Friday, February 26, 2010

The Best Films of the 2000s (Part II)

(Quick note before I conclude my rundown of the decade's best films: In addition to this list and my compendium of the Best Performances of the 2000s, I also considered compiling a list of the decade's best individual scenes. I worked on this briefly before determining such a monumental task to be untenable. First of all, while these superlative-style lists tend to focus on recognizing excellence – hence the moniker "Best of" – even bad movies have good scenes (see: this scene in Crash), making such a catalog somewhat incongruous. More importantly, while I'm reasonably confident that I can remember all of the great movies I've seen over the past 10 years, I'm equally confident that in no way can I recall every great scene. I've just watched too many films, meaning I'd inevitably leave out a terrific set piece, and then I'd hate myself. So, no dice.

I can, however, with absolute certainty, declare what would have been my number one choice had I followed through and created such a list. It's this one. Nothing else even comes close.)

Alright, in the words of Kurt Russell in Tombstone, let's finish it. If you missed Part I, revealing slots 11-25, check it out here. And now, for the Manifesto's 10 Best Films of the 2000s:

10. Casino Royale (2006). "It's barely even a Bond movie!" my buddy Tom decried upon seeing Martin Campbell's exhilarating reboot of cinema's longest-running action franchise. But that's exactly the point. Casino Royale indeed bears minimal resemblance to most of the James Bond films that preceded it. Those pictures prided themselves on their suavity and sophistication, transforming harrowing espionage into winking, globe-trotting fun. Most did so winningly, but as the action genre evolved, the levity of the typical Bond film grew increasingly anachronistic. With Casino Royale, Campbell (who also helmed GoldenEye, easily the best of the Pierce Brosnan Bonds) wrests the franchise from cheerful irrelevance, delivering not a cavalier joyride but a kinetic, gripping, and surprisingly powerful film. The movie isn't without humor – its script bristles with wit – but it is a deeply serious picture, and it is the first Bond film since 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service that focuses more on character than action. Sure, James Bond is a crack action hero, but here he's more: flawed, obsessive, stunningly vulnerable. In his inaugural performance as 007, Daniel Craig makes the iconic superagent his own, pairing a Brosnan-esque charm with his personal brand of purposeful lethality, while Eva Green and Mads Mikkelsen ably challenge him as romantic and villainous foils. For his part, Campbell keeps viewers guessing with repeated misdirection; who could have envisioned a Bond film in which the signature car chase lasts a mere 64 seconds? Before Casino Royale, you knew what you were getting from a Bond movie. Not anymore.

9. Finding Nemo (2003)
. It's become a bit of a cliché to praise Pixar films for their uncanny ability to appeal to both children and adults. Well, I'm not a child, and few who know me would consider me an adult, but I adore Finding Nemo all the same. And while I couldn't care less if it has "something for everyone", it certainly does seem to have everything. There's the dialogue, consistently hilarious and effortlessly quotable, as colorful as the film's sensuous landscape. There's the magnificent visual palette, resplendent with vibrant hues, sharp textures, and dark shadows. There's the story, a tender tale of father-son love that doubles as a searching exploration of the bonds of friendship. Above all, there's the headlong sense of joy that the film promulgates, sweeping you up in its current of enthusiasm and vivacity. So perhaps Finding Nemo does have something for everyone – most great movies do.

8. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
. Easily claiming the title of "most misunderstood movie of the decade", the Wachowski Brothers' follow-up to their 1999 masterpiece is just as invigorating. Action filmmaking can be a tiresome genre exercise, but in the service of a robust, multi-layered plot, it can ascend to high art, especially in the hands of visionaries such as the Wachowskis. Wielding their stylistic gifts with verve and alacrity, the Brothers construct one sequence after another of operatic elegance, most obviously the astounding freeway chase near the film's conclusion. Yet there is more here to see than exquisitely crafted action. The Matrix Reloaded may not possess the philosophical profundity of its predecessor, but it remains a deeply intelligent film, fully committed to exploring and expanding its ambitious universe of far-reaching ideas and revolutionist politics. Indeed, aside from the freeway chase, the movie's most memorable scene involves an extended verbal exchange between the messianic Keanu Reeves and a bearded, imperial magnate known as The Architect. Beleaguered critics often grouse that action movies are a recycled product, spinning a new variation on the same familiar themes. The Matrix Reloaded may be an action movie, but there is nothing recycled about it. It's all new.

7. Minority Report (2002)
. Steven Spielberg is often a bit of a sap, but the maestro may be at his most effective when he probes the chilly darkness of humanity, as in this bleak, disturbing science-fiction noir. Spielberg's technical virtuosity is in full force, creating an antiseptic, remorseless universe that hums with mechanical ingenuity but is scrubbed clean of human hope. Yet the immaculate production of Minority Report is really mere background; its true genius lies in its nefarious screenplay. Anchored by Tom Cruise's pragmatic, sturdy performance, the movie burrows ever deeper into its technological abyss, offering gradual revelations of those classic noir elements: corruption, conspiracy, murder. Yet despite its convoluted, suspenseful plot, there's a deep structural integrity to the picture – this is a twisty story that in no way cheats its audience. The film's impact, however, goes beyond its immediate characters. It will be remembered for its haunting vision of the future. The finale of Minority Report may sound a note of optimism, but what truly lingers is its evocation of our future as a landscape of sorrow and dread.

6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
. Following Christopher Columbus' strained, workmanlike adaptations of J.K. Rowling's novels, Alfonso Cuarón undoubtedly rescued the boy wizard from the purgatory of adequacy with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Yet it's Mike Newell's following installment that remains the franchise's cinematic peak, not to mention the best fantasy film ever made. Dispensing with the boyish wonderment that animated Columbus' films and instead amplifying Cuarón's focus on cloudy uncertainty, Newell creates both a marvelous entertainment and a bit of a jolt. Goblet of Fire is, of course, set within a world of magic, but it's also a taut, fast-paced, visceral thriller. Steve Kloves' screenplay nimbly trims secondary material from Rowling's book, and what remains carries with it an unprecedented intensity. There's plenty of wizardry to be found in the film, in both the canny execution of the action and the inspired realism of the acting, but there's also a gnawing sense of inexorability, as though Newell is propelling us helplessly toward doom. That doom manifests itself in the movie's pièce de résistance, a horrifying yet spellbinding confrontation between Harry and Voldemort (played with merciless ferocity by Ralph Fiennes) in a graveyard. And it's the solemn gravity of that encounter that elevates Goblet of Fire to greatness and, perhaps more importantly, significance: The games are over, the war has begun. It's a moment of deep catharsis, and it delivers an impact few movies achieve. Voldemort's quest is for immortality. Newell's film beat him to it.

5. Michael Clayton (2007)
. Is there such thing as a perfect film? Tony Gilroy's directorial debut (seriously, this was his first movie) makes me wonder. The movie is perfumed with an aura of pure excellence. Its compositions are immaculate, its screenplay is unyieldingly smart, and its acting is of the highest caliber. Yet it unfolds with an urgency that belies its artistry. Watching it, you're invariably oblivious to the fluidity of its cinematography and the nuance of its editing; instead you're simply mesmerized by its propulsive pacing and intricate plotting. This does not happen by accident. It takes tremendous skill to make the application of such technique invisible. Yet Gilroy isn't interested in flaunting his abilities – he just wants to tell his story, and he does so with quiet, controlled precision. The result is a haunting character study (wrapped in a conspiracy thriller, no less) that leaves an indelible imprint on the viewer. So perhaps the question isn't whether Michael Clayton is a perfect film. Perhaps it's this: How could it be described as anything else?

4. Memento (2001)
. Originality is not an end unto itself. Many bad movies are original. So when I say that Memento features the most original screenplay since Pulp Fiction, that's only half the battle. The remaining half is where director Christopher Nolan truly shines, and that's in applying his admittedly ingenious concept to an equally inspired narrative. In story terms, Memento traffics in standard noir tropes – the unreliable narrator, the femme fatale, the suspicious confidant – yet it turns those conventions on their head by running its story backwards. This breathtaking inversion obviously displaces us from our comfort zone, but Memento proceeds (or perhaps recedes?) with such clarity and coherence that we aren't disgruntled. Rather, we embrace the provocative challenge the movie imparts to us, partly because it's uniquely exhilarating to piece together such an intriguing mystery, and partly because Nolan creates a cunning synergy between his audience and his protagonist. We don't just sympathize with Guy Pearce's faux-detective who's afflicted with short-term memory loss – we are that detective. It's this sense of connection that enlivens the movie and elevates it from high-concept art to fascinating story. Memento is the type of picture that is destined to be duplicated for decades, but make no mistake: We'll never see its like again.

3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
. The problem with superhero movies is simple: Superheroes aren't real. And because they aren't real, we can't relate to them. Take Superman: It's difficult to empathize with a being who, if he doesn't like what's just happened, can fly out of the solar system and rotate the Earth back on its axis until time retreats to a point where he can set things right again. But Peter Parker: Now he is real. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 isn't so much a superhero movie as a portrait of a decent, desperate, and distinctly tormented individual who just happens to have superhero-like abilities. The action scenes in the film are suitably spectacular (particularly the train sequence), but they're relatively few in number. The film's focus is on Peter's disintegrating relationships – with his aunt, with his job, with his friends with his academic career, and of course with his love, Mary Jane Watson. And it's because of this that we sympathize with Peter (it helps that he's played, in a beautifully compassionate performance, by Tobey Maguire), and this sympathy lends Spider-Man 2 both its immediacy and its emotional potency. The picture is expertly made, sure, but that's almost beside the point. The point arrives in one of the film's final scenes: It's a simple reaction shot, when Mary Jane finally affirms a truth she has long since known. There isn't anything particularly transcendent about the filmmaking involved – it's just a standard cutaway shot – but it's fortified by the sharp realism of the characters, and it makes me cry every time. Spider-Man 2 shows us the lives of real people, and in doing so, it enriches our own lives. Now that's heroic.

2. Wall-E (2008)
. I spend several hundred hours each year sitting in a darkened movie theatre, usually alone. One could argue this constitutes a lonely exist, but I'm never bothered, and that's because of the possibility of seeing a movie like Wall-E. If a single motion picture can double as a device that transmits pure happiness to its audience, this one is it. To watch it is to experience undiluted joy. Of course, I shouldn't allow my emotional connection with the film mitigate its stature as a supreme technical achievement. The animation in Wall-E is truly wondrous to behold, even more supple and nuanced than that of Finding Nemo (both films, not coincidentally, were directed by Andrew Stanton). The environments are richly realized, while the characters' movements are streamlined and elegant, near-balletic. Even the sound design – crucial for a movie with minimal dialogue – is a landmark, communicating a language all its own. But computerized tour de force though it is, Wall-E's most distinguishing characteristic is the graceful contour of its love story. That it principally focuses on two mute robots only confirms the universal power of movies. They can edify us, enrage us, entertain us, but most importantly, they can touch our hearts.

(Those interested in my full review of Wall-E can find it here.)

1. Atonement (2007)
. It could never have been anything else. In a way, Joe Wright's second feature is really Wall-E's antithesis, for while Wall-E made me happier than any other film of the decade, Atonement leveled me with its emotional force. Of course, Atonement, too, is a technical marvel. Wright's stylization is occasionally self-evident, but his craft is so masterful that his flourishes both enrapture his viewers – the tracking shot on the beach of Dunkirk will be immortalized in the annals of cinema – and serve his story. All facets of the production are impeccable, most notably Seamus McGarvey's cinematography, trading in both light and shadow, and Dario Marianelli's insistent, scarily immediate score, which functions virtually as another character. And the acting is of incomparable quality, most notably in Keira Knightley's radiant, fearless performance as a woman fighting fruitlessly but valiantly against the forces of destiny.

Yet this is all secondary. The true majesty of Atonement – the reason it has remained entrenched in my mind since I first saw it more than two years ago – lies in the aching tragedy of its doomed romance. Such a tale of star-crossed lovers is hardly original, but that in no way diminishes its power. To this day, I recall the end of the film with alarming clarity; never have I experienced such a feeling of unpolluted devastation. It might seem odd that I'm so enamored with a movie that damaged my psyche so acutely. I suppose I simply respect the essential power of cinema: It possesses the rare ability to affect us on an emotional plane. More than any film I've ever seen, Atonement illustrates this truism of movies. Nowhere else can the experience of such pure pain feel so utterly sublime.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

These predictions are five by five ...

What could the Manifesto's Oscar nomination predictions possibly have to do with the classic television show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"? I shall explain.

One of my favorite things to do as I walk through life is to make references to my favorite movies and TV shows whenever possible. It is, I find, one of the ways in which I add value to the world. For example, one of my proudest moments at my old job occurred when I pretended to stumble into a meeting and mock-screamed, "It's O.K., I'm here, we can start the meeting now!". My buddy Pat recognized the reference to Anchorman. He laughed. It was funny.

Alright, maybe you had to be there, but the point is that my brain tends to operate on this level, and I know I'm not the only one – everyone appreciates a well-timed movie reference. Of course, I recognize that, if abused, this technique can go from "amusing" to "tedious" to "I'm going to kill your family if you quote 'Seinfeld" one more time". (Judd Apatow recognized this as well, which is why for his brilliant TV show "Undeclared" he created a character who spoke exclusively in movie quotes and drove everyone around him completely crazy.) But for the most part, whilst in conversation, the spontaneous delivery of a pertinent movie reference constitutes an incredibly high form of humor. Like dick and fart jokes.

Now, some phrases become so prevalent that they get absorbed into the public's general lexicon, and people say them without even consciously referring to the source material. Current prominent examples include "No soup for you!", "That's what she said," and of course "Shiieeeet".

So, what does this have to do with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"? Well, to the best of my knowledge, "Buffy" never coined any such legendary lines that infiltrated the vernacular (although you could make the case for Willow's deadpan "bored now"), not because it isn't a spectacularly well-written show but because creator Joss Whedon doesn't gravitate toward standard comedic tropes. But if there's one phrase from the show that's somehow clamped itself onto my synapses, it's this repeated line from Faith, the fiery death-dealer played with spunk and verve by Eliza Dushku:

"I'm five by five."

What does it mean? I have no idea, and the best part is neither does anyone on the show except Faith; indeed, everyone on "Buffy" reacts to Faith's recurring pronouncements of her "five by five" status mainly by rolling their eyes. But for Faith, it's a mantra that seems to signify inner peace, contentment, and perhaps enlightenment. The genius of Faith as a character is that she's utterly incapable of knowing any such feelings, which makes her patented proclamation both maddeningly enigmatic and, in a surprising twinge of poignancy, a bit sad.

I could talk about Faith's existential dilemma and the beautiful contrast between her uncompromising ruthlessness and Buffy's world-weary doggedness for hours, but let's get back to the Oscars, namely my predictions. What's the point of this extended discourse? Well, if you asked me how I felt about my performance in predicting this year's Oscar nominations, I would respond with four simple words: I'm five by five.

To put it mildly, I fucking killed it. After falling well short of my goal of 80% last year, I came in at 89% this year, correctly predicting 40 of 45 nominees. In terms of my improvement, this was like Brad Penny pitching like a minor leaguer for the Red Sox, then switching coasts to the Giants and putting up a 2.59 ERA over six starts.

Will it last? Of course not. I'm completely convinced that this was a Brady Anderson performance (minus the steroids, of course) – one startling, MVP-caliber year sandwiched around a body of mediocre work. But in the meantime, I have to say, it feels good to be five by five.

(And if that entire "Buffy" analogy was a bit ham-fisted, well, I've been obsessed with "Buffy" for months now, and I needed to address it in some fashion sooner or later – frankly I'm amazed it took me this long.)

Alright, let's break down the categories (incorrect predictions are highlighted in red):

An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
Crazy Heart The Blind Side
Invictus District 9

Takeaways: Despite my obscene gloating, I can't say I'm thrilled with my performance in the Oscars' flagship category. I'm not remotely surprised by the inclusion of District 9, which possessed both a Producers' Guild nomination and a rabid fan base. I am surprised, however, by the inclusion of The Blind Side, which in my mind is the lowest-quality movie to earn to a Best Picture nomination since Crash. (And both starred Sandra Bullock. Coincidence?) I certainly didn't hate the film – in fact, I admit to enjoying it in part – but I nevertheless thought it was low-rent melodramatic schlock.

In a way, however, the nomination makes sense: As I discussed previously, the Academy's controversial decision to expand the Best Picture category to 10 nominees was expressly designed to bring mainstream, broadly appealing films into the fold; with an astonishing gross of $238 million thus far, The Blind Side certainly qualifies. And I won't be shedding any tears over the (somewhat) surprising failure of Invictus, a pleasant but not particularly memorable movie. That said, if the voters were insistent on recognizing popular pictures, I would have preferred it if they'd honored Star Trek (or, in a more perfect world, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), a slam-bang entertainment with a smart script to match its energy. Not to be.

Regardless, this nomination slate seems – at least temporarily – to justify the Academy's expansion, if only according to its internal logic. In addition to The Blind Side, it's virtually inconceivable that either District 9 or Up would have achieved recognition under the traditional model, and those are precisely the types of movies (commercially successful, passionate fans) that the Academy hoped its new scheme would embrace. (It's also gratifying that both of them are quite good.) It remains to be seen whether this will translate to ratings success, but if you're an Academy member, so far, so good.

Current favorite: The Hurt Locker. No contest, really. That said, it's more than a month until the ceremony, so things can change. But the combination of winning at the Producers' Guild plus Avatar failing to earn a screenplay nomination mandates that The Hurt Locker holds pole position at the moment.

(That said, if this year's Best Picture nominees were characters in From Russia, With Love, then The Hurt Locker would be James Bond, Avatar would be the crazy Europeans whom Bond is fighting, and Inglourious Basterds would be Robert Shaw's character, just biding its time, letting the heavyweights kill each other, then sneaking it at the end and stealing the prize. Don't say you weren't warned.)

Snubbed: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That said, I would like to take this moment to warmly congratulate the Academy for bestowing on Half-Blood Prince a Best Cinematography nomination. I frequently grouse about the Oscars' utter disrespect of one of cinema's most remarkable and consistent franchises – and with good reason – but this was an inspired choice, and a richly deserving one. Kudos.

(And I would like to take this next moment to bemoan Warner Brothers' recent announcement that both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be shown in 3-D. Thanks, Avatar. Thanks a lot.)


Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
James Cameron – Avatar
Lee Daniels – Precious
Jason Reitman – Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds

Takeaways: No red font here, although I can't claim to be too proud of myself. This is a straight match with the Directors' Guild nominations, and there was little doubt that any outsider would muddy the waters.

Current favorite: Bigelow. Although I wouldn't put it past Cameron to take $200 million of his profits from Avatar and discreetly wire it to a handful of voters' offshore accounts, just to ensure he doesn't get beaten by his ex-wife. The man has an ego, after all.

Snubbed: Tony Gilroy – Duplicity. The most underrated American filmmaker currently working had better receive some love from Oscar soon, or the movies are going to lose him to HBO.


Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
George Clooney – Up in the Air
Colin Firth – A Single Man
Morgan Freeman – Invictus
Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker

Takeaways: Ah, the sweet smell of success. Moving right along ...

Current favorite: Bridges. A few months ago, this was shaping up to be a duel to the death between Bridges and Clooney. I suppose it could still be a duel, to the extent that this was a duel.

Snubbed: Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man. I realize no one's ever heard of him, but it remains strange to me that A Serious Man has generally performed well on the award circuit – and scored two major Oscar nods – yet no one seems to appreciate the extraordinary quality of its acting, both from Stuhlbarg and scene-stealer Fred Melamed. Shame.


Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
Helen Mirren – The Last Station
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Takeaways: This quintet wasn't quite set in stone, as many pundits were plugging either Emily Blunt or Mélanie Laurent in place of Helen Mirren. I can't pretend to have kept Mirren on my slate based on her actual performance, as I've yet to see The Last Station (come on, Century Boulder, don't let me down now, you've been doing so well), but I do know that she's been Oscar royalty ever since she played real royalty in The Queen.

Current favorite: Bullock. Perhaps the strongest implication of The Blind Side's Best Picture nomination (other than it somewhat tarnishing the Academy's reputation) is that Bullock further extends her lead over Meryl Streep. Similar to the Bridges-Clooney situation, Bullock and Streep were slated to be in a fight to the finish, and while I'm not entirely convinced that Bullock already has her name engraved on the statuette, it's hard to look at the Academy's love for The Blind Side and think they'll give this award to anyone else, especially considering how completely her presence dominates the film.

Snubbed: Saorise Ronan – The Lovely Bones. A.O. Scott described her as "spookily self-assured". Indeed.


Matt Damon – Invictus
Woody Harrelson – The Messenger
Christopher Plummer – The Last Station
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

Takeaways: Invictus burned me in a few places, but it served me well here, as many had stripped Damon from their board. He was overlooked in the lead category for his stellar, low-key work in The Informant!, but there was no way voters could pass up his muscular performance as a world-class rugby player. And let's not forget that killer accent.

(Thinking about it though, with Invictus failing to garner nods for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, do we now have to reassess Clint Eastwood's stature in Hollywood? Last year, Gran Torino got blanked while Changeling hardly registered despite three nominations. Has the Academy crowned a new king? I'm not writing him off just yet – let's see how 2010's Hereafter does first.)

Current favorite: That's a bingo.

Snubbed: Peter Capaldi – In the Loop. Voters clearly took notice of this ferocious British satire (it earned a surprising mention in the Best Adapted Screenplay category), so how could they ignore Capaldi's wickedly funny, torrentially profane performance?


Vera Farmiga – Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air
Mo'Nique – Precious
Julianne Moore – A Single Man Penélope Cruz – Nine

Takeaways: Well, I couldn't stay perfect forever. I'm not particularly shocked by Cruz's inclusion (despite Nine's poor critical reception), though I am surprised that she bumped Moore rather than Gyllenhaal, as the latter was my sleeper pick.

Current favorite: Mo'Nique. Any concern about her refusal to play the campaigning game affecting her chances has vanished following wins at both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors' Guild. Poor Anna Kendrick doesn't stand a chance.

Snubbed: Mélanie Laurent – Inglourious Basterds. For once, Harvey Weinstein got it wrong; if he'd pushed Laurent in the supporting category, perhaps she would have gained recognition for her captivating portrayal of a woman both poised and petrified.


The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
A Serious Man – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Up – Bob Peterson and Pete Docter
Avatar – James Cameron The Messenger – Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman

Takeaways: That flushing sound just might have been Avatar's Best Picture hopes going down the drain. I'd maintained till the end that Cameron's epic had long enough coattails to rope in a nomination for its straightforward but serviceable screenplay. I was wrong. As for The Messenger, I can't say I saw it coming here, but it's always difficult for me to gauge the upset potential of movies I haven't seen (again, paging Century Boulder).

Current favorite: Hey, some uncertainty! I'd probably go with Inglourious Basterds right now, since it's perfumed with Tarantino's trademark style, and the Original Screenplay category actually rewards ingenuity. That said, no movie with the Best Picture credentials of The Hurt Locker can be discounted, while the Coen Brothers' distinctive stamp is just as memorable as Tarantino's. I also can't brush aside Up, with its giddily original story wrapped inside a heartwarming family dynamic. In short, The Messenger is the only contender I'm comfortable eliminating. Nice to have some competition.

Snubbed: Adventureland – Greg Mottola. This beautiful, wryly observant coming-of-age story never received the attention it deserved, thanks in part to a botched studio campaign billing it as the next Superbad. Poor form, Miramax – no wonder you just went out of business.


District 9 – Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
An Education – Nick Hornby
Precious – Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air – Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Invictus – Anthony Peckham In the Loop – Armando Iannucci, et. al.

Takeaways: I've rarely been so happy to be wrong. I didn't think In the Loop was a perfect movie, but its laugh-a-minute script was one for the ages. The Academy continues to take impressive chances in the screenplay categories – bravo.

Current favorite: Up in the Air. It's still the clear frontrunner, but its footing isn't as sure as it was in the past, as The Hurt Locker has filched all of its momentum over the past month. I'd watch out for the allegorical aliens of District 9 or the smoldering satire of In the Loop.

Snubbed: The Informant! – Scott Z. Burns. Adapting an absurdly detailed book (or so I'm told), Burns kept the story coherent while still gradually revealing the hidden truths behind Matt Damon's shadowy lead figure.

And that's it for now. Ideally I'll be back periodically over the next month to provide more detailed analysis, but failing that, I'll bask in the glow of my victory. At least until next year.