Academy of One: Best Picture 2011

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

I had a really hard time with this year. Mostly because of how tepid I felt about several of the contenders for Best Picture. Out of the nine nominated, I can tell you I will be eliminating five of them. That gives me six slots to fill with some of my own picks.

I’ll try not to bash on those I remove too hard. They aren’t bad movies, although at a rotten score of 46% (out of a possible 100%) for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on Rotten Tomatoes, you can’t call them all particularly good either.

If I spend any more time on this introduction, I won’t have much more to say down below, so let’s get to it. Here are the nominees as they stand.

  • The Artist

  • The Descendants

  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

  • The Help

  • Hugo

  • Midnight in Paris

  • Moneyball

  • The Tree of Life

  • War Horse

As I mentioned up top, these are not my top choices for the best films of 2011, so I would like to introduce you to eight other contenders. Here’s my list of possibilities.

  • Beginners

  • Bridesmaids

  • A Dangerous Method

  • Drive

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • The Ides of March

  • Pariah

  • A Separation

Beginners has a grand scope on the small tragedy that is losing someone you love just as you’re getting to know them. It’s reexamination of the past relationship and how that affects the present is woven perfectly with the present circumstances of falling in love and not knowing how to sustain intimacy. The film is deft at examining grief while still eliciting genuine laughs.

Speaking of laughs, the Academy generally has an issue with awarding uproarious comedies, which is likely why they ignored Bridesmaids as a contender for the top prize, but readers, it is a great film. Not only is it funny, but it has pathos and some scenes with great dramatic truth. It’s well-acted and superbly written.

A Dangerous Method is a film about a years long conversation between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. They discuss what psychoanalysis should be and the ethics of the relationships between doctors and patients. There are great scenes of dialogue and even better scenes of incredible, sexual tension.

Drive is a lot like its nameless protagonist. It’s calm, sweet, competent, and a powder keg waiting for its spark to unleash tremendous violence. This film is a stylized and visual feast in the very best ways, but it also has a beating heart in the loyalty and affection between the protagonist and his neighbor, Irene.

The American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shines above the Swedish version because of the superb casting as well as the incredible eye of David Fincher. The grim world of the book is incredibly rendered in this adaptation and it reminds us why Fincher is a master of the thriller genre.

The Ides of March is a film that deftly weaves an intriguing tale of a presidential candidate who has the ideals and straight talk of the perfect progressive candidate with his political advisor who believes in the mission and the man more than he should. It seems a bit quaint by today’s political scandal standards, (He had sex once with an intern? BFD) but the film unravels into a web of political backdoors and jockeying for the right leverage. It’s a great political fable and a meditation on loyalty in the dog eat dog political world.

Pariah is such a powerful coming out story, told through the eyes of a young, black, lesbian poet. The story is simple enough, but it’s never melodramatic, it always feels grounded in the moment and the reality LGBTQ+ people face. It’s brilliantly acted and shot with an eye toward the intimacy of hate, fear, lust and abandonment.

A Separation is an incredible family drama that hinges on whether or not a man caused his father’s caretaker’s miscarriage, a charge which would label him a murderer in the eyes of the law. It’s a film with many deep layers about truth, love, and family that’s incredibly well-acted and well-shot.

All right, I know which of these I will fill into my list of nominees, so I need to go back to the original list and let you know which of them get the axe. Here is that list again.

  • The Artist

  • The Descendants

  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

  • The Help

  • Hugo

  • Midnight in Paris

  • Moneyball

  • The Tree of Life

  • War Horse

O.K., I have my five. Let me start with the easiest elimination I’ve ever made in this series so far, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

I don’t really want to write about the source novel too much, but to say it is one of my absolute favorite books of all time and I was predisposed to dislike this adaptation. Yet, I can write, without a doubt, a misinterpretation of the source material wasn’t the big problem, it was about not defining the world the film takes place in well enough.

There’s barely an explanation of why Oskar is who he is or why he needs certain totems or circumstances to feel safe. There’s little explanation for anything. It was a confusing attempt at making a film that could stand apart from the book. It felt as if the writer and director wanted to wink and nod at certain references, but without the overt text they just add to the confusion. The film is a bit of a mess with tiny bright spots in between.

Next, I have to go with The Help. It’s not a bad movie, but what its real problem is is the strange practice that has plagued films about pivotal moments of race relations and civil rights in the United States and abroad. There is a white savior.

I’ve referenced this term before, but I don’t think I’ve defined it. It is the trope or practice of having a white protagonist as the only one who can lift up people of color out of their circumstances, completely disregarding and eliminating their agency.

Go back and look at any movie with a message about race from at least the past forty years and you’ll find countless examples of this trope. The Help is an egregious example and to laud it as a great film is to reward the sad, unnecessary, and damaging behavior.

After that, I will eliminate Hugo. I enjoy the main story of this film, but for some reason, likely source material, there is an ensemble element that drags the film down for me. It loses focus very easily and when the main story is strong enough, as this one is, that loss of focus is damning.

I also think I missed something in not seeing this film as it was meant to be seen, in 3-D, but film shouldn’t be restricted. You should be able to come at it from any viewing angle and have the experience be untainted.

Then, I have Moneyball. The acting is blasé, the story is interesting and the subplots drag. You’d think a script by Steve Zallian and Aaron Sorkin would pop and have heart, but this one just leaves me cold and I think it could be the fault of one of my favorite punching bags, Bennett Miller. His direction is static, the actors have no emotions, and we get only one of those inspiring moments that make baseball, or sports movies, so uplifting.

I guess I’m either taking my hatred of math out on this movie, or I’m just disappointed that a movie about sports was about commercialization, the worst aspect of sports. I would have much rather seen a film about the actual team attempting to win games than the wheeling and dealing of anonymous names that mean nothing to me.

And lastly, I’m going to take out War Horse. You all know I love Spielberg, likely more than the average person, but this movie isn’t worth the effort. It’s fine and it highlights a lot of British actors who are now very famous, but there are some really odd things that feel out of place. Namely, the attempts at humor. Spielberg can be good at humor, but this is bizarre humor that’s such a riotous tonal shift that I’m completely taken out of the film.

Seriously, what’s with that goose?

I also really lose interest in a film that depicts people of different nations, but doesn’t allow them to speak in their native tongues. I was honestly confused between French and German soldiers at certain points. I think native languages would have helped with that significantly.

Now that I’ve made a little room on the list, I have my six contenders to add to it. Here’s what will join the remaining original nominees.

  • Beginners

  • Bridesmaids

  • Drive

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • Pariah

  • A Separation

Here’s what the list looks like with my additions.

  • The Artist

  • Beginners

  • Bridesmaids

  • The Descendants

  • Drive

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • Midnight in Paris

  • Pariah

  • A Separation

  • The Tree of Life

With that major shift in films, the real question is, will The Artist retain its title as Best Picture? Short answer, no.

The best picture of 2011 is The Tree of Life. Like most of Terrence Malik’swork, the film is narratively loose. It has a beginning, middle, and end, but how it gets there and which pieces are which is a puzzle to be put together.

I love this film not only for its dazzling celestial and tertiary effects, but because of the incredible meditations on nature and grace or as the conflict is more commonly referred, nature vs. nurture.

The two representations war with each other, grace as represented by a nurturing mother and nature as represented by a logical father. They fight for influence over their son’s destiny.

It’s hard to go into great depth because it is a film that begs to be seen and to be thought about. It has such beautiful and lyric representations of brotherhood, family, hatred, anger, jealousy, grief, joy, passion, fear, shame, greed, and so many more. The Tree of Life truly runs the gamete of human emotions.

It represents the evolution of the planet Earth and how insignificant our existence is in the grand scheme. Everything was here before us and it will be here long after we’re gone. Our lives are a microcosm of that chaotic, yet predictable existence.

The Tree of Life is able to slice off a big piece of these macro ideas to disseminate it beautifully into the intimate arena of how our nuclear family shapes us and guides our individual destiny.

Here are a few other films from 2011 that are well worth your time as well.

  • Another Earth

  • Attack the Block

  • A Better Life

  • Contagion

  • Crazy, Stupid, Love.

  • 50/50

  • Margin Call

  • Martha Marcy May Marlene

  • The Muppets

  • Shame

  • The Skin I Live In

  • Super 8

  • Take Shelter

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

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