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That a genuine chunk of rogue cinema, such as Darren Aronfsky's take on ballet as one of the bleeding arts, gets into the Academy's inner circle of 10 Best Picture nominees, is cause for celebration. A win would be too much for the fogeyish Academy, except for awarding star Natalie Portman. But Aronofsky walks the high wire as he leads us into a dancer's tormented mind. The swirling hand-held camerawork of Matthew Libatique, coupled with a Clint Mansell score that channels Tchaikovsky's ecstatic dread, adds to the whirlwind.
The underdog boxers of Rocky and Million Dollar Baby went on to win Best Picture Oscar titles. The Fighter, about "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a street rat from Lowell, Mass. who bumped along nearly anonymously in the 1980s before taking a welterweight title, has all the elements. Micky also fought killer battles outside the ring, with his manager mom, Alice (Melissa Leo), and his older boxer half brother, Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), a junkie ex-con. Director David O. Russell gives the movie heart and muscle. But will it be enough to KO a stammering King?
In a better Oscar world, Christopher Nolan's hallucinatory dream epic would be a serious contender. But Nolan's lack of a nomination for Best Director (Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!) shows Academy voters out of tune with the blue-flame intensity of a movie that features Leonardo DiCaprio as a professional invader of the subconscious. Inception dreams big. The middlebrow Academy definitely does not.
The Kids Are All Right
Among the 10 nominees for Best Picture, Kids is the best film about about family and its power to hurt and heal. As directed and co-written by Lisa Cholodenko, gay marriage is the subject here, but not the issue. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are thrown when their two kids ask to meet the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) who fathered them. It's a sitcom premise, but Cholodenko and the actors keep it raw and touchingly humane.
The 10 Best Movies of 2010
The King's Speech
Oscar loves bowing down to royalty and British accents. And there's no reason the golden boy won't do it again in the face of this true story of stammering King George VI (Colin Firth) and the eccentric Aussie therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who unties has consonants. Under the astute direction of Tom Hooper, two men alone create an epic landscape of feeling.