Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 Oscar results and reactions

Best Picture:
The best picture category was particularly weak this year. The problem is storytelling. Most of the stories were slight or barely there at all (The Kids Are All Right). Many relied on visual hocus pocus, flashbacks and flashforwards (Inception and 127 Hours) or trumped up drama (Social Network and Black Swan) to pad out what should have been 15-minute short films.

I’ll admit that I still haven’t seen Winter’s Bone or Toy Story 3. I have high hopes for the storytelling of Winter’s Bone. The Toy Story brand of sentimentality doesn’t have much appeal for me.

The King’s Speech was a fine film and unobjectionable winner. The acting was brilliant. On the down side, it never outgrew its stage-play origins. A safe and predictable choice by the Academy.

My own choice among the best picture nominees (or at least the eight that I have seen) is True Grit, which was the complete package. It had excellent storytelling, visuals both grand and minute, and one of the best musical scores, which helped focus the story in both its time and place. The period dialog rang true and the actors, led by the wonderful Hailee Steinfeld, were exceptional. Jeff Bridges was better here than he was in the weak film, Crazy Heart, for which he won the best actor Oscar last year.

The Coen brothers’ True Grit was nominated in 10 categories and won zero Oscars, a disappointing shutout. Joel and Ethan Coen won best picture and best director Oscars recently for the bleak modern Western, No Country for Old Men (2007), which probably eliminated them from serious contention so soon.

Colin Firth’s win was well deserved for his role as King George VI in The King's Speech. Firth was perhaps even better last year in A Single Man, when he didn’t win.

While this was a predictable win for Natalie Portman for Black Swan, her almost entirely one-note performance didn’t offer much for me. A lead actress nomination should have gone to Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. She was nominated instead as a supporting actress. I haven’t seen several of the nominees in this category. I am especially looking forward to seeing Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.

Supporting Actor:
A Los Angeles film critic remarked that Christian Bale should get the award for “most acting” in The Fighter. John Hawkes’s work was remarkable in the television series Deadwood. I look forward to catching up with his nominated performance in Winter’s Bone.

Supporting Actress:
Melissa Leo was very good as the mother in The Fighter. She was even better as the lead in Frozen River (2008) when she didn’t win. I look forward to seeing Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom.

Animated Short Film:
A big congratulations to Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann for The Lost Thing.

Related links:
Shaun Tan named on Oscar shortlist
Oscar nominees for Best Picture for 2010 films
Why Best Picture Oscars are like a Broken Clock

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2011 Nebula Awards short list

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have announced the short list for the 2011 Nebula Awards for works published in 2010. The winners will be announced May 21, 2011 in Washinton, D.C.

The Native Star by M.K. Hobson (Spectra)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Echo by Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Spectra)

The Jemisin and Kowal are first novels. The full list of all the categories is available at Locus Online.

Edited to add: The Hobson is a first novel, too. Half of the novels on the short list are first novels.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nalo Hopkinson named associate professor at UC Riverside

News from the Eaton Conference: Dean Stephen Cullenberg announced that beginning Fall 2011 Nalo Hopkinson will be an associate professor specializing in science fiction and fantasy for the Creative Writing department at the University of California, Riverside.

Related links:
Nalo Hopkinson’s blog
Eaton Conference website

Friday, February 11, 2011

127 Hours

127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle) is an exercise in filling time until Aron Ralston (James Franco) cuts his arm off with a dull pocket knife. It’s the biographical story of a bachelor hiker, traveling solo in an isolated canyon in Utah, who gets his arm stuck when a rock falls on him. Most of the film is padded out with back story, hallucinations, and swooping camera movements, none of which conceals the fact that this is a static situation, a one act play.

The film, necessarily, presents the amputation as heroic, a sacrifice on the way to adulthood and the hard-won knowledge that, gosh, we really do need other people in our lives. One of Ralston’s hallucinations is a vision of his unborn son. If that weren’t baldly manipulative enough, the point is hammered home at the end of the film by showing the actual Ralston with his present-day wife and son.

The scenery is wonderful and the movie is a showcase for fine acting by James Franco, who manages to carry the film despite its claustrophobic nature and a plot that is all about waiting for something to happen.

Related link:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dreams with Sharp Teeth

Dreams with Sharp Teeth (directed by Erik Nelson), a biographical documentary about Harlan Ellison, will screen at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Feb. 11, at the Culver Center in Riverside, California. This event is related to the Eaton Conference now underway. “Harlan Ellison will be present to answer questions and sign books,” according to the Eaton Conference website.

Related links:
Eaton Conference website
Film review at
Film review at
2011 Eaton Conference to honor Ellison and Delany

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Black Swan

The story of Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky) is told from the unreliable point of view of a ballerina, Nina (Natalie Portman), who is given the lead role in Swan Lake. She experiences stress, anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations as she prepares for the opening night performance in a high-pressure environment. Nina’s psychological ordeal is worked out in great detail and shown as her subjective reality. Portman is quite good, as are supporting players Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey as the domineering mother.

Some reviews criticize the movie for being emotionally overwrought, which strikes me as complaining that it succeeds at what it is trying to do. A more reasonable criticism is that the movie offers little relief from its relentlessly feverish emotional tone. Black Swan feels like a self-indulgent student film, a well-done feature-length student film. For those who have seen a few student films, this will be overly familiar ground.

Related link:

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Fighter

The Fighter (directed by David O. Russell) is a biographical film about professional boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his trainer and half-brother Dickey Eklund (Christian Bale), based on actual people and events. It is not just a boxing movie, thank goodness, and broadens out into an unflattering family portrait. Micky and his love interest Charlene (Amy Adams) are the most likeable characters, both showing determination against many obstacles. Dickey's addiction to crack cocaine is presented in awful detail. Their controlling mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo), is both manipulative and loyal. Many scenes feature Micky’s Greek chorus of seven sisters who constantly complain and criticize everyone. The sisters wear amusingly bad outfits and big 1980s hair.

The acting is good to excellent and the film communicates a time and place (Lowell, Massachusetts). The brutality of boxing and depths of drug addiction combine to make a well-told gritty story. Even the unpleasant family dynamics become a little heartwarming.

Related link:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Locus’ Year in Review for 2010

The Locus annual year in review issue is now out, featuring lists and commentary from reviewers, editors, and professionals in the science fiction community. To quote a few:

Gary K. Wolfe: “Connie Willis’s remarkable Blackout/All Clear is the apotheosis of a theme and setting that’s haunted Willis since the beginning of her career” and “Easily the most important first SF novel of the year was Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief.”

Jonathan Strahan: “My pick for SF novel of the year was Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House ... an incredible achievement” and “The best fantasy novel of the year, and my pick for novel of the year, was Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven.”

Graham Sleight: “The collection of the year for me was Karen Joy Fowler’s What I Didn’t See and Other Stories.”

The full Locus 2010 Recommended Reading List is available. As is a compilation of links to short fiction from the Locus list that are now available online.

Related links:
Locus’ Year in Review for 2009

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan) is a big-budget, science fiction version of Nolan’s earlier film Memento (2000). Memento is grungy film noir where Inception is splashy and effects-filled. Both concern layers of reality: Memento wanders backward through layers of memory; Inception injects the viewer into layers of dream.

Inception offers some good special effects scenes: the curling city, the zero-g fight, and a couple others. These scenes don’t manage to disguise the fact that the story is weak. For better science fiction examinations of the manipulation of dreams, read “He Who Shapes” (1965) by Roger Zelazny (later expanded into the novel The Dream Master) and The Lathe of Heaven (1971) by Ursula K. Le Guin (which has been made into a feature-length television movie twice).

Nolan’s storytelling is much stronger in Memento, which will likely be the preferred movie by those who compare the two films. The acting is superior as well. Guy Pearce does a better job with the lead in Memento than Leonardo DiCaprio does with Inception.

Related link: