Oscar Re-Do: 2010

You know the drill. Winners in bold, then we break it down.

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Should have won: The Social Network
Not even nominated: Shutter Island

It felt wrong in the moment and feels even more wrong now. While The King’s Speech is exactly the kind of uplifting and historical film the Academy usually goes for, it’s at or near the bottom of this group of nominees. Especially when you’ve got an all-timer like The Social Network. I’ve written about this film a lot for this site (which launched in 2010), and there’s no reason to rehash all that here. The King’s Speech is a totally decent film, but it pales in comparison to a masterpiece like The Social Network.

So swap it (or The Kids Are All Right) for the expert chills of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, which was a massive hit but fell prey to to the Academy’s strong aversion to horror. It’s on a very short list of Scorsese films that weren’t nominated for a single Oscar.

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
David Fincher, The Social Network
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

Should have won: David Fincher
Not even nominated: Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

If losing to The King’s Speech was bad, this was an outright insult. Tom Hooper has made only one great film (his soccer drama The Damned United) and several doozies. Fincher is one of the greatest living filmmakers, and this should have been his in a walk.

So adios to the winner of this category, and hello to the endlessly inventive Edgar Wright. Scott Pilgrim isn’t his best movie (that’s either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz), but it was his chance to play in an enormous sandbox. The effects budget alone eclipsed some of his previous efforts, but his sense of play wasn’t hindered one bit.

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Should have won: Jesse Eisenberg
Not even nominated: Robert Duvall, Get Low

As I mentioned last year, for most of the decade I wished Bridges and Firth had swapped wins. But while I remain a fan of both actors, they both got showed up by the new kid on the block. Eisenberg, who had really only broken through the previous year with Zombieland and Adventureland, turned in a flawless performance as Mark Zuckerberg. He’s an asshole from the get-go, condescending to his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, memorable in just two scenes). He gets revenge for her dumping him in a way that combines his misogyny and technical prowess, creating the Facebook. But no matter how many levels of success he attains, this version of Zuck is motivated solely by how he felt mistreated or overlooked in college. He’s a technical genius but an emotional monster. Knowing what we know now, and how Facebook has only had a bigger influence in the last decade, The Social Network went easy on him.

As stellar as this line-up is, I’d have swapped one previous winner for another. Bardem is the best part of the overwrought Biutiful, but it actually hampers his gifts by giving him a lot of Oscar-friendly tropes (suffering from a disease, a big cry scene and a big yelling scene). Instead, I’d prefer the fifth slot go to Robert Duvall’s more jovial dying man, a hermit who plans his funeral while he’s still alive.

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Emma Stone, Easy A

While four of the five women here are giving astonishing performances, Portman stands above them. Black Swan works as well as it does because she delivers on the madness inherent in Nina well before she goes off the deep end for her art.

To this day, I do not understand how The Kids Are All Right got four Oscar nominations. It’s a film that just didn’t work for me. So as much as I love Annette Bening, she’s absent now, replaced with Emma Stone, who anchors the classic high school comedy Easy A. Riffing on both John Hughes and Nathaniel Hawthorne, she delivers the perfect combination of cleverness, sass and vulnerability.

Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Andrew Garfield, The Social Network

It’s still shocking to me that this was Christian Bale’s first nomination. After a decade as a child star and another giving legendary performances in the likes of American Psycho, The Machinist and Rescue Dawn, he finally got his due as Dicky Edlund, the crack-addicted brother of a boxer on the rise (Mark Wahlberg, in one of his very best turns). It’s a very showy performance and contains the hallmarks of Bale’s best-known work: lots of tics, extreme weight loss and impeccable accent work. But it works perfectly. He still manages to make Dicky flesh and blood.

And not to rag on The Kids Are All Right again, since it brought Mark Ruffalo a long overdue first nomination, but that slot belongs to Andrew Garfield. How he missed when The Social Network got so many other nominations is a little bewildering. This was many Americans’ first exposure to him, and he goes toe-to-toe with a locked-in Jesse Eisenberg and a perfectly over-the-top Justin Timberlake.

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Should have won: Amy Adams
Not even nominated: Lesley Manville, Another Year

At the time, there was a lot of chatter that Leo wouldn’t win. Not because her performance was bad, but because she campaigned too hard. Her Oscar thirst didn’t backfire, and she won. But as good as she is, the award should have gone to her co-star. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s Adams’ best turn (that would probably be Arrival, for which she wasn’t even nominated) but she’s fiery here, a side we don’t always see from her. Hailee Steinfeld is also terrific, but calling it a supporting performance is laughable.

As much as I’m a fan of Helena Bonham Carter, this is the stereotypical “supportive wife” role found in any number of biopics. So we’ll slot in Lesley Manville, who didn’t get her first nomination until seven years later for Phantom Thread. As Mary, the co-dependent alcoholic who constantly inserts herself into the lives of the Hepple family, her performance is painfully real. We all know this kind of person: claims to hate drama but actually thrives on it and creates it, claims to be happy as a single person but constantly needs a significant other, stuck in a rut but claims one big event (usually involving spending a large sum of money) will be the thing that will change their life. Manville plays her perfectly.

Another Year
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech

Should have won: Another Year
Not even nominated: Dogtooth

We’ve already established that The King’s Speech is out and The Kids Are All Right is not all right. And The Fighter is solid but its script is riddled with spots movie clichés. That leaves the most realistic and unrealistic movies of 2010. Inception was an awe-inspiring juggernaut that certainly had a wildly original idea, but its attempts at emotional depth came up a little short. (That’s a constant problem for Nolan, and I say this as a devoted fan.) Another Year is certainly not Mike Leigh’s best film, but its inter- and intra-family conflict feels absolutely authentic. Part of that is Leigh’s unusual writing process: He and the principal cast meet, discuss and rehearse for months to nail down the characters, then he writes the script. It’s collaborative but not improvisatory. For his skill and long career, he wins this time.

127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Never Let Me Go

The best line-up of any category this year, with an obvious and correct victor. If there had been room for one more, it would have been nice to throw a bone to Never Let Me Go. Regarded as unfilmable, Alex Garland’s script does a fantastic job of giving life to characters – played remarkably by Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield – who technically don’t have it.

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Despicable Me

Toy Story 3 also got nominated for Best Picture, so of course it was going to win here. It was neither surprising nor wrong. It’s top-tier Pixar. But this was the last year the category had only three nominees. So that meant worthy projects like Tangled and Megamind got the shaft. And before it became a billion-dollar juggernaut, Despicable Me was just a clever, scrappy film about a master villain and his heart growing three sizes like the Grinch. It deserved a nomination here, too.

What else did they get wrong?

Biutiful (Mexico)
Dogtooth (Greece)
In a Better World (Denmark)
Incendies (Canada)
Outside the Law (Algeria)

Should have won: Dogtooth (Greece)
Not even nominated: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand)

Susanne Bier’s In a Better World cruised to victory, picking up the Golden Globe and several awards from European organizations. The film is all but forgotten today, but it gave Bier her ticket to the big leagues, directing highly-rated miniseries like The Night Manager and massive Netflix films like Bird Box. But few things compare to the absolute insanity of Dogtooth, about the worst parents in all of Greece. Their homeschooled kids are intentionally taught the wrong things about life and language, which leads to some violent results when they get a taste of the outside world.

And somehow the committee didn’t find room for Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Palme d’Or winner, a phantasmagoric processing of grief and loss that’s one of a kind. So peace out to the unrelentingly grim Biutiful.

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