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2011 Oscar Nominations: This is It

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Longtime KCUR movie critic Maria Asner shares her winners and tells us why.By Maria Asner

Middle of winter, 2011 and it is time for the 2010 Academy Award nominations. The debate will go on from now until Sunday, February 27, 2011, the day of the 83rd presentation. Who Will Win is sometimes sidelined to What Will They Wear? This is the time for the Academy of Arts and Sciences to honor their own, and the Academy always does it in style.

This is the second year that the Academy has 10 films in the Best Picture category. Quite a mix and going from an animated film ("Toy Story 3") to science fiction/fantasy ("Inception") to royalty ("The King's Speech") to the American old west ("True Grit."). John Wayne must be smiling. None of the 10 nominated films is on my Worst Films of the Year list, unlike last year that had "District 9" and "An Education." Throughout the 2010 list, are two surprises this year. I would have Barbara Hershey on the Best Supporting Actress list for "Black Swan" and dropped Helen Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech." For Best Actor, I would have taken off Jesse Eisenberg in "Social Network" in favor of Ryan Gosling in "All Good Things."

My pick for Best Picture has been "Black Swan" from the start. This is bold picture-making for director, Darren Aronofsky, and star, Natalie Portman. Photography took the audience onto the dance floor and the actress showed the intricacies of seeking perfection. This is a film in which you don't go out for popcorn, you might miss something. "The Fighter" is rough and tumble, but predictable. "Inception" is innovative, and special effects play a major role. "The Kids Are All Right" has humor and depth in a story of a lesbian couple raising a family. "The King's Speech" stars Colin Firth and that says it all. "127 Hours" tells us not to go into the outland alone even though the photography is stunning. "The Social Network" is a story still in the headlines about inventiveness and non-recognition. "Toy Story 3," as with last year's "Up" is an animated film with heart. "True Grit" brings the western back under the Coen Brothers influence and "Winter's Bone" shows us the life of meth-makers in the Midwest and the aftermath of their illegal activities. This is a tough call, but it is between "Black Swan" and "The Social Network." I'm for "Black Swan." Everyone seems to have forgotten Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" that purposely takes you down a misty garden path.

Best Director has the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, in their close-to-the-book version of "True Grit." Some might say, why remake this classic? But, there is always room for interpretation and this is what is done. David O. Russell's "The Fighter" is a rags-to-riches story (based on true life) of a boxer fighting not only in the ring, but outside it with his family. Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" is also based on true life and how Queen Elizabeth II's father overcame a speech hesitation to rally the country during WWII. "The Social Network," directed by David Fincher, lets us see inside the making of an Internet phenomena that hasn't peaked yet. Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" relies on one actor to make it go, but the important characters around the star must come in at the right time, and this is what happens. Tough choice to make here, too, but I go for Darren Aronofsky and "Black Swan," though David Fincher's "Social Network" is a crowd favorite. Not mentioned is Christopher Nolan for "Inception."

Best Actor has what is to be expected this year. From the time their films were out, the following actors have been getting acclaim, especially Colin Firth for "The King's Speech." That one seems to be wrapped up and rightly so for Firth's facial expressions in trying to speak. That is an actor's holiday. Jesse Eisenberg is the weak link here for "The Social Network." His portrayal of an emotionless person is stiff and the dialogue is meant to surprise, which it does. Jeff Bridges is part of the American Old West as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit." James Franco as Aron Ralston, the man who had to amputate his hand is harrowing and Javiar Bardem in "Biutiful" is fine, but the film has not been widely seen. I pick Colin Firth.

Best Actress does not have Noomi Repace for "The Girl Who?" film series, but perhaps Hollywood didn't know where to place her. The strongest of the three films was the first, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." As it stands, Annette Bening was emotionally better in "Mother and Child" than "The Kids Are All Right," but her nomination is for "The Kids?" Nichole Kidman plays sadness just right as shown in "Rabbit Hole." Jennifer Lawson is new to this area with her showing as a girl looking for her meth-maker father in "Winter's Bone." Natalie Portman has this category sewn up, I believe, with her performance as the perfectionist-seeking ballerina in "Black Swan." Michelle Williams as the wife who is rethinking her marriage shows naturalness in "Blue Valentine." I see Natalie Portman in "Black Swan" here.

Best Supporting Actor has quite a race here. There is the dynamic Christian Bale in "The Fighter" as a brother who wants the big time again. John Hawke is an unforgettable uncle in "Winter's Bone." Jeremy Renner also goes dynamic in "The Town" with a temper hard to control. Mark Ruffalo does confusing circumstances just right in "The Kids Are All Right" and Geoffrey Rush as the man who helps a king speak in "The King's Speech" shows us all how to talk. I'm for Geoffrey Rush but I think Christian Bale just might get it.

Best Supporting Actress has a weak link here, Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth in "The King's Speech." The costumes delight, but the performance seems forced. Amy Adams in "The Fighter" goes against her boyfriend's family, especially the mother, Melissa Leo, also nominated for this film. They may cancel each other out. Hailee Steinfeld is in the Best Supporting Actress category, but she could have been in the Best Actress category for "True Grit," also. That was her film and her story. Jacki Weaver is powerful in "Animal Kingdom," but a film not widely shown here. My choice is Hailee Steinfeld for "True Grit" though Melissa Leo in "The Fighter" is a favorite, too.

Best Animated Feature Film is down to three selections because of some glitch in the Academy's rules. "How To Train Your Dragon" (my personal favorite) was wonderfully inventive in relationships. "Illusionist" wasn't shown widely enough to make an impression yet. "Toy Story 3" is an all-time favorite and I believe will win here.

Best Foreign Film category is being passed over here, as only one of the nominated films, "Buitiful" was in my area and "The Girl With..." films were not nominated. The current nominated films are "Buitiful" (Mexico), "Dogtooth" (Greece), "In A Better World" (Denmark), "Incendies" (Canada) and "Outside The Law" (Algeria.)

Best Original Screenplay certainly covers a variety of topics. There is a view of a mid-life crisis in "Another World". "The Fighter" is based on a real life story of a boxer trying to make it to the big time. "Inception" (Christopher Nolan also director) is inventive and delves into the dream world and implications. "The Kids Are All Right" shows that the raising of children can be done in several ways. "The King's Speech" is also based on a true life story and kings can have major problems, too. "Inception," though with plenty of special effects, gives us a gripping story of future possibilities within the mind. My choice.

Last on my list is Best Original Score. Alexandre Desplat's distinctive style was heard in two major films this year, "Ghost Writer" and "The King's Speech." He is nominated for "Speech," but I think the better one was "Ghost Writer." John Powell has a playful yet powerful score for "How To Train Your Dragon." Hans Zimmer helps bring "Inception" to life. A. R. Rahman give rock climbing life for "127 Hours," and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gives us present-day rhythms and blasting sound for "The Social Network." My favorite is "Inception" with Hans Zimmer's special touch.

Best Adapted Screenplay is from previous material. "127 Hours" from Aron Ralston's book is about the rock climber who has to save himself. "The Social Network" gives us blow-by-blow of what happened when Facebook came into being. "Toy Story 3" has material from the previous "Toy Story" films, but goes in a different direction as animation with a heart. "True Grit" is adapted from the novel and presented in a slightly different way than the John Wayne film. A pleasing way, I might add. "Winter's Bone" is from the novel set in the Ozark country of Missouri and how a hard life can become harder under duress. This is a tough call, the sentimental favorite being "Toy Story 3" for the way the third film weaves human growth throughout, but my long-shot choice would be "Winter's Bone."

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