â€” it’s something we do every day that Hollywood does once a year during awards season. Who among us can’t appreciate putting some films in a cage and letting them duke it out until there’s only one left standing?
This year there were nine nominations out of a possibility of ten in the “Best Picture” category. The films and their producers are:
- “The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer
- “The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
- “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer
- “The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
- “Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
- “Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
- “Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
- “The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined
- “War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
Despite the major studios’ insistence on making primarily mega-budget, tent-pole, comic-book, sequel-remake, monster-alien-scifi films as their bread-and-butter, challenging and compelling original films do get made every year through alternative means. And, despite the harping and complaining we all do, there always seems to be a great crop that bridge the divide and are worth saluting. Those are the kinds of films that the Academy Awards gravitate to as their nominees.
Because we are diligent culture-watchers operating here at The Smack, we come to this day well-prepared. We’ve had each of the nominated “Best Picture” films in the Smack ring already. Not all of the films below even won their Smacks, but we’re not telling which ones. Â 😉
This offers us the chance, here in this single post, to create a gateway for you to lots of fresh writing, keen observation and (of course) a general lack of respect for authority, cinematic or otherwise. It gives me a chance to brag about the talent of Art Tiersky, Eric Volkman, Nicole Marchesani, Mark Sanchez, Rebecca Coffindaffer and Ben Silverio; their work is all available below. The really great artwork below and above is all from Lynda Karr.
If you want to go straight to any of these reviews, just click on the graphics and away you’ll go! Â Each Smackdown has a poll embedded in it and some of them are just amazingly close, so check them out.Â After you’re done, drop by our Facebook page and let us know your own thoughts.
The Artist -vs- Singin’ in the Rain
(Review by Nicole Marchesani) Computer-generated effects, 3D, surround soundâ€¦ Itâ€™s hard to believe there was a time when the biggest challenge in filmmaking was incorporating the sound of characters talking. The 1952 classicÂ Singinâ€™ in the Rainpays homage to that task while showcasing some of the greatest song-and-dance of its era. With the introduction of talking pictures and color soon to follow, everyone in Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon, and silent, black-and-white films almost instantly became a thing of the past.
Why would anyone want to return to such a time, when it was clear, even back then, there was no market for silent films? Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius, the writer/director ofÂ The Artist, disagrees, and heâ€™s out to prove that with creativity and talent, anything is possible.Â The Artist,Â Hazanaviciusâ€™ silent black-and-white film that opens this week, is already getting a heavy Oscar buzz, but will it make the same kind of lasting impact on moviegoers as its rival, or should we stick with the classics and encourage filmmakers to keep looking forward instead of back?Â Click Here to Read the Full Smackdown>
The Help -vs- Driving Miss Daisy
(Review by Rebecca Coffindaffer) Social upheaval. Economic strife. A wildly unpopular war. And racial bigotry that will forever tarnish a great countryâ€™s history. If it all sounds familiar, itâ€™s because the problems of the 1960s are still pretty much with usâ€¦ which is why movies about that era will probably always be popular. Itâ€™s so nice to look back in time at the battles for social justice that weâ€™ve fought and won. It helps us forget for a few hours how much work is still left to do.
One of Hollywoodâ€™s favorite ways of remembering this period is through the partnerships and friendships that formed between ordinary blacks and whites and the ways they sometimes worked together to make things better for all of us. Civil rights stories have been prominent in cinema since D.W. Griffithâ€™sÂ IntoleranceÂ in 1916, but in 1989,Â Driving Miss DaisyÂ pretty much set the template for telling a certain kind of â€˜60s story, winning four Academy Awards in the process.
Now we have another soft-focus take on the era withÂ The Help, based on Kathryn Stockettâ€™s novel, which was as much of a phenomenon as Alfred Uhryâ€™s 1987 play,Â Driving Miss Daisy, was a game-changer off- and later on Broadway.
CanÂ The HelpÂ andÂ DaisyÂ co-exist in perfect harmony? Not in this Smackdown. There can only be one winner. Click here to read the full Smackdown>
Moneyball -vs- The Social Network
(Review by Eric Volkman) Every once in a while, we have a Smackdown decided purely on brain power and wit rather than muscle. Thatâ€™s the case with this edition, which pits the new baseball drama,Â Moneyball,Â against the Facebook origin saga,Â The Social Network. The heroes of both films, the Oakland Athleticsâ€™ intellectual general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in the former, and hyper-ambitious computer wonk Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in the latter, are portrayed as iconoclastic eggheads introducing disruptive new concepts to their respective fields.
In the case ofÂ Moneyballâ€™s Beane, the fresh idea is â€œsabermetrics,â€ a groundbreaking new way to analyze playersâ€™ statistics to determine their suitability to staff a team, as opposed to relying on more basic stats and old-fashioned gut instinct. Zuckerbergâ€™s landscape-shifting realization is that Internet surfers need a convenient, far-reaching online base to connect with other people they know and want to interact with. Attempting to realize their respective visions, both men run into numerous roadblocks, including but by no means limited to grouchy old coaches, recalcitrant managers, angry twins who apparently donâ€™t understand how to solicit work under contract, and a highly offended female student body. Our protagonists, however, are whip-smart guys who quickly learn to surmount obstacles by intelligence alone. So considering that, the question is, which brainiac will be able to outfox the other to win this Smack? Â Click here to read the full Smackdown >
The Tree of Life -vs- The Fountain
(Review by Mark Sanchez) The universe is full of mystery: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? If God exists, why does He allow evil? And perhaps most perplexing of all, how did not one, butÂ twoÂ Hollywood productions in the last five years attract major financing for projects tackling those kinds of questions without linear stories that film critics, not to mention common moviegoers, could understand?
Well, the good Lord works in mysterious ways, and in the case of writer-director Terrence Malickâ€™sÂ The Tree of Life(now in theaters) andÂ The FountainÂ (2006), written and directed by Darren Aronofsky with help on the story from Ari Handel, we are arguably better off for it.
Reactions are all over the lot on Malickâ€™s latest opus, and so is the film, which examines a Texas familyâ€™s extended life and reaches for an emotional link connecting it to all of creation. Aronofskyâ€™s metaphysical missile, on the other hand, describes a parabola between life and death, attempting to shed light on lifeâ€™s essence through a sort of tag-team narrative, part of which deals with a literal search for â€” wait for it â€” the tree of life.
Both films are big, beautiful, Bible-quoting productions with A-list casts trying to piece together mosaics answering lifeâ€™s Big Questions. Luckily, here at the Smack, we have a much simpler question to consider: Which if either of these films comes out on top in their battle to achieve cinematic immortality? Â Click here to read the full Smackdown >
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close -vs- Reign Over Me
(Review by Art Tiersky) Â Iâ€™d imagine a screenplay or a novel about grieving families of 9/11 victims must have been quite difficult and risky to write in the first few years following the attack. Now, having boldly faced the task of writing a snarky column comparing two movies about 9/11 grief, I can entirely sympathize with those intrepid, suffering screenwriters. Hell, someone had to write this Smackdown, and if I didnâ€™t, who would? (A: Probably one of the other Smackers. Thereâ€™s like a jillion of us now.)
Anyway, save the tears; Iâ€™ll be okay. Letâ€™s just jump right into our most sorrowful Smackdown yetâ€”at least since the one we posted earlier this week, pitting Angelina Jolieâ€™sÂ In the Land of Blood and HoneyÂ against the tragic, true story,Â A Mighty Heart. But no, this oneâ€™s right up there in terms of heart-wrenching, yet potentially edifying Christmas fare. Itâ€™s the 2007 buddy dramaÂ Reign Over MeÂ vs. the newly releasedÂ Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.Â Get ready to notÂ la-augh! Â Click here to read the full Smackdown >
Midnight in Paris -vs- Adaptation
(Review by Mark Sanchez) Â If thereâ€™s anything that sounds less appealing than watching the mental anguish of a blocked writer, we canâ€™t imagine what it is. In fact, we canâ€™t even begin to visualizeâ€¦ hold on a secondâ€¦ getting my thoughts straightâ€¦ just have to play some Spider Solitaire while I, umâ€¦ trying to focusâ€¦ Huh â€” I didnâ€™t know we had Cheetosâ€¦.
Fifteen hours later.Â Right, where were we? Oh yeah, writerâ€™s block â€” itâ€™s not pretty. Not cinematic either, until Charlie Kaufman came along and sweated blood for three years, cracking the code of how to translate to film his own innermost creative struggle in a deeply personal, throw-out-the-rulebook kind of way. His resulting screenplay for Adaptation became the Holy Grail of screenwriter movies, and under the brilliant direction of Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are), earned a slew of Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Kaufman and Jonze took their basic conceit to dizzying new heights, but the idea of basing a protagonist on oneâ€™s self and thrusting him into a world populated by famous characters, both real and fictional, has been done before â€” notably by Woody Allen. Now the Wood-Manâ€™s at it again with Midnight in Paris, the 44th film heâ€™s written and directed.
Two unhinged lead characters, two brilliant supporting casts, two ambitiously plotted mashups of a writerâ€™s comic trip down the rabbit hole. Anyone want some Cheetos? Click here to read the full Smackdown>
Hugo -vs- Pinocchio
(Review by Ben Silverio) Â Walt Disney and Martin Scorsese â€” two names that stand out in the pantheon of cinema legends. Both have made indelible contributions both to the world of film and to popular culture. Now, for the first time ever, theyâ€™re in the same weight class, so weâ€™re bringing them together for whatâ€™s sure to be a classic Smackdown.
Donâ€™t be fooled by the size and ages of the two title characters from their films in this bout. While they may be young boys, on their own, looking for their purpose in this crazy world, they each pack a Pacquiao-style punch in more than one department. Cinematically, technically and narratively, their stories are both groundbreaking and larger than life.
Fighting out of the Scorsese corner is Hugo, the legendary directorâ€™s new effort and his first foray into broad, family-friendly fare. Representing the formidable Disney empire is the second full-length animated classic produced by the House of Mouse, Pinocchio. Both stories originated from the literary world. Now, brought to life head-to-head on the big screen, only one can rule this boysâ€™ clubhouse. And donâ€™t say you know which it will be, or your nose might start growing. Â Click here to read the full Smackdown>
The Descendants -vs- The Boys Are Back
(Review by Art Tiersky) Â The good news is, ladiesâ€¦ your dream man is available! And you have your choice of two! And theyâ€™re both successful, and they live in beautiful beach towns! The bad news is, how they became available is a really sad story. Actually, two really sad but similar stories.
Oh, and after years of being a passive parent, each one is now suddenly, reluctantly responsible for raising two kids, a rebellious teen and a difficult youngster, on his own.
Oh, and one of them still sees and converses with his dead wife, and the otherâ€™s wife isnâ€™t technically dead yet.
Of course you are! You canâ€™t even decide which one youâ€™re more interested in. So letâ€™s take George Clooney in The Descendants and Clive Owen in The Boys are Back and let â€™em have at it for this special Gorgeous and Sensitive Widower with Kids Smackdown! Â Click here to read the full Smackdown>
War Horse -vs- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
(Review by Eric Volkman)Â Â Our contest is strictly confined to the animal kingdom in this edition of Movie Smackdown. The creatures competing in the bout are Joey, the title character of the Steven Spielberg-directedÂ War Horse, and the small dog/cat gang on a wilderness trek inÂ Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.
Despite the vastly different settings of the two (the trenches and no-manâ€™s-land of World War I in the former and the California wilderness inHomeward), the two are both family friendly, featuring epic journeys aimed at reuniting beasts and masters. Hard work indeed, but the hardest is aheadâ€”competing against each other in this Smackdown. Â Click here to read the full Smackdown >
My prediction?Â The ArtistÂ will take the Oscar homeÂ at the 84th Annual Academy Awards. On the other hand, it is in the best interests of Hollywood, the Oscar telecast and the media to make sure everyone believes it’s possible that something else could win. After all, no Oscar voter has a ballot in their hands yet and the more the pendulum swings in one direction, the more some people favor the underdog and root for an upset with their vote. So, you never know.
Still, it’s probably true that the other eight creative teams will be sitting in those seats at the Kodak Theater, hoping against hope with frozen smiles on their faces, waiting to be put out of their pain so they can get to the after-parties and the open bars.