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Friday, February 25, 2011

Ranking the Best Picture Nominees: Everyone's a Critic

This is perhaps the most exciting, and easily the longest, blog post I have ever done. Not only do you get a ranking of the 10 Best Picture nominees from yours truly. You get them from 7, count them 7, of my family members. Whether it is the promise of posting on my blog, or just a similar love of movies that runs in my family, I had lots of folks ready to see all 10 nominees and send in their thoughts. You have the privilege of hearing from my wife Emily, my mother-in-law Barb (a return guest from last year), my dad Kevin, my mom Terri, my brother Jason, my sister Sarah, and my sister's boyfriend Tyler.

After receiving my submissions, I'm extremely impressed with everyone's critical eyes. Viewers can watch the same movie and see very different things inside of it. I'll start with an overall summary, and then move on to everyone's list.

Overall Rankings and Summary

So, after everyone's rankings, I averaged everyone's ranking to see what our collective top 10 would look like. There's a really clear winner, a lot in the middle, and a couple clearly at the bottom.

Best Picture

1. Black Swan-1.63

2. The Social Network- 3.88

3. 127 Hours- 4.88

4. (tie) The King's Speech-5

Toy Story 3- 5

Winter' s Bone- 5

7. The Fighter- 6

8. The Kids Are All Right- 6.38

9. True Grit- 8

10. Inception- 9.25

Acting/Directing Choices

Best Actor

Jesse Eisenberg-Barb, Tyler

Colin Firth- Jason, Terri

James Franco- Ben, Emily, Kevin, Sarah

**Caveat: I think everyone who saw Blue Valentine agreed that not only should Ryan Gosling have been nominated, he should have won.

Best Actress

Annette Bening- Ben

Jennifer Lawrence- Kevin

Natalie Portman- Barb, Emily, Jason, Terri, Tyler

Michelle Williams- Sarah

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale- Everybody (wow)

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams- Ben

Melissa Leo- Tyler

Hailee Steinfeld- Barb, Emily, Jason, Kevin, Terri, Sarah

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky- Barb, Ben, Emily,Kevin, Sarah, Terri, Tyler

David Fincher- Jason

Interesting Trends and Observations

  • While I knew that many around me loved Black Swan, I was a little surprised to see how thoroughly it dominated the list. 4 #1s, 3 #2s, and 1 #3.
  • I was most shocked at how much people loved 127 Hours, widely considered the film in tenth place in gaining its nomination. It got a lot of 3 and 4 votes which made it end up third overall in the group rankings.
  • The Social Network and The King's Speech, considered the main contenders for the award, both did very well without getting many number 1 votes (only 1 each).
  • The biggest range of any movie was easily Winter's Bone. It got 2 #1 votes, but also a #9 and #10. Other movies with wide ranges were Toy Story 3 (#2-9), The Fighter (#2-9), The Kids Are All Right (#2-9), and The King's Speech (#1-8).
  • The smallest gaps were with Black Swan (between #1 and 3) and True Grit (between #6 and 10). Inception also did pretty poorly, gathering 6 #10 votes, 1 #9, and 1 #5.

Now for the Full Lists:


I am honored to be a return guest blogger!

1. Black Swan. This was, by far, my favorite picture of the year. I thought it was an intriguing, and believable, portrayal of a young woman, with fragile mental health to begin with, slowly unraveling under the pressure of her own need for perfection. I loved how we saw the entire story through her eyes. It didn't really matter what was real and what was not. We clearly saw her reality. Amazing performance by Natalie Portman and strong supporting cast.

2. The Social Network. I really enjoyed this movie, partially because I didn't know much about Mark Zuckerberg, the history of Facebook, or all the drama involved. Strong performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield. I even liked Justin Timberlake.

3. Toy Story 3. I loved this movie for the same reasons I loved 'UP' last year. It is a very entertaining, yet poignant, story about transition that is, albeit, necessary, but is not without some degree of pain, regret and loss.Beautifully done. Thank you Pixar.

4. The King's Speech. An excellent movie with a superb cast. A touching look at an unlikely friendship.

5. The Kids Are All Right. Annette Bening makes a good lesbian. An interesting and entertaining story about an unconventional family thrown into turmoil when one of the children decides he needs to find his sperm donor father. Interesting and believable characters and strong performances by all involved.

6. The Fighter. I loved watching this dysfunctional family muddle along. What a group! Christian Bale as the drug- addicted ex-boxer should be a slam-dunk for best supporting actor.

7. True Grit. Crazy Heart on a horse. I liked this movie a lot. Again, a great cast (even Matt Damon, who usually gives me a headache). An outstanding performance by 13 year old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.

8. 127 Hours. This was a hard one for me to watch. I think part of the problem was that I knew it was a true story, and I knew what was going to happen. I was anxious from the minute I entered the theater. Cutting off his arm was almost anticlimactic. A remarkable story of survival. James Franco deserves his Oscar nod.

9. Winter's Bone. I hate that I have to put this at #9. An outstanding performance by 20 year old Jennifer Lawrence, who brought amazing depth and strength to her character. Filmed entirely in the Ozarks, we witness Ree's (Lawrence) desperate struggle to keep her family intact. A strong supporting role by John Hawkes.

10. Inception. Just simply not my kind of movie. Plus I couldn't get past the whole Juno thing.

Actor- Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Actress- Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Fighter

Supporting Actress- Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Director-Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan


Let me just put it out there and say that, two years in, I am still a fan of the 10 nominees, perhaps even more so with this year's stronger lineup. While I have varying degrees of passion for the 10 movies, I really enjoyed them all and think they're all worthy nominees. I've seen a lot of them twice already, and they've all stayed intriguing, or even grown, on a second viewing.

1. Black Swan. This comes in first because there wasn’t another movie all year where I was as glued to the screen from start to finish. Director Darren Aronofsky has never been afraid to take risks and make bold choices, and star Natalie Portman is with him every step of the way. While in a totally different style,this piece on warped feminine obsession is a perfect companion piece to The Wrestler, his movie about warped masculine obsession. Over-the-top? Hell yes, and I loved every minute of it.

2. Toy Story 3. I absolutely loved this movie and ALMOST put it number one. Third and last in a great trilogy, and it’s about toys (and their owners) knowing when to move on. What’s it about? Parenting, childhood, loss, death, generosity, outgrowing your usefulness? The story is so rich with all of these themes. Oh yeah, it’s also clever and hilarious.

3. Winter’s Bone. The only true indie in this year’s lineup, and definitely a one-of-a-kind movie. It’s like a Raymond Chandler story set amongst the backwoods of the Missouri Ozarks. It’s about the convoluted ties that bind these characters and what it takes to protect those you love. Jennifer Lawrence is a revelation as Ree Dolly, one of the most quietly heroic characters I’ve seen in a long time.

4. The Kids Are All Right. A breezy multi-layered family comedy that also touches the heart deeply. The entire ensemble cast is just about perfect in this portrayal of a modern family (which just happens to include lesbian parents) dealing with major changes in their relationships. I think it’s a movie that will hold up great to multiple viewings.

5. The Social Network. Director David Fincher turns the creation of a website into a gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Writer Aaron Sorkin pens an amazingly fast-paced script that portrays Mark Zuckerberg in such as fascinating way that you will surely argue about him on your way out of the theater. While I think the film lags just a bit in its final third, it’s also packed to the brim with great moments. I especially love the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

6. 127 Hours. It’s hard to watch at times, but it’s also shot through with such a sense of life and vitality. Director Danny Boyle and actor James Franco bring the right amount of manic energy to this gripping survival tale. The final moments are so beautiful and life-affirming (in that non-cheesy way) that I’ve thought about them a lot since I saw it.

7. The King’s Speech. A highly entertaining and charming movie about friendship and overcoming obstacles. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are superb together. As much as I enjoyed this movie, it feels just a tad slight for its “best of the year” kudos and likely Oscar win.

8. The Fighter. Like The King’s Speech, The Fighter was a whole lot of fun to watch. I liked or loved the performances (especially Christian Bale and Amy Adams) and I really enjoyed the way director David O. Russell brought in comedy to the story. The story is a tad familiar, though, and it didn’t quite reach greatness for me.

9. True Grit. The Coen Brothers have made a really solid and entertaining Western in a classic style. What they haven’t done is make a great “Coen Brothers” movie. While this was their biggest mainstream success, I also think it lost a little (although by no means all) of their charm and quirkiness along the way.

10. Inception. The fact that this places number 10 shows what a strong year it was for Best Picture. Inception is visually gripping, intellectually engaging, and cleverly plotted. What puts it at number 10 is its lack of emotional depth. For all the engagement I felt, I wanted to feel something more for the characters and see a little more emotion and passion in their dreams. A good movie that could have been truly great.

Actor- James Franco, 127 Hours

Actress- Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Fighter

Supporting Actress- Amy Adams, The Fighter

Director-Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan


1. Black Swan. I loved the magical realist feel of the movie and its creative plays on opposites throughout (black/white, good/evil, friend/enemy, control/abandon, beauty/grotesqueness). Natalie Portman executes the role of Nina, dare I say, “perfectly”? I know some people thought it was too melodramatic, but Aronofsky owned the melodrama and, in my opinion, pulled it off masterfully.

2. The Kids Are All Right. I’m a total sucker for movies about life transitions. There was just a lot about this movie that resonated with me, plus it included my favorite scene of the year: Annette Bening’s rendition of All I Want. Great acting all around--I loved the performances by Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, and Mark Ruffalo. I would have liked a little more resolution with Ruffalo’s character in the end, but overall, a great movie.

3. 127 Hours. I was so impressed by James Franco. The way he kept the film engaging, barely interacting with other characters and barely moving his body, was truly remarkable. I didn’t entirely watch the arm part (the film industry seemed to have a special place in its heart this year for severed limbs), but what I did watch I thought was actually pretty inspiring. I think Danny Boyle does a terrific job getting the viewer to sympathize with and rally behind his main characters, and this was no exception.

4. Winter's Bone. One of the things I liked about this movie was that it showed a place and culture we’ve rarely seen explored on film. Jennifer Lawrence was superb and played the self-sufficient, no-nonsense Ree fearlessly. While it certainly had its difficult to watch scenes (more severed limbs!), I appreciated the not-totally-hopeless ending and the message of perseverance.

5. Toy Story 3. I wasn’t sure how to rank this movie. I thought it was so clever and colorful, but I cried so much that I felt my emotions were being toyed (no pun intended) with just a little more than necessary. Did I mention I am a total sucker for movies about life transitions? I appreciated the comic relief offered by Barbie, Ken, and the Shakespearean hedgehog and overall thought the writing and animation were very well done.

6. The Social Network. This movie was definitely entertaining to watch and a fascinating piece of modern history. Jesse Eisenberg made a great Mark Zuckerberg, and I also loved Justin Timberlake. It was interesting how the writing left people with such different perceptions of Zuckerberg’s character in the end-- I think I felt more sympathetic toward him than most. While fun to watch, I can’t say I thought it was quite great enough to break into my top five.

7. The King's Speech. Of course, I thought Colin Firth was top notch and enjoyed the performance by Geoffrey Rush too. The story got off on a little bit of a slow start for me (I think I dozed off for a few minutes early on), but once he actually became king and the story gained momentum, I was definitely on board. The last scene where he gives the speech was (as advertised) triumphant, although I had mixed feelings about the film’s feel-good ending downplaying the fact that it was the eve of war.

8. True Grit. I wasn't really sure if I was going to like this since I have limited experience with Westerns, but I left the theater pleasantly surprised. Good storytelling on the part of the Coen Brothers, and an especially incredible performance by Hailee Steinfeld. I also thought the cinematography was beautiful. My main qualm was that there was more violence than I generally enjoy watching (especially the suffering horses). I did like the retrospective ending, though, and overall thought it was well done.

9. The Fighter. Not being a fan of violence or boxing, I also wasn’t sure if I was going to like The Fighter. Again, my low expectations left me pleasantly surprised. Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, and Amy Adams made a great cast. I appreciated that there was more story and less boxing than I anticipated. I felt that Melissa Leo and the sisters were a little over the top, though I did love their costuming (didn’t I have that same bodysuit in 1992?).

10.Inception. Even though I thought it was entertaining overall, I wasn’t just nuts about Inception. Of course you can’t go wrong with Leo, but I thought Ellen Page seemed a little awkward. And even though his acting was good, unfortunately Joseph Gordon Levitt conjures up bad memories of one of my least favorite films of 2009, (500) Days of Summer. I thought Inception was conceptually creative, and did enjoy trying to figure out what it all meant, but in the end I just didn’t feel much connection to the characters or story.

Actor- James Franco, 127 Hours

Actress- Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Fighter

Supporting Actress- Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Director-Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan


There is not a movie on this list I wouldn't see again, all of the best picture nominees are great films.

1. The Social Network. I've always loved David Fincher's movies and this was no exception. Everything about this film was spot on, from the acting, casting (especially Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker), dialogue to the amazing score by Trent Reznor. It took a really interesting story of one of the most influential business ideas and made it a spellbinding drama.

2. Black Swan. Natalie Portman's performance is going to go down as one of the greatest in film history. I can't imagine how hard it was to train for this film both from a physical and a mental standpoint. As with Social Network, the casting for this movie was spot on, everyone's performances were outstanding. I especially enjoyed Vincent Cassel, he played the rich, talented yet sleazy director perfectly. The last scene in the movie where she turns into the black swan is my favorite moment from the movies this year.

3. The King's Speech. What a great story about friendship and overcoming obstacles. Colin Firth was incredible, you can almost see his frustration as he stutters through the movie. All of the cast was great, Geoffory Rush was funny, yet touching and Helena Bonham Carter was excellent. His big speech at the end with his therapist helping him all the way is a very close second for my favorite scene of the year.

4. 127 Hours. I think it's pretty amazing that a movie that is basically set in a ten square foot area could be so great. This movie is all James Franco. You can just feel the pain when he initially falls and of course when he finally escapes from the end. I loved the rain scene, it was such great imagery and it really conveyed what it would feel like to be dying of thirst and hallucinating.

5. Inception. I saw Inception at the Imax theater and when I left the theater, my first thought was "finally, something totally original from Hollywood." I think the idea of the "kick" and time slowing down as you go down further resonate with all of us, they were integrated into the film so well. Once again, the cast made the film. Everyone was great, although I would have liked to see a little more substance from Ellen Page's character.

6. True Grit. I think it's safe to say that the Coen Brothers are the best filmmakers in Hollywood right now. True Grit is the perfect example of taking a fairly standard plot line and making a great story/film out of it. All of the main characters were great, the cinematography was amazing and of course Jeff Bridges knocked his role out of the park (along with Hailee Steinfeld).

7. The Fighter. I'm not usually a big sports movie fan, but I really liked this movie. Christian Bale was beyond amazing, and the rest of the supporting cast was great too (as evidenced by the nominations). It's a great story of redemption, family and just dealing with life as it comes at you.

8. Toy Story 3. Pixar magic as usual. I didn't find this movie quite as emotional as everyone was talking about, but I don't have kids and haven't gone through the process of giving up toys (thanks mom!). As with all the Toy Story movies, I love how Pixar takes familiar things from our childhood and finds clever ways to incorporate them into these films. They brought the trilogy to a satifying conclusion and I'm excited to see what Pixar has in store for us next.

9. The Kids Are All Right. What a great, small film with amazing performances. The premise for the film is such an interesting idea and I think it's safe to say that most of us can't really identify with the situation. With that being said, we all deal with family issues and working together to fix them.

10. Winter's Bone (Before I give my write-up, a quick caveat. We saw this movie late one night after a long week of work, and both of us fell asleep during it for a few minutes.) I really liked this film, the sense of foreboding and pain was captured so well. This movie, just like Kids, captured a life that most of us could never imagine and haven't had much exposure too. This one is number one on my Netflix queue and I'm really excited to see it again.

Actor- Colin Firth, The King's Speech

Actress- Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Fighter

Supporting Actress- Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Director-David Fincher, The Social Network


1. Black Swan. Exceptionally tight, not a moment or a single scene seemed wasted. And I loved the existential divide between fantasy and reality; I was never sure which was which and frankly it didn’t really matter. Was she really even cast in the role?

2. The Fighter. A great movie makes you understand a world so different from your own. What does it mean to exist in a place where success is pushing your son to get the c_ _ _ beat out of him? But we “get it” because the characters, the place, and the circumstances are convincingly authentic.

3. 127 Hours. I’m surprising myself by putting this third. Maybe just a personal thing – I love free spirit characters who also have enough personal substance to pull redemption out of suffering. Aaron Ralston did it and James Franco portrayed it well.

4. The King's Speech. Beautifully filmed and presented on the screen. The images told the story of majesty in a time of suffering, suffering both on an individual and a societal level. Also a great story of the implications of rising above personal shortcoming. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush were captivating.

5. Winter's Bone. At the risk of sounding redundant, personal redemption doesn't get much more compelling than this. When everything within teenage Ree had to be screaming RUN AWAY she stays and does unimaginable things to save her younger siblings. I know this place and have known people not that far from these extremes. That place and those people showed up in this movie.

6. The Social Network. Another tight movie that didn’t waste a moment telling the story of how certain people and certain circumstances come together to change the world. But I had to wonder if the almost universally unlikeable characters and the dark cinematography (is there ever daylight at Harvard?) was a Hollywood exaggeration intended more to entertain than to tell the truth.

7.True Grit. At this point it’s getting hard. That said, I’ll go with True Grit, just because, like all Coen brothers movies, the bizarre becomes the normal. Never one to take westerns all that seriously, I loved the parody in this movie. Hailee Steinfeld was beyond description as Mattie, but my favorite character was Tom Chaney – classic Coen to turn a villain into a goofball!

8. The Kids Are All Right. That I would rank this movie #8 is a testament to how exceptional all of this year’s movies were. Maybe this one just wasn’t quite as extraordinary as the ones above. A well told story that would have been pretty daring just a few years ago, but today feels a little like a script we’ve seen before.

9. Toy Story 3. Great! And I watched the whole thing. Which is incredible when considering that a) this is the sequel of a sequel, and b) I’m not that into animation movies. Tom Hanks will forever be Woody in my mind.

10. Inception. Ugggg, is nominating 10 movies for best picture really such a great idea? Honestly, Inception, I don’t know how you ended up last on the list, except I suppose like animation, I’m not usually that drawn to sci-fi type movies. But I liked you a lot, a whole lot! Wow, scary to realize how unreal our realities might just be. Which means maybe you’re not different from my #1 pick – Black Swan? Hmmm, should I reconsider this list?

Actor- James Franco, 127 Hours

Actress- Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone

Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Fighter

Supporting Actress- Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Director-Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan


1. Winter’s Bone. I loved this movie- sort of an old fashioned adventure myth told with a twist- showing the complexity of rural poverty and the various nuances of the characters. I loved the performances and the subtleties of the cinematography. I loved what the movie pointed out in a non-preachy way- in the midst of some rather disturbing and depressing stories, there is still redemption and strength in humanity.

2. Black Swan. I think Black Swan was the most fascinating and engaging movie I saw this year- I was compelled during the entire movie- great suspense, art direction, acting, and themes around art, self-destruction, sexuality, femininity.

3. The Social Network. Going through college (and after) with facebook as a huge factor in social life, I was very intrigued when I heard a “facebook movie” was coming out. Much different from what I expected, I thought the Social Network had a lot of interesting things to say about friendships and money. The score and cinematography did a great job at capturing the excitement and tension of creation and youth. Like many others on the list this year, also successfully portrayed a nuanced character, leaving the audience with mixed feelings, of Mark Zuckerburg.

4. 127 Hours. I loved how this story was told- it could have been cheesy, overly gratuitous, and straightforward, but instead James Franco portrayed the psychology of relationships, trauma, and survival in a tense, creative, and inspiring way. By the point in the movie with the infamous/famous arm off scene, the film had me so attuned to what Aron was feeling I was able to stay right there with him and stay engaged.

5. Toy Story 3. I was in 3rd grade when the first Toy Story came out, and watched Toy Story 3 as I was selling and giving away many of my childhood toys- perfect timing! I loved the old familiar characters- giving the message about it being OK to grow up. Couldn’t ask for a better ending to the triology.

6. The Kids are All Right. This was in the category of one of my favorite types of movies- drama/comedies showing the inner workings of daily life in a family. I thought this movie was done especially well, but also in comparing it to my top 5, it wasn’t quite “new” enough to be great.

7. The Fighter. I thought the supporting cast really pulled this movie for me- Mark Wahlburg did a nice job with the lead character, but Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, and all the sisters kept the movie funny, honest, and authentic. I liked seeing how despite some nutty and dysfunctional behaviors, I still saw how the family pulled together for Micky.

8.The King’s Speech. I felt similar feelings about both the King’s Speech and True Grit (see below). I thought both were very well-done, traditional style stories with great acting, but neither really stuck with me like some of the other nominees.

9. True Grit. I appreciated this movie for the old-fashioned story and characters, but the straightforward western style wasn’t quite as intriguing to me as the Coen brothers’ more “quirky” films like A Serious Man or Fargo.

10. Inception. Really awesome concept and cinematography- a very fun time at the theater- I just wish there had been more character development so I would be more invested in the lives of the people in the movie.

Actor- James Franco, 127 Hours

Actress- Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Fighter

Supporting Actress- Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Director-Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan


1. The King’s Speech. I love well-done movies based on true stories and this movie made a critical period in history come alive. It was a little slow moving at the beginning but the character development pulled me in. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter had amazing performances.

2.Black Swan. After my comments above about liking true stories, I also loved this movie because it was so creative and totally bizarre!! I also had the privilege of seeing it as a surprise for Ben on his 30th birthday when Barb and I were in DC to celebrate. Natalie Portman definitely deserves Best Actress for her performance.

3.Toy Story 3. I watched this movie in the midst of sorting through 30+ years of old toys. It made it much easier to get rid of them! What a great job they did of making us relive all the complex emotions that go along with getting older and letting go.

4.127 Hours. I must admit I wasn’t very excited about seeing this movie and it was the last one we saw. While it was uncomfortable to watch, it totally drew me into the story and James Franco did a wonderful job. I’m surprised I ranked it this high but they made what could have been a formulaic made for TV type movie into something much more.

5.The Fighter. Another movie based on a true story. I love movies that convey the atmosphere of a city or neighborhood and this does a wonderful job. There were many facets I enjoyed – the family dynamics, redemptive themes, and even the boxing scenes! Amy Adams gave a very convincing performance as did Christian Bale.

6.The Social Network. Fourth true story out of my top six! Since my daughter-in-law Kirstin will now be working for Facebook, it was fascinating to see how it all began.

7.Winter’s Bone. This was not an easy movie to watch but I loved the sparse scenery and gritty realistic characters, especially John Hawkes as the uncle and Jennifer Lawrence.

8.True Grit. Not your typical Coen brothers film although it still had the dark humor they are known for. What a great performance by Hailee Steinfeld!

9.The Kids are All Right. I liked this movie but didn’t love it. Acting was great but somehow there was something missing in it for me to raise it higher in my ratings.

10.Inception. Obviously great technical effects. I enjoy films that make you stay engaged and think and this was definitely one of those.

Actor- Colin Firth, The King's Soeech

Actress- Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Fighter

Supporting Actress- Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Director-Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan


1. Winter's Bone. In any form of narative art, there is a tension between making a movie interesting/entertaining/meaningful and making it realistic/relatable. There are films that span the whole spectrum in most genres, but to me Winter's Bone captures and balances these two sides amazingly. In some ways it feels like a well-done indie family drama, or even an expose on poverty in rural America, but there is another element that doesn't seem so obvious at first, but keeps the movie especially compelling the whole way through. When the climax finally comes to a head, Ree is forced to perform a task that feels almost Herculean in nature, and the mix of subtle character drama and epic mythological hero tale hits home.

2. The Social Network. It seems everything I've seen about this movie uses the word "American" as a main descriptor. The story of one person's rise from talented little jerk, to industry titan, to almost realizing the hollowness of such a selfish take on the American dream has been told time and again, but rarely with so much style and force. I read that the girlfriend who dumps him at the beginning of the film was a ficticious creation; Sorkin might as well have named her "Rosebud".

3. Black Swan. This is third down on my list, but first for direction. This movie relies almost completely on the tension and atmosphere created by Aaronofsky and Portman (along with the rest of the cast). Riveting the whole way through, it makes an impact as you watch it waiting, with sweaty hands, for the impending tragedy, but the themes that it explore so cleverly stick with you after the credits.

4. The Fighter. The Fighter starts with a lead character likely a loss or two away from living the rest of his life saying "I could've been a contender." While the boxing career pans out differently than it had for Terry Malloy, the heart of this movie also relies on a character conflicted to do the right thing in a mess of loyalty to friends, family, his love interest, the community, and a shot at really making something of himself. The contrast between Mark Wahlberg's character and his brother, played excellently by Christian Bale, add a whole new level to the movie that makes it hard to believe that a true story with such great character dynamics was available for the telling.

5. Toy Story 3. While this movie was filled hilarious references to other movies, funny dialogue and gags, and the same lovable characters Toy Story, and most Pixar films for that matter, have always had, I think what actually puts this movie above many of the other ones is that the human's play a much larger role. In the previous Toy Story films, the humans play the role of god characters, from Andy the benevolent god to the devil known as Sid, or the inept god played by Newman from Seinfeld. The final chapter adds a new element by making Andy as real as the toys, and in doing so brings out those issues of growing older and the connections we maintain to our childhood.

6. The King's Speech. While this may be the most "Oscary" movie on the list, and Firth may have played the most Oscary part nominated this year, I can't deny that it is still a great movie with great performances all around. While the psychotherapy is quite outdated, the story of one person overcoming their personal weakness to do what needs to be done never will be.

7. 127 Hours. This movie is told in very much the same manner as Slumdog Millionaire- a character spends most of the movie stuck in one place, and other events that enlighten us to the character are explained through flashbacks and fantasy. The style is intriguing, and is a great way to tell this modern castaway story. The movie practically tries to hit you over the head to get the connection between his isolation and predicament of being alone in the canyon with the character's general isolation from society and personal relationships, but it works well nonetheless.

8. The Kids Are All Right. This was a very well done indie family dramedy. I really liked it when I saw it, but it never crossed my mind that it would be in the Oscar race. The movie contains some aspects I felt were almost silly and lazy cliches, like the affair plotline the movie decides to hinge on, but it was also filled with a lot of wonderfully original and genuine moments.

9. Inception. I really enjoyed this movie when I saw it. Months of people talking about how 'deep' or 'esoteric' it was kind of hardened me against it, because when the movie confounds, it is not that the viewer has yet to understand, it is just actual confusion resulting from a storyline that doesn't always fit together right. It was however one of the most interesting action block-busters in years, and I hope it is currently inspiring more studios to take chances with odd plotlines for future summer releases.

10. True Grit. This movie ended up being my film version of King Of Limbs. I love a lot Cohen Brother's movies, and I expected more. It was entertaining and well made, but it just seemed to be lacking that punch for me. I think that may be a result of being reigned in by trying to stay true to the source material. Objectively, it might actually be better than some of the movies I put higher on this list, but I'd rather have seen this slot go to Blue Valentine.

Actor- Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Actress- Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Fighter

Supporting Actress- Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Director-Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

There you have it! This was a great project. Readers, if you have any thoughts on how you'd rank the films, please leave comments. Also, check back on the blog this weekend for final Oscar predictions and a liveblog Sunday evening.

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