Herrington and Akers on the Oscars (2011), Part 5: Director and Picture

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Ladies and gentlemen, please return your tray tables to their upright and locked positions. We're approaching our landing for this week of Academy Award revelry. We didn't all survive the perilous journey (namely, Melissa Leo), but those who did can say they're stronger for it. This week Flyer writers Chris Herrington and Greg Akers have examined the Screenplays, Animated/Editing/Cinematography, the Supporting Players, and the Lead Players. Today the experts turn their attention to the biggest categories, Best Director and Best Picture.

Best Director
Nominees: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Ethan & Joel Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter)

GREG AKERS: Hooper won the Directors Guild Award, which makes him a serious contender. But I'm putting my money on David Fincher and his brilliant work on The Social Network. Remember when the idea of him making a Facebook movie with Justin Timberlake was at the least bizarre and sounded like a terrible idea? Vindication.

Should Win: All of these directors deserve to be nominated except for Hooper, whose movie is more about the performance than the visuals. David Fincher should win, hands down, but I respect the work done by Aronofsky, Russell, and the Coens. They've all done work I like more, though. (So has Fincher, but that's another matter.)

The odds-on favorite for Best Picture: The King's Speech

Got Robbed: This is easy. Perplexingly, Christopher Nolan has never been nominated for a Best Director Oscar. I'll get into Inception again when we discuss Best Picture, but I think even the most confused or antipathetic of Inception's detractors have to give props to the significant technical achievement that the movie is. In light of his filmography — particularly The Dark Knight and MementoInception is clearly Nolan's vision. It's the best movie yet by one of the best directors there is. (And I feel no need to qualify that statement.)

HERRINGTON: I have no faith in the Oscars and I still refuse to believe Tom Hooper is going to win "Best Director." Will Win: David Fincher.

Should Win: Unlike you, I don't really feel great about these nominees and would really only rep for one of them as totally deserving. The King's Speech is big-screen television that, as you said, is mostly about performance. True Grit has tonal problems and I don't think the drama down the stretch — falling in the cave, the snake bite, the ride for help — is staged well at all. Even movies here I like, such as Black Swan and The Fighter are not movies I think of as great directing jobs. With Black Swan, in particular, I'm not such Aronofsky is totally in control of what's working. But David Fincher? He marshals pretty much every filmic element at his disposal and synchronizes them into a move that just hums.

Got Robbed:Even discounting an apparently ineligible Oliver Assayas (Carlos), there are three directors — at least — that I think are far more worthy of recognition than any of the non-Fincher nominees. One is your pick, Christopher Nolan. I like and admire Inception more than I love it, but it's totally a director's film and is, I would argue, the most daring blockbuster ever made. He needs to be on the list. Mike Leigh, for Another Year, would be my next pick. But my ultimate choice here is going to be Debra Granik for Winter's Bone. She nails the sense of place that is essential to making that film work. And the little tangents of narratively non-essential visual poetry she spikes the film with turns it into something like an Ozarks answer to Charles Burnett's indie classic Killer of Sheep. This is a very well directed film.

AKERS: I thought Winter's Bone was very good, but I don't feel for it the way you do. I wish I could see it like you do, as a kind of Killer of Sheep. That would please me very much. I'll watch Winter's Bone again and maybe that'll clue me in.

Best Picture
Nominees: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone

HERRINGTON: So apparently all the "Oscar Buzz" is telling us that The King's Speech is going to win — I can't even avoid knowing that. And though I consider The King's Speech a merely decent movie spiked with a more notable lead performance, while I think that co-favorite The Social Network is a legit instant classic, it would actually be sort of comforting for The King's Speech to win. This is the 12th year in which I've done an "official" and reasonably well-informed year-end list and last year was the first time in those first 11 years in which my own #1 movie — The Hurt Locker — also won Best Picture. If The Social Network takes it, it will be the second year in a row. Maybe that would say more about the usually middlebrow-boring Oscars than about me, but I'm still not sure I'm comfortable with it. And, for the record, I don't for a second buy that The Fighter or True Grit could sneak in as a compromise winner. This is a two-horse race. Will Win: The Social Network. It's just too momentous. Are they really going to reward something as staid and unavoidably minor as The King's Speech in the face of something both as universally praised and utterly watchable as The Social Network? Knowing my prognostication history with these things, they probably are.

Our pick for the "underdog" win: The Social Network

Should Win: In all, this is a pretty respectable group of nominees in this second year of going 10 deep. Half of the nominees made one or both of my two slightly different Top 10 lists. And while I think The King's Speech, True Grit, and Toy Story 3 are all pretty overrated, I can't work up any hate for them the way I've been able to for some previous Oscar contenders. And nothing here is as obviously slight as last year's The Blind Side or District 9. But as for what should win? #CmonSon: The Social Network.

Got Robbed:I had a clear-cut Top Four movies of 2010. Two of them — The Social Network and Winter's Bone — got nominations. One, according to you, is ineligible — Carlos, which I'd contend rivals The Social Network as the "movie event of the year." So that leaves Mike Leigh's Another Year. Three of the past five Leigh features — Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake, and Happy-Go-Lucky — have topped my year-end lists. Another Year came up a little short, and not just because of the obvious mastery of The Social Network and Carlos or my personal jones for Winter's Bone. But I think Leigh is our greatest working filmmaker, at least in the English language, and a merely "A-" work from him tops pretty much everybody else.

AKERS: Before awards season started, The Social Network looked like a lock to win Best Picture: A box-office hit with nearly universal critical love. It peaked with its Golden Globe win. Then, in eight days in January, The King's Speech took down the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and Screen Actors Guild awards. In a week, The King's Speech became the frontrunner and apparent lock to win. After all, what was the last movie to win those three guild awards and not win Best Picture? It's only happened once ever: Apollo 13 winning the guilds but losing the Oscar to Braveheart.

Have you ever heard that sports book prognosticator who tells you every reason why one team win, then tells you to take its opponent? This is that moment. All of The King's Speech's victories happened before the Oscar ballots were due. And — I don't know why except my prodigious gut tells me it's so — I think The King's Speech peaked too soon. It's like a one-night stand that's great in the moment but seems like a bad idea in the morning. (I'm speaking hypothetically, not from experience.) It's like a Rocky movie where Stallone is getting pummeled and is on the ropes, but survives the barrage and, in the last round, knocks out his opponent.

In other words: The King's Speech is Apollo Creed, and The Social Network is Rocky. It's definitely not the safe pick, and it's probably not the smart pick, but Will Win: The Social Network. Hilariously, you and I are in the handful of people anywhere saying this.

Should Win: I know you're getting sick of me saying Inception should win everything all the time. And it's my favorite of these movies nominated. But since we're talking about a big picture, historical-type category, I'm going to give my vote to The Social Network. A staggeringly impressive movie that makes you think, makes you have to keep up, is well acted, phenomenally written, beautifully directed, and has all the intangibles like a great score and editing. This is the kind of movie I want to win a Best Picture. It doesn't usually happen that way. Because of my ardor for The Social Network, I've forced myself into a position where I've cast The King's Speech as the villain. It's too bad. It's a good movie. But it's good at what it's good at but doesn't have the whole package. We've talked about most of the rest of these movies at other times, but I will take a moment to be a little critical of The Kids Are All Right. For my end-of-the-year wrap-up I said it was my 20th favorite movie I had seen. So I don't dislike it. But I think if you take the socio-political elements out of it — a married lesbian couple and their children — I don't think it stands up as a remarkable movie. I support its politics, but who cares, and that doesn't mean I think it's a great movie. It's mundane. The drama is only slightly above average. It is what it is, but it's not worthy of a Best Picture nomination. (Neither are a lot of movies, of course.)

Got Robbed: I'll make my last case for Inside Job. This is a great documentary about something that is important to all Americans: the intersection of big business and politics and how it has driven our economy off the bridge. The bad guys are relying on the fact that you think this is too complicated for you to understand. It is complicated, but Inside Job makes it highly accessible to viewers. And the movie makes it all so obvious I wonder why it hasn't been spelled out so clearly before. So watch Inside Job if you haven't. The movie is too big to fail.

Oscar Picks Primer:

Best Adapted Screenplay
Herrington and Akers: The Social Network

Best Original Screenplay
Herrington: The Kids Are All Right
Akers: The King's Speech

Best Animated Feature
Herrington and Akers: Toy Story 3

Best Editing
Herrington and Akers: The Social Network

Best Cinematography
Herrington: Black Swan
Akers: True Grit

Best Supporting Actor
Herrington: Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Akers: Christian Bale, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress
Herrington: Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Akers: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Best Actress
Herrington and Akers: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Actor
Herrington and Akers: Colin Firth, The King's Speech

Best Director
Herrington and Akers: David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Picture
Herrington and Akers: The Social Network

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