Each year the films nominated for Oscars in the Best Picture category become more diverse.  With ten worthy films in the running, 2011 is no exception.

It’s the Academy’s job to announce the one film that threw such a huge punch that it knocked everyone else out of the competition.  In the ring the contenders line up and a frustrated, stuttering King raises his dukes against a cowboy with a tin badge and undying dedication to his friends Buzz, Jessie, and Mr. Potato Head.  Also in the center ring are a boxer cloaked by a dysfunctional family, a computer geek, a feathered ballerina, a lesbian couple, a spy who spars between dreams and reality, a one-arm man, a bounty hunter, and a depressed teenager fighting to hang onto her home and family.   In this competition, animation weighs in against the stunning effects of sci-fi, and everything in between.

What does it take to get an Oscar nomination?  How good are the stories, the characters?  If you haven’t seen the ten films, here’s how they look on the scorecard.


127 Hours

No doubt Aron Ralston never dreamed that what begun as a typical day of mountain climbing would result with millions of people knowing his story and searching Google maps for “Blue John Canyon”.   James Franco portrays Ralston in a film that puts his true-life experience on video, revealing his innermost emotion, his sense of humor, and his ability to overcome a momentous, personal ordeal.   Literally stuck between a rock and a hard place for days, Ralston makes the harsh decision to amputate his arm with crude tools in order to free him self.  These are tough scenes to watch and the film is very tough to dismiss.  Franco gives one of his best performances ever.

Black Swan

Lesbian love scenes may make this a difficult film for some viewers to watch.  But those moments aside, is it entertaining?  When asked, “Did you like it?” many viewers weren’t able to answer because they couldn’t decide.  The performances are exceptional and the story is interesting, yet weeks after seeing Black Swan, indecision still lingers.  The question of reality may be responsible.  Throughout the film the character jumps between real events and those in her imagination.  It’s difficult to know how to feel when you don’t know what’s true from one moment to the next.  One of the truest moments as far as demonstrating artistic filmmaking goes, is a scene where the ballerina’s skin morphs from smooth alabaster, to scales, and finally to sprouted feathers, a metaphor for her emotional transformation.  Your enjoyment of this film may be tempered by how much you can care about the main character and an obsessive drive that pushes her to the edge of insanity.

The Fighter

While this movie follows the old formula of an under dog following his dream, the plot is propelled by family dynamics making this rich Boston based story anything but trite or familiar.  The film may have lost some viewers who saw this as just another boxing story.  That’s unfortunate because there are more relationship lessons to be learned here than punches to be thrown.  With too many outstanding performances to count, Wahlberg exhibits admirable professionalism by downplaying his character.  It would have been easy to pound out the boxer’s personality and possibly get a nom for his role.  But instead he made a decision that was in the interest of the film’s total success.  The real knockout, the character that shines in Wahlberg’s generosity, was Dicky Eklund expertly sculpted by Christian Bale.  His unforgettable footage should be used as a “how to” in acting classes everywhere.


Like Black Swan, Inception led us in and out of dreams as well as realities, sometimes losing us along the way.  The task of keeping in step can be difficult but you try your best because there’s so much artistic, visual beauty on screen.  The inventive story line can’t be denied – a spy who steals corporate secrets from the dreams of sleeping minds.  This is true Sci-Fi 2011.  DiCaprio delivers an admirable performance, as does Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Witnessing them wall walking gave you even more to think about after seeing the movie.  How did they do that?

The Kids Are All Right

Kids wanting to meet their sperm-donor-father sounds like it might be a Seth Rogan feature, but thankfully, it’s anything but.  Expertly casted with leads Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, this humorous movie won’t cause you to guffaw or slap your knee.  For the most part it’s an intelligent, thought provoking comedy mixed with drama that drives head on into painful real life problems.  Celebrities who have proven their acting chops many times over, explore themes of love and loyalty in the richest possible way.

The Kings Speech

Simply and beautifully filmed, a look back in time unveils a royal problem you may not have read about in history books.  Colin Firth is genuine and believable as King George, who avoids public speaking because of a stuttering problem.  Shame leads him to Lionel Logue, a speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush.  He has flare and as much self-esteem as any King, which makes him so interesting to watch.  Inevitably the two personalities clash, making the curing of the King’s malady a compelling journey, and their ultimate appreciation for one another a charming, if not expected, twist.

The Social Network

This drama didn’t “friend” everyone.  The same problem that plagued Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, kept some movie-goers from buying tickets for The Social Network.  When making a biographical film, creators always face the challenge of how much truth to throw in.  Many people felt the screen version of this account didn’t include enough.  Nevertheless, it’s well acted and what could have been a boring linear story, instead, was pieced together inventively.  Whether you see this as a deceptive documentary or simply entertainment, it’s an important film for our time.

Toy Story 3

Who can resist Woody, Buzz and the gang coming together for yet another adventure to present the problems encountered by discarded toys?  The makers of Toy Story 3 found new elements to make you fall in love with this colorful little world all over again.  In one of the biggest plot twists this side of the toy-box, Buzz is set to Spanish speaking mode, a wildly hilarious event!  A new and strong protagonist Lotso, provides conflict with a genuine threat.  Can the emotions of a toy Sheriff make you well up?  You bet!  The climax to this story is just as poignant as that of any flesh and blood relationship in a movie.  The only difference is, audiences won’t admit to crying at the end of Toy Story 3.  After all, they’re just toys.

True Grit

Nearly 40 years after the original film, audiences are once again enjoying the antics of drunken Rooster Cogburn played by Jeff Bridges.  With a thick and sticky drawl that sometimes needs subtitles, Bridges brings more grit to the role and to the unforgettable line, “Fill your hand!” when he comes up against the bad guys.  The filmmakers made a good decision not to stray too far from the popular original  movie.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Hailee Steinfeld delivers a less cheerful and more convincingly troubled young lady than Kim Darby did in 1969.  Matt Damon, an unlikely choice for the role of Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, drives home a fun and realistic performance.  It’s logical that with everyone at the top of their game, including crew, this movie gets another shot at winning an Oscar.  John Wayne won a best actor Oscar in 1969 for True Grit.  It was a compelling and entertaining story then and it still is now.  It’s unusual for movie remakes to take home an Oscar.  Mutiny On The Bounty did it in 1935 and then again in 1962.  Will True Grit follow suit?  

Winter’s Bone

This sleepy story moves forward methodically and with dramatic calculation until you don’t understand how, what started as a small drama, can pull you in so effectively.  Winter’s Bone changes your old visions of the Ozark as moonshine headquarters, to a grey, depressing community of methamphetamine labs peopled by demented characters (think Deliverance) just as hard and heartless as any on big city streets.  Jennifer Lawrence tenderly plays Ree, the 17 year-old rock who takes on the responsibility of mother to her siblings and financial manager for the home about to be snatched out from under them.  In other hands this story could have failed miserably.  A one-week deadline with a threat of losing it all, provides the needed ticking clock to keep the audience engaged.  John Hawkes is brilliant as the flawed savior who helps guide Ree through the mess that is her life.


Read the scripts for these nominated films.