Today, in day two in the Oscar tête-à-tête between Chris Herrington and Greg Akers — Memphis' version of Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq — things simmer down now with three of the more minor categories.
Best Animated Feature
The Nominees: How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist, Toy Story 3
GREG AKERS: These are three excellent films. How to Train Your Dragon is a tons-of-fun actioner that's actually a little thrilling at times. I'm not a huge fan of Jay Baruchel's voice, but you've got to like any animated kid's movie that doesn't make pop-culture references ad nauseam. The Illusionist is a near-perfect little work that's got the soul of a silent film in it. But Toy Story 3 Will Win by like 4 million votes.
Should Win: Toy Story 3 was really fantastic. It's an enormous entertainment that's about something (mortality) and is affecting (who didn't tear up at the end?). It's possible that Pixar has bought my soul from Beelzebub, and that's why I cry at every Pixar movie they've made since Wall-E. That said, hands down The Illusionist should win. It's every bit as enjoyable as Toy Story 3, and considering its cinematic pedigree, its budget, and its relatively slight marketplace footprint, The Illusionist is pound-for-pound the greater achievement.
What's that third Best Animated Film nominee you haven't heard of? It's The Illusionist:
Got Robbed: These categories with less than five nominees ook me out. Like a goose walked over my grave. No one got robbed, but it'd be nice if they filled the category out with Tangled (which I liked) and Despicable Me (which I didn't see but people like).
HERRINGTON: No drama here. Even I know what Will Win: Toy Story 3.
Should Win: But here's where I get to risk being struck by lightning and say that I'm not really a huge fan of the Toy Story series. There are Pixar films that I treasure — Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and Up would top my list — but I have mixed feelings about the Toy Story enterprise. I think they are pretty clever, and they hit me more emotionally now in terms of my kids than they ever did in terms of reflecting on my own childhood. But there's an element of entirely uncritical you-are-what-you-play-with that I think caters to our Peter Pan Syndrome-plagued generation a little too neatly. As far as toy stories go, I prefer Joe Dante's profoundly unsentimental Small Soldiers. But even on the series' own terms, I think part three is less successful than the earlier entries. I preferred How to Train Your Dragon, honestly. And I really preferred The Illusionist, which may have its own sentimentality issues relative to story originator Jacques Tati, but is far and away the best film here.
Got Robbed: I didn't see many other animated films, but I did enjoy Despicable Me more than Toy Story 3.
AKERS: After hearing you champion Small Soldiers for years now — including debating you on Best War Movies and you picking it versus my Saving Private Ryan — I'm going to have to get around to watching that thing.
Since we've got another chamber in the round, let's fire it off.
Best Achievement in Editing
The Nominees: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, The King's Speech, The Social Network
This is a category where Will Win strongly matches up with my Should Win: The Social Network. Editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall do a tremendous job of sussing out the tricky (and unreliable) chronology and competing character interests but not over-complicating the whole business. Between the script (discussed on Monday), the score, and the editing, The Social Network is one zippy, propulsive film.
Got Robbed: It's utterly insane that Inception wasn't nominated here. As characters plunge deeper into dream-time realities — and with events higher up affecting things further down — the editor's job was as key as anyone's in ensuring the movie makes sense for the audience. Think of the intense scenes of action and drama during the James Bond-ian assault on the ice base (and during the quest for Mal in the crumbling city), punctuated by the slow-mo van dropping off the bridge. The slow motion somehow makes more urgent the faster scenes, and the editor keeps bringing it back to remind us that the clock is ticking. And then, that moment when the van and everything else hits in synchronicity — glorious.
Inception, pulling the pieces apart:
HERRINGTON: Like you, I'm not going to waste time with what Will Win and Should Win: The obvious and correct answer to both is, indeed, The Social Network, which, as I wrote upon its release, is narrative film-making at a frequently ecstatic level of execution, and the surgical, rhythmic editing is a key component of that.
As far as what Got Robbed: I'll join you in surprise that Inception was not nominated in this category, but will offer a couple of potential reasons why it wasn't. You say the editing was essential to understanding the film, which I agree with, but the reality is that an awful lot of people — many Academy voters among them, I'm sure — apparently did not at all understand it. And perhaps they blame their confusion, in part, on the editing. Another issue, which I think is more legitimate, is that the editing in that final set piece — not the editing between the different levels of activity, which I agree is great and enough to warrant a nomination, but the editing within that final snow fortress sequence — feels very muddled. I know the whole concept of that sequence is some kind of James Bond/G.I. Joe fanboy orgasm, but I found it sort of confusing and haphazard. That said, in addition to Inception, another title I'd like to see on this slate is Blue Valentine, which oscillates more quietly, but quite effectively, between different time periods.
AKERS: I don't like how you so cavalierly refer to/dismiss the James Bond/G.I. Joe fanboy orgasm aspect of Inception. Hello? I'm right here! I can hear you! As for confused audiences, you make a good point that it might have been a turnoff for Academy voters in this category. Me, I'm glad somebody bothered making a movie that you have to work to keep up with. I would've made a terrible grape-fed Roman emperor.
Nominees: Black Swan, Inception, The King's Speech, The Social Network, True Grit
HERRINGTON: I really have no idea what is going to win this category. As apparent co-favorites for Best Picture, you would think The King's Speech and The Social Network would be positioned to sop up extra awards in all kinds of secondary categories, but of the five nominees here those two films are definitely the closest to television. I say that as a great admirer of The Social Network, but I think it's a triumph of construction, editing, music, dialogue, and acting. The cinematography is only as good as it needs to be. And The King's Speech might as well be a made-for-BBC production. Will Win: Never count out Roger Deakins, who shot True Grit, in this category, but I'm guessing the expressionistic visuals of Black Swan get rewarded here, and I also think it Should Win.
Got Robbed: Two European-set star vehicles that never really entered the Oscar discussion but which are also among the most strikingly shot films of the year would have been very worthy nominees here: the George Clooney assassin-in-hiding anti-thriller The American and, even more so, the Tilda Swinton soap opera I Am Love, which I found a little silly in content but also undeniably gorgeous. Among movies deemed worthy of invitation to the Oscar club, I feel like 127 Hours belongs here both for it's bright, energetic desert scenes and the way it makes sense of the cramped space that makes up the movie's primary setting.
Black Swan, a definite Best Cinematography contender:
AKERS: This is a tricky category to predict. Roger Deakins (True Grit) won the BAFTA for this category, but he lost the American Society of Cinematographers award to Wally Pfister (Inception). In the last 10 years, the ASC award has matched up with the Oscar winner only four times (Slumdog Millionaire, There Will Be Blood, Memoirs of a Geisha, and The Road to Perdition). In the same time span, the BAFTA has lined up with the Oscars only 3 times (Slumdog, Geisha, Perdition). In fact, it's just as common (four times) that the ASCs, BAFTAs, and Oscars all pick someone different. To sum up, go with your gut on this category. Deakins has been nominated for an Oscar nine times but never won. I've predicted this in other years, but I'll hazard it again: Roger Deakins (True Grit) Will Win the Oscar this time.
Should Win: I agree with you that Black Swan should win. Matthew Libatique gives the movie a rich, shadowy graininess and dark undercurrent befitting the plot. I love Roger Deakins (The Man Who Wasn't There is an all-time great of cinematography), and thought True Grit was pretty good. Inception was excellent in that widescreen-spectacle kind of way. I agree with you, too, about The King's Speech, which stick out as undeserving here. I disagree a little about The Social Network, which I liked the cinematography of more than you did. It has that humid portentous look that a lot of David Fincher's movies have — so I'm a little surprised that cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth is only also responsible for Fight Club from Fincher's filmography. I guess maybe the style comes down to Fincher more than who he works with as a DP, which might be a knock on Cronenweth.
Got Robbed: I love love love your bringing up The American, which was a vastly underrated movie from 2010. The movie is so visually impressive. But, to be different from you for this category, I'll bring up yet another European-set film, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. The movie is in love with Coco's French countryside estate, which looks about as eye-poppingly gorgeous as you might imagine her house would look. Props to cinematographer David Ungaro (and director Jan Kounen).
HERRINGTON: Since I haven't seen Coco, I have nothing really to say about your picks, but would like to add at this point that I'm not really sure what "BAFTA" is. As a preemptive excuse for my sure-to-be-crappy predictions, I will note here that I'm basically oblivious to all other industry awards. I only pay attention to critics' lists and polls. And since the Oscars are an industry award ... .