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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Defining the "Best Picture"

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="272" caption="Scene from "Citizen Kane" courtesy of"][/caption]

We've had about a week to recover from the nominations for this year's Oscars. Given the recent results of the guilds, critics, awards, etc., it seems almost pre-defined what is going to win. So, in a way, it seems pointless, right?

You can look at "best picture" in a a number of ways. How do you define a "good" movie? Do you have to enjoy a movie for it to be good? Does it have to be groundbreaking? Do you have to emotionally connect with it? Does it have to be a film that you would re-watch?

Let's take a look at the ten nominees. If the Academy voters all voted the exact same way, any of these films could win (that goes without saying). But, each film has a different appeal and, depending on your definition, deserves your viewing.

If the Best Picture of the Year needed to be...

Personally Triumphant - 127 Hours

The true story of Aron Ralston is an against all odds look at man with no other options doing what he needs to do to survive. A man beating the odds in a situation this dire is great for all audiences, unless you're squeamish. Throw Oscar winning director Danny Boyle and Oscar host Jams Franco into the mix, and you're sure to get investment on some level.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="255" caption="Scene from "True Grit" courtesy of"][/caption]

Epic - True Grit

It's a big, sweeping movie pointing back to the Westerns of old, but with a Cohen Brother twist to it. It's beautifully photographed and the scenery is so exceptional, you can easily get lost in it. Last year's Best Actor winner Jeff Bridges is your headliner, too, so it doesn't hurt. Plus, the Academy has warmed up to the Cohens in recent history.

Emotionally Resonant - Toy Story 3

As all the Pixar movies are, Toy Story 3 shoots right for the heart. You can't watch the film and not be emotionally invested in the characters or the story, and America obviously agreed. It's the highest grossing nominee by far and it's a movie that children and adults see eye to eye with. A year after Pixar got it's first nomination for best picture, it grabs its second.

Socially Relevant - The Kids Are All Right

I know this category could technically point to The Social Network, but Kids is the one film this year to tackle an issue that is politically and personally thought provoking. In a time where gay marriage is constantly in debate, Kids is adding fuel to an already smoking fire. Plus, you've got Hollywood favorite Annette Bening leading the way with one of her better performances.

Visceral - Black Swan

No film this year was more raw and sexual. Darren Aronofsky's film was over dramatic, but you couldn't turn away. It used all elements of filmmaking to pull you in and break you down emotionally, leaving you scarred (in a good way) from such an all-or-nothing style. Natalie Portman is the heavy front-runner for best actress, which helps tremendously.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="303" caption="Scene from "The Social Network" courtesy of"][/caption]

Independently Successful - Winter's Bone

Debra Granik's "little-engine-that-could" film was made for next to nothing, but managed to slip into almost every critical and guild year end list. After all, the best you can hope for is for a film to find an audience, and Winter's Bone did that. It doesn't hurt that it grabbed two acting nods for Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes.

Performance-Based - The Fighter

Though it technically focused on one person, The Fighter was certainly David O. Russell's ensemble driven piece, garnering three acting nominations. In a film that needs its performances to connect with the audience, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, and Mark Wahlberg did exactly that. And it's tough to hate a thinly veiled sports movie.

Technically Groundbreaking - Inception

It was a summer blockbuster and it may very well change the game for years to come. Tossing aside the idea of 3-D, Christopher Nolan's multi-layered vision is a beautiful piece of filmmaking - even those who had trouble understanding the story could at least sit back and enjoy what was on screen. It did things we had never seen on screen before and may never again.

Critically Acclaimed - The Social Network

It swept the critics' awards like no other film has, garnering comparisons to Citizen Kane along the way. It's a master class in directing, writing, acting, and scoring, creating a setting so deep and complex that, though you may not like the film or the characters, you have to respect the technique and genius. It's brash and cocky, but in a way that's truly intellectual.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="358" caption="Scene from "The King's Speech courtesy of"][/caption]

Crowd Pleasing - The King's Speech

No film this year has been so loved, if only because of the triumph of the characters. It's Oscar-friendly, heartwarming, and well-acted. It may not make anybody's future list of the great films ever made, but it sure is a joy to sit through. Colin Firth is almost  a shoe-in for best actor, a much deserved award for a brilliant performance.

So, we could all judge the "best film" by any measure we want. Is "best" different than "favorite?" Is "enjoyable" different than "greatest?" We all define it in our own ways; we all have our own opinions. Black Swan was my favorite film of the year, but, by my definition, it wasn't the "best." I would throw my hat into The Social Network's court, but I loved The King's Speech, too. In the end, it's just a gold statuette. Time will tell which of these films make the greatest impact. How Green Was My Valley isn't at the top of anybody's "Greatest of All Time" list. But it won the Oscar over Orson Welles' masterpiece in 1941. So, who knows?

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