before, and thus never commits to any relationship by pretending to be a married man. However, when he begins to seriously romance a much younger schoolteacher, Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), the lie backfires on him. In order to cover up the lie, Danny seeks the help of his loyal assistant Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) to pretend to be his soon to be ex-wife. The lies begets more lies, and soon even Katherine’s two children become involved. It all culminates in a weekend vacation in Hawaii which will end up changing everyone’s lives.

 Review: Just Go With It has an extremely apt title – in order to enjoy this movie, the audience has to just go with the plot and completely suspend their disbelief at the many contrivances and overall weakness of the narrative structure. Once this is done, however, the movie is actually somewhat entertaining, although entirely predictable despite the many attempted (not entirely successfully) twist and turns. Although there are a few good performances to be had in the movie, the true stars of the show are the lead actors’ bodies – it’s simply amazing how fit and toned everyone looks, and I’m not just referring to Swimsuit Illustrated model Brooklyn Decker, who’s here obviously more for her body than thespian talent.

This is an Adam Sandler movie through and through, and is director Dennis Dugan’s sixth collaboration with Sandler, so it’s not surprising that the film treads on familiar ground. Consisting largely of lowbrow but accessible humour that’s occasionally shocking, only the harshest and jaded critics would not find something to laugh about in the movie, even if it feels rather old hat. However, if you’re not a fan of Adam Sandler’s brand of comedy, this is not going to be the movie that changes your mind.

Much as this falls into the romantic comedy genre, the romance portion is actually quite minimal barring a small number of scenes. Whilst both Sandler and Aniston are passable in their lead roles for both aspects, it’s the supporting cast that keeps the cogs of the movie turning. The standout performance would have to be that of Nick Swardson, who plays Danny’s demented cousin and then eventually poses as a German-accented sheep seller called Dolph Lungdren (don’t ask). Swardson effortlessly steals every scene that he appears in and turns out to be the highlight of the movie. Also impressive are the two children, especially Bailee Madison, who throws in a completely OTT Cockney accent into the mix, which manages to amuse far better than I thought it would.

And then there’s the extended cameo from one of the most recognizable faces in the industry (since all the early promotional material does not reference her presence in the film, I shall keep her identity a secret here) – while she seems rather ill at ease with the material, she does showcase an amazing body, particularly in a Hawaiian dance-off against Jennifer Aniston. She’s not alone in this PG-13 “body porn”, however – both Aniston and Sandler (more the former than the latter for obvious reasons) get to show off what must have been months of hard work in a number of sequences.

Just Go With It does suffer from an overlong running time, clocking in at just under 2 hours when 90 minutes should have been more than sufficient. It simply takes too long to reach its clichéd denouement, and would have really benefitted from tighter editing. It may not be the obvious choice when it comes to a date movie on or around Valentine’s Day, but given the heavier Oscar fare that’s being released during this period, a surer choice for mindless entertainment.

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of four stars)


Black Swan * * *

Genre: Thriller 

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Writers: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin

Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

Running Length: 107 minutes

Synopsis: Nina Sawyer (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose entire life revolves around dance. She still lives with her obsessive and oppressive former ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), who smothers her with attention and control. When the company’s artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina becomes his first choice. However, newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) is a potential threat as Leroy is impressed with her as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan and the Black Swan, and whilst the innocent Nina is a perfect White Swan, the bohemian Lily is the perfect personification of the Black Swan. As Nina struggles to expand her abilities to become both Swans, she gets in touch with her dark side, but this is not without consequences.  

Review: If your purpose of watching a movie is to relax and enjoy yourself, Black Swan should definitely stay off your to-watch list. This is an intense psychological thriller that makes for largely uneasy viewing, since the film is essentially about a young ballerina who descends into madness. Aronofsky may have moved from the more violent world of wrestling to the seemingly more docile art form of ballet, but the film suggests that high art may just be as much of a bloodsport. For those who have the stomach for it, however, will find that Black Swan boasts a number of excellent performances, even if the film itself lacks a little finesse and subtlety.

As the film is told from the perspective of Nina, it’s a fractured take on reality, and the lines between her troubled imagination and the real world are blurred considerably. Aronofsky is intentionally oblique when crossing between the two realities, and this does add an interesting dimension to the film. The audience is left guessing about what is real and what isn’t, and even the conclusion of the film is somewhat open-ended. Where Aronofsky fumbles is his insistence on bashing the audience over the head with his light/dark themes, repeatedly using different characters as mouthpieces to reinforce the black swan / white swan dichotomy. It almost borders on self parody and is one of the reasons why the screenplay didn’t work entirely for me.

Much like The King’s Speech, the best thing about Black Swan is the performances found within. Natalie Portman, in particular, puts forth a tour de force turn as the troubled protagonist, and it is easy to tell she had literally poured her heart and soul into bringing Nina to life, warts and all. Portman also underwent months of intensive dance training to prepare for the role, and Aronofsky had stated that much of the dancing in the movie is performed by Portman herself, and the body double coming into play only in wider shots. It is little wonder that Portman is the frontrunner for acting nominations this awards season, and it is deservedly so. Mila Kunis also deserves kudos for her portrayal as the free spirited Lily, and because her character is viewed through Nina’s eyes, she has to inhabit a number of wide-ranging personas all of which Kunis manages to nail.

It may be unflattering to compare Black Swan to roadkill, but the comparison is an apt one. This is a largely unattractive take on ballet, a drastic departure from many similarly-themed movies. Whilst the movie takes itself too seriously despite some rather eye-roll worthy plot points – a similarly crazed ex-prima donna? A controlling, smothering mother straight out from the Mommy Dearest handbook? – there’s a magnetic quality about the film that makes you unable to tear your eyes away. Imperfect as it is, Black Swan makes for very compelling viewing.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)


The King’s Speech * * * *

Genre: Drama

Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: David Seidler

Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall

Running Length: 118 minutes

Synopsis: Beginning in 1925, The King’s Speech tells the story of Prince Albert (Colin Firth), the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon). As he’s not the eldest son, he is not expected to ascend to the throne. However, when his older brother Prince Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates after the death of their father, the unwilling Prince Albert is forced to take his brother’s place. Albert’s wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) is equally unwilling to take up residence in Buckingham Palace. Also, the King is expected to make live speeches over the radio, another problem arises – Albert has a severe stuttering problem, and renders him virtually incapable of public speaking. In an attempt to rid himself of this speech impediment, he seeks out Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist harking from Australia and is known for his unorthodox (but effective) methods. The importance of overcoming his stutter is increased when the world is on the brink of descending into another World War, and Albert has to inspire and lead his people into war. 

Review: The synopsis for The King’s Speech may make it out to be a stuffy, boring biopic, but the end result is anything but. In fact, The King’s Speech is likely to be one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences in 2011, with an accessible, fascinating storyline (and a true one, at that), and some of the best ensemble acting I have seen in years. All the acting award nominations and accolades that the cast have received so far this awards season are truly deserving. Coupled with the polished, rousing screenplay and the assured direction of Tom Hooper, and it’s easy to see why The King’s Speech will end up as one of the best films in 2011 despite its early release date. 

There’s no denying that Colin Firth is an excellent actor, and in The King’s Speech he gives a performance that mirrors Helen Mirren’s equally brilliant turn as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen. Firth completely immerses himself in the role, effectively transforming into Prince Albert, and easily becomes the emotional centre of the movie. It’s not easy acting out a convincing stutter, but Firth more or less nails it.    Colin Firth deserves not just his Oscar nomination, but the win itself. 

Geoffrey Rush has the unenviable task of being cast opposite Firth as his foil, but Rush more than holds his own with a equally good performance as the quirky speech therapist who doesn’t quite know how to deal with a “celebrity client” like Prince Albert. Helena Bonham Carter is delightful in her small number of scenes, and the added bonus is that both these supporting actors have very good chemistry with Firth. Even the minor characters are rather impressive – Timothy Spall does a pretty convincing interpretation of Winston Churchill, and Michael Gambon exudes a regal air as King George V, amongst others. Fans of the Pride and Prejudice mini-series that made Colin Firth a household name would also be pleased to note that Jennifer Ehle, his co-star in the series, also shares screen time with him in The King’s Speech as Lionel’s wife (this is their first collaboration since P&P). 

The final scene of the movie, which revolves around the delivery of the titular speech, is a stellar example of top-notch filmmaking – the environment is sparsely adorned both visually and aurally, and only the two performers, Rush and Firth, factor into the scene. Hooper leads the audience into focusing on the back-and-forth that occurs between the two actors during the delivery of the speech, and when it concludes, it’s almost impossible to not feel a sense of exhilaration at what had just transpired. There’s no fancy camerawork, no visual trickery, and definitely no 3D – The King’s Speech harkens back to a time where films are taken solely on their core merits and not the pointless frills, and this it does very, very well. 

Rating: * * * * (out of four stars)