Fighting towards awards

Allen Law's Oscar picks are all dramatic and intense, but which will ultimately win Best Picture?

Last year the Academy chose to double its field of Best Picture nominees from five to ten, and it seemed to be the right choice.

But for months and months, ten nominees looked like far too many this year. “Inception” was a spectacle. “The Social Network” has been on lock for multiple Oscar nods since its first trailer.

But where was the crossover appeal?

Where were the adventure-turned-social-commentaries of 2009, like “District 9” and “Inglorious Basterds?”

December could not have come too soon. With “The Fighter,” then “Black Swan,” and finally “True Grit” each wide-releasing a week apart, movie buffs finally had a good reason to get out to their local cinema.

“True Grit” was perhaps the most anticipated, with spectacular previews, a trio of star leads, the original’s Oscar pedigree and the Coen brothers at the helm of it all.

First-time actress Hallie Steinfeld steals the show as Mattie Ross, as she shows plenty of strength and just enough emotion to depict both the courage and tragedy that her character embodies. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon also both turn in fine comedic performances, drawing the Coen’s typical sort of dry chuckles.

But the brothers mucked this one up a bit. We don’t see the villains, especially Josh Brolin, until near the end of the film.

This not only felt like squandered talent, but also caused the plot to lack the immediacy, danger, and fear of their masterpiece “Fargo.” Mattie is supposed to show grit, but against what? A little snow and cold?

I live in Meadville. I’m not impressed.

Like “True Grit,” “Black Swan” is earning most of its press from fantastic acting. Whether I like it or not, Natalie Portman seems to be a shoe-in for Best Actress. She excels as a psychotic ballerina straining desperately to hold it together.

Mila Kunis matches Portman as her foil, and famous French actor Vincent Cassell is also quite believable as the onscreen director of the “Swan Lake” performance.

With the exception of “The Hurt Locker, “Black Swan” is easily the most unsettling film I’ve seen in a very long time, especially with its Hitchcockian use of sex to lure you in before the horror.

And to all the guys reading: you might not think you’ll like a ballet movie, but this truly is a shocking psychological thriller.

Indeed, on these merits “Black Swan” is superb, but it lacked the thematic consequence necessary to declare it a masterpiece.

Yes, Aronofsky toys with the doppelganger motif, but these “doubles” teach us more about character development than a universal truth.

While all three films feature great acting, “The Fighter” was this year’s best, thanks to David O. Russell’s pioneering, risky directing. On the surface it might seem like a predictable underdog story, but the film encourages its viewers to consider the tale’s seedy dishonesty, in addition to the love and hope it provides.

Russell expertly blends Micky’s and Dicky’s stories into a potent depiction of our devolving middle-class American pride, without eliminating the film’s laugh-out-loud comedy.