2011 Academy Award Nominees -- All Ten Worth Seeing

Amazingly, all ten best picture nominees are worth seeing and therefore, for me at least, they provided an interesting rating challenge. I am a little disappointed that some "professional" critics felt it necessary to tear into a few of these films. While not a movie critic, I do write book reviews for BookscapeStL so I know the temptation. You look for anything you can criticize. After all, critics are paid to be critical. Some mistakenly think overzealously picking apart art makes them seem really smart (as does forcing internal rhyme into prose). Longtime movie critics are no doubt super-attuned and therefore easily tend toward cynicism. They might need to regain their equilibrium. Okay, so in order to recover my own balance, I’ll stop being critical of critics. (On the other hand, I hate movie trailers when they steal the best lines and scenes. I’d much rather read general info about the film, then go in cold.)

I didn’t intend to see all ten Academy Award Nominees for Best Picture. But I saw half of them without knowing they’d been nominated and then, pleased with the result, still enjoying myself, went to the last two. Common characteristics ran through many of the movies. One was a true story, three others were based on true stories, and three more were "realistic." Additionally, five have strong female characters. So, before I rate the ten best overall, I rate the ten most realistic and the ten with the strongest female characters.

For all ratings, 10 = least best ("worst" doesn’t apply here) and 1 = best.


For Realism

10. Toy Story 3. No big surprise. This is Pixar. How realistic can a cartoon be?

9. Inception. Again, shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Last I checked we couldn’t shoot guns, steal money, and bend time by manipulating our dreams.

8. Black Swan. Psychologically potentially realistic.

7. True Grit. Landscape, language, characterization, and historical accuracy (as long as you don’t nit pick -- amazing at some of the online arguments about the age of characters, Civil War regiments, and dates).

6. The Kids Are All Right. Family drama made no less true by its lesbian couple.

5. Winter’s Bone. I live on the edge of the Ozarks in St. Louis county, and have 35 years of first-hand experience with Ozark culture. In Winter’s Bone, it is depicted with absolute accuracy.

4. The King’s Speech. Sort of based on a true story. Not ranked higher because it has such a slick feel to it, as if it were tailored to win Best Picture.

3. The Social Network. Based on a true story. Could be accurate, but still based on one viewpoint.

2. The Fighter. Based on a true story. Ranks higher than The Social Network mainly because of cinematography. At the beginning I felt like I was literally in a cheap paneled basement of my childhood.

1. 127 Hours. A true story.

Strong Female Characters

10. Toy Story 3 had a fairly asexual tone, despite Mrs. Potato Head, Barbie, and the cowgirl.

9. 127 Hours is about a man trapped in a canyon. Female characters are limited to a few scenes near the beginning.

8. The Social Network. Briefly, in one or two scenes, the Zuckerberg girlfriend was strong, otherwise, the women tended to be objectified.

7. Inception. Ellen Page’s character should have been strong, but wasn’t for whatever reason.

6. Black Swan. Natalie Portman’s character isn’t "strong" in the conventional sense, but the struggle with her own identity can be admirable. Mila Kunis is seductive.

5. The King’s Speech. Helena Bonham Carter as the King’s wife displays dedication, courage, and quiet persistence.

4. The Kids Are All Right. Annette Benning and Julianne Moore display characteristics we should want in both our mothers.

3. The Fighter. Amy Adams as the fighter’s girlfriend, and Melissa Leo as the fighter’s smothering bossy mother are both strong willed and relentless.

2. Winter’s Bone. Ree Dolly as the 16-year old girl trying to unravel her fathers mysterious disappearance displays courage, resolve, and true, gritty smarts.

1. True Grit. Hailee Steinfeld is the strong willed 14-year-old seeking revenge for her father’s death.

SNL Black Swan Spoof

Where the River Splits

Best Picture

10. Toy Story 3. Voices by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, and so on. Normally, I’m not a fan of animated movies, Pixar or otherwise. When my kids grew out of that phase, I was grateful for "the circle of life" putting me back on top. I’d seen the first Toy Story and thought it predictable with two-dimensional characters. However, Toy Story 3 added depth to the characters and pushed them into situations that tested them in unexpected ways. Won’t win the Best Picture award because, as Time Magazine says, it’s "a cartoon." The critics seemed to love it.

9. Inception. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page. Many might question this ranking. After all, the movie was fast paced and it kept you on your toes. However, for me, Inception got so caught up in its dream within a dream within a dream premise that the underlying story and themes became muddled. NPR’s "Best Picture Cheat Sheet" calls it "super-complicated." And Ellen Page seemed in over her head next to DiCaprio. My son claims that I have to see it twice. While I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, should you be required to see any movie twice to fully appreciate it? Critics seemed split on this one.

8. The Kids Are All Right. Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo. NPR describes it as "a surprisingly tricky comedy-drama about a lesbian couple." I would add "pleasantly" surprising. My son and I didn’t know what to expect. Neither of us was aware it had been nominated. While we might have enjoyed lesbian sex scenes (we’re two guys after all), it wasn’t necessarily a story about lesbianism. As movie critic Ella Taylor writes "the action progresses to a ringing endorsement of traditional family values and an homage to the sheer hard work that goes into building, maintaining and defending a family."

7. The Fighter. Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale. I didn’t want to see this movie, convinced that it would be just another well-worn "Rocky" story. But since I’d seen the other nine, I wanted to "complete" my viewing experience. However, after the jangling beginning, the characters carried this movie to its expected but at the same time refreshing ending. Critics generally liked The Fighter.

6. Black Swan. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder and Vincent Cassel. I struggled with rating this above The Fighter. NPR describes it as "a tense, pervasively kooky psychodrama." Like The Fighter, the beginning seemed too long and too artsy, but it transformed into a weird internal struggle. Critics tended not to like this film. And, in hindsight, it is easy to poke fun at. Maybe because I went in with low expectations, I enjoyed it, and I am sticking to my initial assessment. However, I equally enjoy the spoofs. See Jim Carry SNL skit below.

Note: My top five were extremely difficult to rate. They are all uniquely excellent.

5. The King’s Speech. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. Strangely, I have a hard time coming up with much to say about this film. While it was excellent (you should see this film), I don’t have much of a desire to see it again. King George VI stammers and an Australian speech therapist helps sort of cure him so that he can give wartime speeches. Colin Firth’s acting will likely win him the award. Critics loved this film.

4. The Social Network. Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is depicted (probably accurately) as a socially isolated misfit. Who else to "invent" Facebook? The dialogue was excellent, fast and incisive. Leaves you wondering if Zuckerberg was really that much of an ass, and pretty sure that Sean Parker was. Entertaining, informative to a degree, and socially important. Critics generally liked this film with some reservation.

3. Winter’s Bone. Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Dale Dickey. From a novel by Daniel Woodrell. Made in the Missouri Ozarks, captures the criminal element of that culture perfectly. The landscape is perfect and while the story seems simple, it builds in intensity and gains a uniquely Ozark significance. Critics liked Winter’s Bone.

2. 127 Hours. From Aron Ralston's book, starring James Franco. At first glance, a movie about a guy trapped by a boulder in a canyon doesn’t seem like it could provide much of a story. He gets stuck, cuts off his arm, gets free, and hikes out. End of a true story. The facts are depicted as accurately as possible, the clothing, the location, and the equipment. However, this seemingly straightforward story becomes much more, a character study, a struggle with the vastness of nature, and ultimately an uplifting narrative of the human spirit and drive for survival. The most realistic of the ten, Time Magazine points out that "some viewers passed out from shock while watching the movie." Some critics panned it, referring to "Jackass -style gross-outs," Aron Ralston's "lack of imagination," and the director relying on "grisly stuff." Maybe you need to have had harrowing outdoor experiences (as I have) to fully appreciate this movie. But if that’s true, then it’s too bad, and critics need to put on their boots and go for a hike.

1. True Grit. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. From the novel by Charles Portis. Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. In the 1969 original, John Wayne won his only Oscar as the drunkard marshal Rooster Cogburn. The Coen Brothers version adheres to the novel. True Grit ranks highest mainly because of the witty dialogue and excellent timing. Critics generally liked True Grit, but David Edelstein wrote "amusing and impressive as it is, is an arm's-length experience without much emotional power." Even if true for him, so what? In fact, the humor embedded in realism makes this movie rise above those with "emotional power." Though not required, True grit is worth seeing again. One online viewer commented that it had "too much dialog" and that it wasn’t "badass" like the trailer made it out to be. No doubt this viewer lives in an Ozark trailer and thought he was headed toward a Chuck Norris or Steven Segal film. (Okay, I know, I couldn’t finish without at least sounding like a gritty, cynical, true movie critic.)

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Comments 31 comments

Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi deblipp, thanks for the comments. You make a good point.


deblipp profile image

deblipp 5 years ago

The true story trend has been pretty solid for quite a while now. Oscar loves a biopic.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

scribble, my radar for recognizing rhetorical questions must be rusty, but regarding the contest, likely not, but you never know. I'm working on so many other projects at the moment... mostly having to do with publishing ebooks. Also, I have several clients needing my attention. Good luck to you, however. And I agree with you about the teenage son's lines... delivered well, and funny. Thanks for coming by for another comment.


i scribble profile image

i scribble 5 years ago

I was referring to the interesting characters, and the "guess why" was intended to be rhetorical. No other interpretations occurred to me until after I posted. I thought the teen-age son had the best (funniest)couple of lines in the movie, and so natural and believable.

Do you plan to enter the daily April writing contest on Hubpages? Is $50 enough of an incentive to bother? I hope I will find the time to enter a few articles, obviously not for the money. It's the challenge and the freedom to write about anything you want that appeals to me.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi scribble, yes, I loved Memento, saw it twice, forward (not backwards). Not sure why you liked Kids... all the characters were excellent, so maybe you have a thing for Mark Ruffalo, you're married I see... maybe your partner is female, or maybe not, maybe you recognize the family dynamics. Wow, that "guess why" opened up lots of questions. But you did ask me to guess...


i scribble profile image

i scribble 5 years ago

Above, I was referring to Christopher Nolan's film Memento. That one was good enough to top most any top 10 list, in my opinion. Didn't depend on sci fi and special effects.


i scribble profile image

i scribble 5 years ago

The Social Network was my favorite this year. Found Mark Z. character fascinating. I also loved the characters in the Fighter--the druggie brother and the Tonya Hardingesque girlfriend. Loved the crusty Jeff Bridges character in True Grit, also the little girl. So for me, I guess it's mostly about the characters. The Black Swan was scary, but again, good character depth. Liked The Kids are All Right. (Guess why.) Enjoyed the King's Speech, but not as much as any of the above. Agree with your comments on it. Did'nt see 127 Hours or Winter's Bone. Wasn't impressed with Inception. His earlier film--what was it?-- was much better, I thought. Agree with your critique of Inception. Would like to see Winter's Bone, after reading your comments. Can certainly see why you picked Winter's Bone and 127 Hours as numbers 2 and 3, based on your personal experiences and the relatability factor. Enjoyed this Hub.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi James, Hope all is well with you (but not necessarily with your politics). Thanks for stopping by. An amazingly good and wide range in best pictures this year. Hope you get a chance to see the others.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

I did see "Inception" "Winter's Bone" and "Social Network." I found each of them to be extraordinary. Thank you for the expert analysis of all of these fine films. I enjoyed reading your work here. Well done!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Good info. Tarrantino is great can wear whatever he likes.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

....Tarrantino's encyclopedic knowledge of film comes from the fact that he used to work in a video store - and as a film director he is a terrific 'choreographer' who really knows how effective any movie scene can be with the right choice of music - others directors who 'conduct' their films this way are Kubrick, Scorcese, Woody Allen, Fellini, Hitchcock (with Bernard Hermann - and Leone with Ennio Morricone!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Rhetorical question for the day -- Has Tarrantino ever worn a tutu?


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

..yes I saw Nureyev dance too ...near the end of his career. And Baryshnikov a couple of times and because I live close to Toronto here in Ontario, Canada - I supported the National Ballet of Canada and have seen most of the great dance companies in the world .....


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

..yes you are right Jeff about everything in life being relative - and it's all about time, place, mood and context when viewing any film at any point in one's life.

That said, I agree with you on Pulp Fiction - although Tarrantino may be an aquired taste for some - and yes anything by David Lean - like Doctor Zhivago, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia ... is fine by me!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

I added more to my list but didn't get it done in time. Bridge Over the River Kwai. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Easy Rider. Wizard of Oz. And I liked the Back to the Future and Indiana Jones series in the 80's. But holy crap, it was hard enough for me to rate this year's films. Good luck with listing the best of all time.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Regarding the top ten, I'm not sure. I agree that The Searchers, Clockwork Orange, and Wild Bunch are worthy; but movies tend to come and go, relevant in context to our personal experience and development at the time of viewing. Having said that, however, some do come to mind. Lawrence of Arabia. Pulp Fiction.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi epigramman. While I can't say that I adore classical ballet, I do have a very good friend who runs a dance company in Chicago and I saw Rudolf Nureyev dance, 1982, Washington DC Kennedy Center. Impressive. And you are correct about the British. I'm reminded of it every time I am in public with my British neighbor. The women flock to him as if he were more intelligent merely because of his accent.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

..also Jeff ...Colin Firth will win best actor - and The King's Speech will win best picture and Natalie Portman for the Black Swan - there must be something fascinating about the royal family to the Americans because as you know Helen Mirren won for playing the Queen - I guess America's royal family were the Kennedys!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

....well I simply adore the classical ballet so the SNL spoof was very much enjoyed and I have always loved the Trockadero des Monte Carlo ballet company (all men in drag but done with class and respect) - and yes we are on the day of the big awards show so this hub is very timely and appropiate.

It must be about money and promotion when they have to extend the nominations of best picture from 5 to 10.

Are there really 10 pictures in any year worthy of this category? The Academy Awards for me, and I am a big film buff, is for fun only - and not to be taken too seriously! I thank you for taking the time to put this hub together - it seems like a labor of love from you - would you indulge me with your top ten films of all time - here is mine, and keep in mind they change every week ...... and in no particular order -

1. Blue Velvet by David Lynch

2. A Clockwork Orange by Kubrick

3. The Wild Bunch by Peckinpah

4. La Traviata (film adaptation of Verdi's opera)

5. The Discreet charm of the bourgeois by Luis Bunuel

6. The Haunting (the original in black and white - not the remake - directed by Robert Wise who also did The Sound of Music)

7. Taxi Driver by Marty and starring Bob

8. Requiem for a dream by the director of the Black Swan

9. The Searchers by John Ford

10. Distant Voices, Past Lives (an English film by Terence Davis about the war years)


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks Rhonda. Many of these are out on DVD, and none of them seem to be a waste of money. Thanks for stopping by and wishing you the best as well.


Rhonda Waits profile image

Rhonda Waits 5 years ago from The Emerald Coast

Excellent hub and a great review. I am a movie buff. I love to go to the movies. I usually wait till they get a rating from someone else. We can not afford to waste our money these days. Excellent voted up.

Sweet wishes Rhonda


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Hi Cogerson. Thanks. Yes, that would be cool. Great movie.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Excellent hub, I like your thinking....it would be awesome if True Grit could surprise and get the Best Picture oscar...voted up


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks prasetio30.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks Doug. Tough business, isn't it? I used to be part of a theatre company here in St. Louis and tried my hand a writing a play. I of course thought it was an indication of my genius at the time. Unfortunately, the company folded and I was unable to convince anyone else that I was really smart. Cleveland? Hmm, my family was from Columbus.


Doug Turner Jr. 5 years ago

Jeff, I started out writing screenplays when I lived in Los Angeles from 2001-2008. Though I'm back home in Cleveland, I have a writing partner in LA that I still colaborate with. He's connected to the biz, and sends me scripts generally about six months before the movie comes out. We're constantly developing film and TV scripts, and always pushing for that big break.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Nice review bout Academy Award Nominees 2011. Well done, my friend. Thanks for writing this. Vote up. Take care!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Interesting. Why did you read the script and where was it available? You are correct implying that we shouldn't care about what actually wins. Last time I checked, no one in Hollywood is signing my paychecks.


Doug Turner Jr. 5 years ago

Interesting stuff. I just saw Black Swan and couldn't believe how scary it was. Way more terrifying to me than your standard summer horror flick. The Social Network was very well done, edgy, but doubtfully best picture material. I read the script for True Grit and thought it was great, though I haven't yet seen the movie. You may be correct in your assessment that True Grit deserves best picture, but Hollywood is as rigged the big-time wrestling, and the Coen's just had a best picture two years ago. I'm going to say... King's Speech as best picture, with the Fighter being runner-up (if such a thing existed). Cheers Jeff.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis Author

Thanks ImChemist. Appreciate you dropping by and rating.


ImChemist profile image

ImChemist 5 years ago

Thanks for your beautiful hub that i rated beautiful.

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