Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Family Ranks the 10 Best Picture Nominees

So I decided to do something different. I wanted to get the opinion of someone who isn't a movie goer, film buff, cinephile, critic, historian, analyst, etc. I wanted to get an average person's opinion on some popular films. I ended up asking those closest to me, my family, to participate and they actually all responded to the idea with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. My grandmother (Eleanor Conn) loves movies so she is always trying to keep up to date as well as go back and catch movies that she missed. My parents (Maryanne and Anthony DiDonato) usually aren't sure which movies to watch so they usually end up watching the Oscar nominees for Best Picture and whatever else catches their interest. So below are their rankings (1 being the best), thoughts, and a little information about them (I also ask a few questions, some relating back to the Oscars which is what generated this list), but first, here is a reminder of the films that were nominated...

127 Hours Directed by Danny Boyle. Written by Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle (based on the book by Aron Ralston). Starring James Franco.
Black Swan Directed by Darren Aronofsky, Written by Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman, and John McLaughlin. Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis.
The Fighter Directed by David O. Russell. Written by Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, and Paul Tamasy. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo
Inception Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Christopher Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Kids Are All Right Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Written by Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko. Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo.
The King's Speech Directed by Tom Hooper. Written by David Seidler. Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. -WINNER
The Social Network Directed by David Fincher. Written by Aaron Sorkin (based on the book by Ben Mezrich). Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake.
Toy Story 3 Directed by Lee Unkrich. Written by Michael Arndt (based on characters created by John Lasseter). Starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.
True Grit Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (based on the novel by Charles Portis). Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Hailee Steinfeld.
Winter's Bone Directed by Debra Granik. Written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell). Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Dale Dickey.

-Like I said, Ellie loves movies. Aside from the being the coolest 79-year old woman I know, she was alive back when some of the classics were released. She saw movies like Casablanca multiple times on its opening weekend and loves movies ranging from On the Waterfront to The Godfather to The Deer Hunter. Her favorite movie, however, is a complete surprise to me, but it goes to show how socially-modern of a woman she is. The movie being Adaptation (2002). She said no movie ever made her feel and think the way that did. She also considers Netflix the greatest thing ever invented. So without further ado, here are her thoughts as transcribed by me.

10. The Kids Are All Right
The fact that two women had the same sperm from the same man, it was silly. It wasn't meaningful to me at all. Don't forget, I haven't seen this recently (note- she saw this in November of 2010), but I remember not finding it dramatic or even comedic. It had a few "ha-ha" moments, but it didn't move me.
Did you feel unable to appreciate the story about the family because you couldn't get past the concept of the film?
I just couldn't get over the concept about the two women. It's not that it was hard to believe, but the situations they find themselves in, I just didn't care for it.

9. Toy Story 3
It was an animated film and animated films are just sometimes so make-believe to me. Not that all of them are, but this was definitely something a child would love. I'm not overly interested in them [the Toy Story series], but some of the lines they said were cute. Still glad I saw it.
Was there anything mature about it for you?
Yes, how entertaining it was. It entertained me. Everybody should still see it. Reminded me of older cartoons. A great family film.

8. Inception
The one where they ran on the walls? (Laughs) It was hard to follow, but I enjoyed the action in that. The chases, the snow scenes- the scenery was gorgeous. After you realize that scenes were in someone's dream, in someone's mind, it started to make more sense. Another movie that was completely different from what I'm accustomed to seeing. I liked the make-believe science of it all.

7. 127 Hours
That movie was troublesome to watch. Getting his arm stuck and how he gets free. I mean, what he did to try to survive and how something like that makes you think about how he would think about his past. He was thinking about things he should've done. Maybe he should've answered his phone. When you walk out of that movie, I feel like I learned a lesson. He didn't let anybody know about his life and where he was going. A lesson to be learned.
What did you think of James Franco?
Excellent. His anguish, his agony, his expressions, his feeling, his face, his demeanor- it showed what the character was going through. Oh, and the shots of the mountains and the skyline were absolutely breathtaking and beautiful.

6. Black Swan
I loved the costumes that she [Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers] wore, the swan costume. I was so focused on the fact that she was crazy. Actually, crazy isn't the right word. Obsessed. Obsessed with giving a spectacular performance. There's an attraction with this whole scenario for me. It was scary too. Made you frightened. It wasn't a comedy, that's for sure. (Laughs)

5. The Fighter
Took me back to when I would watch Joe Lewis and boxing. How that mother [Melissa Leo as Alice Ward] was always going overboard and at the end of the film it almost brings him [Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward] down. But, I think his family realized how they wronged him, even if not everyone was left in a happy place at the end of the movie.
Where do you think the character of Micky is left?
He knows where he is going and what he is doing. He seems okay with himself. He was a smart guy.

4. True Grit
That little girl [Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross] just showed me how courageous a younger person can be. She was very self confident. People kept trying to show her the way to be, but she would get her way. When she trusted that U.S. Marshal [Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn], he then saved her life. Great cinematography, the desert looked beautiful.
You mentioned to me that you thought Mattie Ross should be a role model for younger girls?
This kid, growing up, was going to always know what she wanted to get done. Actually, not so much what she wanted, but what she needed to get done. She was not weak, she showed how strong a girl could be. This reminded me of the kind of person I wanted to be at that age. They [Cogburn and Matt Damon as Labeouf] thought she was a stupid kid and she gained their respect, confidence, and even their love. She is saying, "I'm no jerk." They realize that and she earns all of that from them.

3. The Social Network
Don't forget, you're talking to an almost 80-year old woman and this movie just showed me how a young man today can be so forward-thinking and how people like that can become so noticed. It gave me insight into what privileged college life must be like now. What pressure these types of people are under- peer pressure, social pressure, academic pressure. For that alone, it was a must-see movie for me.
What did you think about the relationship between Mark and Eduardo?
He wasn't a true friend to Eduardo. He [Mark] was almost jealous of others. He wanted to be in the clubs and he was awkward and he tried to polarize everyone around him in his own unique way and he is then left alone at the end.

2. The King's Speech
Although he [Colin Firth as King George VI] was royalty, he knew he had a disability and tried to keep that out of the limelight. His struggle was touching and he had such determination to overcome [his stuttering]. His wife wanted to help him because she loved him so much and she stood by him. What he does to overcome his stutter through practice was hard work, but he persevered.
What did you think of Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue?
He gave a good performance. Lionel showed his true self by not treating the King any different from anyone else. He was a good soul and that was probably why he knew he could help the King.

1. Winter's Bone
I went into that movie and my heart just opened up to that character. It was her [Jennifer Lawrence] acting. It felt so real, so honest that she [Lawrence as Ree Dolly] had to help her mother and her siblings, but you can tell that she had some feelings for her father. That sent her on a mission, one that she accomplished. In that movie, the cinematography, when she was thinking and walking, I felt like I could walk on those leaves with her. I felt I was there because of the visuals. Outstanding. The directing of the story was spectacular. I could shut my eyes and see images from that movie that are so clear to me.

Tony DiDonato
-My father is 53-years old and is a steel manufacturing contractor. His favorite movie is probably The Godfather.

10. The Kids Are All Right
It holds your attention, but it's somewhat predictable. I think at some point it tries to over-emphasize the relationship between the women as if the movie is trying to make a point as opposed to letting the relationship feel natural.

9. Black Swan
It was confusing as to what was real and what wasn't. I realize that is part of the intention of the movie. I thought both actresses [Portman and Mila Kunis] were pretty good and they were believable characters.
Did you think Natalie Portman's performance was worthy of winning Best Actress?
The best performance, no. A good performance, yes.

8. Winter's Bone
It was a little slow. A little beating around the bush, trying to get to the point of it all. They [the filmmakers] had a small story and they tried to make a larger movie out of it.
Did it have any redeeming qualities for you?
Yes. The actress [Lawrence] gave a really good performance.

7. Toy Story 3
You need to see the earlier ones to get the basis of the relationships between the characters. Being that it was the third one that we've seen, you know the characters so it is just a matter of a having a level enjoyment and entertainment.
How enjoying was it for you?
It was the difference between going to an amusement park or a museum. One is just pure entertainment and the other is more intellectual. Since this wasn't anything new, it was pure entertainment. I knew what to expect.

6. Inception
Considering it's science-fiction, they [the filmmakers] presented it to make you think that this was something real and that it could be done. It had somewhat of the "Lost" [the TV show] feeling to it where they could just for the sake of the movie, make up and say whatever they wanted and then they make it work. They did a good job of trying to make you think it's real by explaining it, but like I said, since it's science-fiction, the quality is in how they present the science to the audience. When you sit down and see a movie, you want to be engrossed. It's a balance of not boring the audience and keeping them interested and I was interested. They pulled it off.

5. True Grit
I don't remember much of the similarities between the John Wayne version and this one, but the acting and especially the actress [Steinfeld] was unbelievable. It held your attention. The action was suspenseful right up to the end.

4. 127 Hours
If it wasn't based on a true story, I don't think I would watch it. Knowing the fact that it's based on a true story, your attention is maintained.
What did you think of James Franco?
The acting is what holds your attention too. The performance was exceptional. The way it was delivered and then with the flashbacks, that added to it.

3. The Fighter
I enjoyed the underdog prevailing in spite of adversity with his family. The boxing scenes were realistic which added to the enjoyment of it. By the end of the movie, him [Micky] and his brother [Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund] are in a better place so far as their relationships which also made the movie interesting.
Did you think Christian Bale and Melissa Leo were Oscar-worthy?
I thought Christian Bale's performance was worthy. Not so much for Leo, though a nomination was deserved. His girlfriend [Amy Adams as Charlene] was a good character too.

2. The Social Network
That was purely interesting to me just because of knowing what a phenomenon Facebook is. I knew some of the history of the story between the twins suing and what have you. Knowing about the success of Facebook, I wonder if somebody who had no idea what Facebook is if they would like it as much as someone like myself did. Either way it was a good movie that had a good story and it holds your interest. I didn't know when it was going to end, the fact that it can keep you off balance like that was a good thing. Good themes to it.

1. The King's Speech
Knowing that it was based on truth as well made it quite an amazing story. To think that the leader of a country was so affected by his inability to speak and that they [the filmmakers] were able to make a movie that was very emotional and could hold your attention. You wanted to see more. I didn't want it to end because I wanted to see what happened to the King. They were also able to introduce some humor into the story very well. Lionel, more than the King's wife seemed like a stronger character and supporter. The therapy scenes were pretty amazing.
Did it deserve Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor?
Yes to both.

Maryanne DiDonato
-My mother is 54-years old and is a hospice nurse. Her favorite movie is also, probably The Godfather.

10. The Kids Are All Right
I didn't like it. I thought the story was predictable and it could be because of my age, a younger person might find it interesting, but I didn't. I think that it was popular because of the relationship between the characters played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore and I felt like that was what was marketed, but it felt like any other story. Especially with her [Moore as Jules] going with that guy [Mark Ruffalo as Paul] and Bening's character feeling hurt by that and then the kids are suffering- I didn't think it was interesting. Maybe it is because I missed out on the details, I didn't think the characters were that interesting.

9. Black Swan
Strange. It was a good story because it was sort of looking at her [Portman as Sayers] going crazy and losing it because of the pressures of the career, which could be really any type of person involved in performance. She [Portman] was amazing and Mila Kunis was good too. Kunis's character was definitely a manipulator. She knew what was going on and she took advantage of Portman's character. Good portrayals by the actresses.

8. Inception
Yeah, that was above my intellect. I couldn't follow it. I suppose if you could follow it, it could be a fantastic story and I just wasn't able to follow it and therefore have it keep my attention. I think that's more my flaw than anything. I expect movies not to challenge me to understand it (Laughs). That being said, DiCaprio was amazing. His acting is just like, "wow." He is always believable and he was emotional. He [Dom Cobb] seemed like a real character to me.

7. The King's Speech
I'm not really a fan of that many British movies to start with, but I did like how the King's wife supported him and she was just so behind him. I don't normally like Helena Bonham Carter that much in other movies. Colin Firth was okay. Geoffrey Rush was amazing.
Did it deserve Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor?
I could see why people liked it. Though, definitely not for Best Actor. Especially not with Wahlberg, DiCaprio, and Franco's performances.

6. Winter's Bone
I think that the setting and the cinematography were just so connected to the story and the sad downtrodden characters. The environment and the dreariness of the winter and the cold just emphasized and tied into the story in an unique way. It couldn't have worked in a hot environment. It [the winter] represented the harshness of that life that people live. The uncle [John Hawkes as Teardrop] was interesting and so was the girl [Lawrence as Dolly].

5. Toy Story 3
I love Toy Story movies. It was cute and engaging. They are always nice stories with nice themes that are appealing to adults and children. The animation is amazing. I love Woody and the themes of growing up.

4. True Grit
I really liked that story. I liked Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges was really believable, it didn't seem like he was acting. He [Cogburn] just seemed real and I liked his "coolness." Matt Damon too with how harsh he was and it was a little out of character for his usual kinder characters that he plays. The setting and the costumes, I really liked. I hate when movies are contrived and so simple that when they try to entertain you it feels silly. This movie didn't feel silly, it felt real and that is a tribute to the people who handled all the details from the horses to the clothing to the landscape. Similar to Winter's Bone for me.
What did you think of Hailee Steinfeld?
She reminded me of the girl from Winter's Bone. The fact that she is fourteen, wow. Looking forward to seeing her in other films.

3. The Fighter
As much as I tend to dislike Christian Bale, he was amazing and the relationships were so dysfunctional, but it felt real like I keep saying about other movies. Mark Wahlberg is always incredible and it was just a deeply emotional movie because you see how much these characters love each other and the raw emotion behind that love. Deep movie. Deeper than some of the other movies I've seen maybe because I liked the setting too. (Laughs) I love Boston. The mother and her daughters, as supporting characters, added a lot to the believability of the plot. Sometimes you just love the people you love no matter what, even when it hurts. I liked Amy Adams too.
Did Christian Bale and Melissa Leo deserve Oscars?
Definitely. Wahlberg was overlooked too.

2. The Social Network
I liked it and I liked the pace. Very modern-feeling movie. It has a lot of short and important scenes. Sometimes you see a scene that goes on and on and on, but this story was tied together with quick scenes making it an interesting movie. It seemed like a factual account of what happened. I don't know all the details, but it makes me think this is how it happened in real life. I think he [Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg] screwed over people for money. The main character wanted more and he wanted to be on top so he wasn't fair to others. He was Machiavellian. Sure the movie has those wider themes as well. He wanted things more than having a friendship. Especially with Eduardo, Mark sacrificed his integrity so he could own it all. That's the impression I got.

1. 127 Hours
I loved it. I didn't expect to be as engaged in Franco's performance, but it was on par with that of Tom Hanks in Cast Away. For a single character in such a simple setting, to keep it interesting is an example of phenomenal filmmaking. He deserved his nomination for Best Actor. It has a great message. That message is that you need to have connections in your life.


  1. Wow. This was really interesting and entertaining. It's great to get multiple perspectives on movies from family members who aren't all movie fanatics. Nice job.