Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 Oscar Predictions!

The 83rd Academy Awards begin tonight at 8pm ET on ABC -- and will honor the best in film for 2010. Having seen all the movies in the top categories and all the nominated performances, I offer up my predictions with some level of confidence.

Like I said last year, I'd love to be right -- but I also love to be surprised. The most memorable Oscar shows have always been the ones with some upsets. With that said, here are my predictions (in purple)...

2/28 update -- winners in red

Best Picture

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids are All Right
The King's Speech - winner
The Social Network
127 Hours
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

For the second year in a row, we have a staggering 10 best picture noms -- after 5 was the norm for decades. But even with the added films, the race is down to just two -- The King's Speech and The Social Network. The latter was the early favorite, but was released in October -- losing steam as the awards season kicked into high gear. So, watch for the very worthy The King's Speech to take the top prize. The Oscar voters skew older, so the WWII-timed story should strike a chord more than the one about the relatively new Facebook creation. Meanwhile, my favorite movie of 2010, Toy Story 3, will have to settle for the best animated feature award (see below).

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
David O. Russell (The Fighter)
Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)
- winner
David Fincher (The Social Network)
Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

This race is down to the same two movies -- and it's even a tighter race. Second-time nominee Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) may squeak out a win over relative newcomer Hooper -- even though the latter took the Directors Guild prize. But again, some years a sweep occurs -- so don't be surprised if Hooper walks home with trophy. Either way, both men are very deserving.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem (Biutiful)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
- winner
James Franco (127 Hours)
Jeff Bridges (True Grit)

Bridges (Crazy Heart) beat Firth (A Single Man) in the same category last year, so it's time for Firth to get his sweet revenge. No contest this year. Firth turned in a great performance as the stuttering British monarch in The King's Speech -- and will hold that trophy high late in the evening.

Best Actress

Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
- winner
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

This race is closer than you think. The Black Swan's Portman has received most of the attention for her harrowing turn as a ballerina suffering from a mental collapse. But Bening was amazing in her role as a lesbian mother trying to keep her family together. When I left the theater after seeing The Kids Are All Right, I turned to my friend and said, "I forgot how great an actress Bening is!" She's come close to winning this award before -- so the Academy may honor her here. But I think Portman still maintains the edge.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale (The Fighter) - winner
John Hawkes (Winter's Bone)
Jeremy Renner (The Town)
Mark Ruffalo (The Kids are All Right)
Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

Bale totally transformed himself to play a crack-addicted former boxing hero in The Fighter -- a truly mesmerizing performance. He should win over Rush who was excellent as the speech therapist in The King's Speech. Once again, though -- a strong tide for The King's Speech could reverse the results.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech)
Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
- winner
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)
Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

Much talk has been made that Leo has turned off voters with her shameless self-campaigning. Others suggest that she and Fighter co-star Adams will split the vote. But I still think she'll ride the wave of her previous wins at the other award shows and capture the Oscar. It will be a well-deserved win for her excellent portrayal of a head-strong mother. But this category is notorious for being the one with the most surprises on the big night. So, don't be shocked if 14-year-old newcomer Steinfeld wins for her gritty performance in True Grit.

Best Original Screenplay

Another Year (Mike Leigh)
The Fighter (Paul Attanasio, Lewis Colich, Eric Johnson, Scott Silverand Paul Tamasy)
Inception (Christopher Nolan)
The Kids are All Right (Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko)
The King's Speech (David Seidler)
- winner

Look for The King's Speech to add to its trophy case here. It's a great historical story intertwined with one of true friendship -- the type of uplifting film that the Academy loves. I thought the writing in Another Year was equally exceptional -- but Inception is the dark horse with its truly unique story.

Best Adapted Screenplay

127 Hours (Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle)
The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin)
- winner
Toy Story 3 (Michael Arndt, story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich)
True Grit (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)
Winter's Bone (Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini)

Famed TV writer Sorkin (The West Wing) stepped up his game for the intriguing Social Network -- and the film's win here will be a nice consolation prize for losing in the Best Picture category. How could the Academy pass on such brilliant, quickfire dialogue? I must say that is a shame that the absorbing 127 Hours will be shutout in the main categories tonight.

Best Animated Feature

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3
- winner

No contest here. How to Train Your Dragon was good, not great. And The Illusionist was beautiful to look at, but a bit short on story. With its equally great story and top-notch animation, Toy Story 3 was my favorite movie of the year -- and those geniuses at Pixar/Disney will deservedly win here.

  • A complete list of the 83rd Academy Award nominations can be found here. -- winners list updated at same link!
  • My reviews of the Oscar-nominated films can be found here and at the Film Reviews icon at left.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar Catch-up and
Final Reviews

If you're a movie lover like me, then this is a big weekend with tomorrow night's 83rd Annual Academy Awards (8pm ET/5pm ET on ABC). My predictions in leading categories will be posted here by tomorrow morning.

Every year, I have a goal to see all the Oscar-nominated films and performances before the Academy Awards telecast. And more recently, I have expanded that goal to include all the following:
  • 10 best picture nominees
  • 3 best animated feature film nominees
  • 5 best director nominees
  • 5 best original screenplay nominees
  • 5 best adapted screenplay nominees
  • 5 best actor nominees
  • 5 best actress nominees
  • 5 best supporting actor nominees
  • 5 best supporting actress nominees

When the nominations were made last month, I only needed to see these seven films to achieve my expanded goal:
  • Animal Kingdom - best supporting actress Jacki Weaver
  • Another Year - best original screenplay
  • Biutiful - best actor Javier Bardem -- and also best foreign film
  • Blue Valentine - best actress Michelle Williams
  • The Fighter - best picture, 3 best acting nods, best director, etc.
  • The Illusionist - best animated film
  • The King’s Speech - best picture, 3 best acting nods, best director, etc.

Well, I completed my goal last Sunday -- with a week to spare! Here are my quick reviews of these seven -- and three more films I saw that garnered some nominations (but that I hadn't previously reviewed). All other reviews for films nominated in these key categories can be found by clicking on the FILM REVIEWS archive icon at left.

Animal Kingdom

A crime family unravels in this Australian film that I found a bit too slow. Jacki Weaver is fine as the matriarch, but her nomination wrongly excluded some more worthy candidates (e.g., Mila Kunis in Black Swan). The main focus is centered around the matriarch's teenage grandson played by James Frecheville. The lead's performance is too wooden to be absorbing. Enough twists occur to hold your interest, but this was my least favorite of the bunch -- and I cannot recommend. Grade = C+

Another Year

There is something magical about director/writer Michael Leigh's movies. You feel like a fly on a wall watching real-life human interactions -- rather than actors on the screen. A married couple who have remained happy into their autumn years are surrounded over the course of the four seasons by family and friends who all suffer some degree of unhappiness. The movie has a great message about taking responsibility for your own life and your own happiness. Terrific performances by Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen -- all who were robbed of nominations.
Grade = A-


Javier Bardem turns in another amazing performance in this Mexican film set in Barcelona, Spain. Bardem is a street criminal with two children, a bipolar estranged wife, a guilty conscience and a terminal disease. This film is dark, gritty and most of all, depressing. But Bardem's performance is unforgettable. Grade = B+

Blue Valentine

Michelle Williams earned her second nomination as half of a young couple in a dissolving marriage. And Ryan Gosling was robbed of a nomination for playing Williams' husband. The movie escapes being a total downer by interspersing scenes of their meeting and courtship. Excellent performances in a raw drama. Grade = A-

The Fighter

Talk about excellent performances -- this movie is filled with them. It's about two brother boxers in a dysfunctional family. One whose career has passed (Christian Bale) and one who is out to make a name for himself (Mark Wahlberg). Melissa Leo plays the matriarch and Amy Adams plays Wahlberg's girlfriend -- and both prove once again why they are two of our top actresses (competing against each other for supporting actress this year). Oscar-nominee Bale is nearly unrecognizable as the drugged-out former star. Great story, great direction, great performances. Grade: A-

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Included here because of its visual effects and art direction nominations. But the magic of this first half of the series conclusion goes well beyond technical recognition. This time around, the story really concentrates on the three young wizard leads -- and boy, have they've grown into these roles. The captivating story and visuals combine to make this the best film in the series to date. Grade = A-

How to Train Your Dragon

Nominated for best animated feature, the film has no chance against the far-superior Toy Story 3. But it's still a fun film in its own right -- about a young teenager earning validation in a mythical Viking world. The animation is top-notch and the voice acting of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig are well cast. Grade = B

The Illusionist

Also nominated for best animated feature is this French film. Every scene is like watching an artist's masterpiece painting. The beautiful visuals help carry a sometimes slow and simple story about an aging magician who befriends an adoring young woman. Amazingly, there is hardly any dialogue -- but ultimately, you'll still find deep meaning in what is conveyed. Grade = B+

The King's Speech

If you're a lover of history, I cannot recommend this British movie enough. Colin Firth plays King George VI (father of current monarch Queen Elizabeth II), who works to overcome his stutter with the help of Lionel Logue, an unorthodox speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush. The two men become friends as they work together, and after his brother abdicates the throne, the new king relies on Logue to help him make a crucial radio broadcast at the beginning of World War II. Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter (as George's wife -- who we all knew later as the Queen Mum) are at the top of their game. This beautiful film is more than just a history lesson though -- it's a rewarding exploration of true friendship. Grade = A-

Winter's Bone

Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence is a revelation as a teenager trying to keep her family together in a dirt poor Ozarks town -- while her mother remains in a catatonic state and her father is missing. It's one of those movies that will make you glad you have the life you live -- because there's always someone out there that has it worse off than you. Also earned nominations for best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting acting (John Hawkes). Depressing, but uplifting just the same. Grade = B

There you have it -- my final film reviews (more on that big news later). And a reminder to check back tomorrow morning for my predictions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

MusicMonday: Valentine's Day Edition Credit

Just a reminder -- the FREE $2 mp3 credit from expires at 11:59 pm PT tonight! Steps to redeem:

  • Click here or the image at right
  • On the right-hand side call-out box, click "Redeem a gift card or promotion code"
  • Enter coupon code VDAYMP3S

You can buy individual songs (starting at 99 cents) or apply the credit toward full albums. Some album selections you may want to consider:
  • Songs For Swingin' Lovers! by Frank Sinatra is on sale today for only $3.99 -- click here to sample or purchase. It is Valentine's Day after all!
  • There are 100 albums for sale at $5 each here -- including last night's Grammy winner for best album, The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. Also included are other Grammy favorites Recovery by Eminem and Need You Now by Lady Antebellum.
  • 50 past Grammy-winning albums are also on sale for $5 each here.

Free Downloads
  • Is classical music your thing? Then download The 50 Most Essential Romantic Masterpieces here.
  • Or maybe you prefer jazz? Download Carol Welsman's "Be My Valentine" here.
  • Finally, Lady Gaga's new album Born this Way comes out May 23. If you're thinking of buying it, maybe you should consider Target's Deluxe Edition version which includes exclusive bonus tracks. And if you pre-order it by February 26, you can download the title track for free now. Details here.

Want more free downloads? Well, don't forget to continually check the following sources -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office

  • The race for the top spot at the weekend box office is so close -- it can't officially be called til Monday. According to estimates, Sony's Just Go With It opened to an estimated $31 million from 3,548 theaters. The poor reviews for the Jennifer Aniston/Adam Sandler comedy didn't keep audiences away -- as early Valentine's Day celebrators were looking for a rom-com. If the film hangs on to the top spot, the film will be the 11th Sandler film to open at #1 domestically.
  • Just behind, Paramount's Justin Bieber: Never Say Never far outpaced expectations in grossing an estimated $30.3 million from 3,105 locations, including 2,156 higher-priced 3D runs.
  • Never Say Never's cume is now $31 million when adding in the $740,000 grossed from special screenings last Wednesday.
  • In third place, Disney's 3D family entry Gnomeo & Juliet did strong business in debuting to an estimated $25.5 million -- the best February opening ever for an animated pic.
  • Focus Features' Roman epic The Eagle, the weekend's fourth new wide opener, came in on the high end of expectations. At #4, the Channing Tatum-starrer grossed an estimated $8.6 million.
  • Although it looks to be the best weekend so far in 2011, the domestic box office still couldn't catch up with last year, partly because Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday in 2010. Revenues were down more than 25%.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of True Grit and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources:, Hollywood Reporter

Monday, February 7, 2011

MusicMonday: Free Music! Credit

Amazon is offering a FREE $2 mp3 credit that expires next Monday, February 14. Steps to redeem:

  • Click here
  • On the right-hand side call-out box, click "Redeem a gift card or promotion code"
  • Enter coupon code VDAYMP3S

Free Downloads
  • Download a free track from Tres Mts.' forthcoming new album, "Three Mountains" here. The group features dUg Pinnick (King's X), Richard Stuvered (The Fastbacks) and Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam). The new album comes out next month.
  • Here are 14 Valentine's Day tracks from Amazon -- including one from Band of Horses.
  • Also from Amazon, download REM's newest single "Oh My Heart" here or by clicking the image above.
  • Through February 11, receive a free mp3 from Roger Baker's album “Nothing’s Changed.” Just go to and in the contact form fill out your name, email address, in the comment section: “I would like the free mp3!” and your free mp3 will be emailed to you within 24 hours.

Want more free downloads? Well, don't forget to continually check the following sources -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office

  • Despite consistently poor reviews, Sony/Screen Gems' thriller The Roommate topped the weekend box office -- grossing an estimated $15.6 million in its debut.
  • Despite the extra bump from higher-priced 3D tickets and James Cameron as executive producer, Sanctum couldn't crack the $10 million mark in its debut. However, its $9.2 million opening gross was better than Universal anticipated -- and good enough for #2.
  • Last week's #1, New Line/Warner Bros.' The Rite, slipped to #6 in its second weekend -- a steep 62% decline.
  • Though a solid start for The Roommate, the overall box office was down more than 23% from 2010, when Screen Gems' Dear John opened to an especially good $30.5 million. Usually, Super Bowl weekend is hard for Hollywood, with theater traffic dropping substantially on game day.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Final weekend figures will be released on Monday.
  • Reviews of True Grit, Black Swan and other movies not in the top 10 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive icon at left.
  • Sources:, Hollywood Reporter