When the Oscar nominees for Best Picture are announced every year, it piques a bit of curiosity about them. For some people, this is all about winning an Oscar pool at the office. For others, it's about seeing what they might have missed. Or perhaps it really is just curiosity — you'll hear a lot about these films for the next few weeks, so maybe you just want to take a look at them in a little more detail.
We've pulled together the basics of all ten Best Picture nominees, from the fundamentals of production to what our reviewers thought to a wealth of interviews with actors and filmmakers to some nifty supplemental material — like a 2004 interview with climber Aron Ralston, more than six years before James Franco was nominated for Best Actor for playing him in 127 Hours. We'll also help you find a show if you want to see one, or give you some home viewing options if its theatrical run is over. (Caveat: We know some of these are in theaters, but not near everyone. We regret it as much as you do.) So here we go.
Who Made It?: Directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem For A Dream, Pi); screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin; starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder and Vincent Cassel.
What is it?: A tense, pervasively kooky psychodrama about a ballerina (Natalie Portman) whose mental health takes a beating when she is given the challenging role of the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake.
Can I still see it? Yes, it's still in theaters. Find a showtime.
Our critics: David Edelstein: "You could have a great time laughing at it and its goofy Freudian cliches, if only it weren't so bludgeoning." Kenneth Turan: "Black Swan isn't a lot of fun, but the less seriously you take this high-art trash look at the rivalry between two ballerinas, the better your chances are of enjoying yourself even a little." Jeannette Catsoulis: "Gorgeous and glacial, ecstatically photographed and wonderfully acted ... Black Swan feels frustratingly incomplete."
More: Natalie Portman on Fresh Air :: Darren Aronofsky on All Things Considered :: Vincent Cassel on Fresh Air :: Black Swan's place in the history of dark dance films :: WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show takes calls from dancers about Black Swan
Who made it?: Directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees); written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington; starring Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale.
What is it?: A combination of a classic underdog boxing film and a portrait of a sprawling working-class family in Boston, it follows a boxer (Mark Wahlberg) through the career roller coaster created by a drug-addicted brother (Christian Bale) and a smothering, bossy mom (Melissa Leo). (It's also based on a true story.)
Can I still see it? Yes, it's still in theaters. Find a showtime.
Our critics: Jeannette Catsoulis: "At its best, The Fighter takes on the chasm between televised boxing and its mostly working-class, aspirational origins with grit and intelligence." David Edelstein: "The Fighter is a mess, which I mean as a term of endearment."
More: Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell on Fresh Air :: Melissa Leo on Fresh Air :: Melissa Leo on All Things Considered :: WGBH's Emily Rooney Show talks to Boston sports anchor Bob Halloran, who wrote a book about Micky Ward and was an advisor on the film
The Social Network
Who made it? Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac); written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), based on a book by Ben Mezrich; starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake.
What is it? A slick, assured drama that imagines Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as an angry, socially maladjusted nerd-monster whose desperate need for acceptance leads to his creation of Facebook, and whose manipulation by diabolical investor Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) leads him to utterly betray his business partner and only actual friend (Andrew Garfield). Because he's socially isolated, you see. It's ironic.
Can I still see it? Yes, it came out in October and has already been released on home video, and can be streamed on Amazon and iTunes. But! It's also been returned for an engagement in theaters, and you can see whether it's playing near you.
Our critics: David Edelstein: "My larger problem is that Fincher's worldview is so sour and curdled. There's no hint in the film of a positive social network — only of a world in which losing a few friends is a small price to pay for becoming a billionaire." Bob Mondello: "The Social Network is terrific entertainment — an unlikely thriller that makes business ethics, class distinctions and intellectual-property arguments sexy, that zips through two hours quicker than you can say 'relationship status,' and that'll likely fascinate pretty much anyone not named Zuckerberg." Kenneth Turan: "Aaron Sorkin writes great, crackling dialogue that conveys the dynamics of power relations. His words, especially delivered by Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg, bring so much energy to the project that resistance is futile."
More: The Social Network as seen in Silicon Valley :: The Social Network and Carlos :: Mark Zuckerberg's donation to Newark schools :: Zuckerberg on All Things Considered :: WNYC watches The Social Network with a Manhattan tech meetup
Who made it? Directed by Debra Granik; written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini from Daniel Woodrell's novel; starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Dale Dickey.
What is it? A quiet, deceptively simple story about a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) living in a drug-soaked Ozarks community, who has to track down her bail-jumping father in order to avoid losing the house where she's raising her brother and sister.
Can I still see it? Yes. It's on home video, and it can be streamed on Amazon and iTunes. (It's also showing in a tiny number of theaters.)
Our critics: David Edelstein: "Beneath its plainness is an odyssey that's mythic in its intensity." Ella Taylor: "Granik deftly sustains the balance between far-out fable and gritty slice of life, a hint, perhaps, that in this forgotten corner of America the real and surreal may not be poles apart."
More: Debra Granik on All Things Considered :: Debra Granik talks about rural poverty on Minnesota Public Radio :: Debra Granik and Daniel Woodrell on Fresh Air :: Daniel Woodrell on Weekend Edition, reading an excerpt and discussing the novel Winter's Bone with Scott Simon (2006)
Toy Story 3
Who made it? Well, Pixar. Specifically, directed by Lee Unkrich; written by Unkrich, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Michael Arndt; starring the familiar voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, and lots and lots more.
What is it? Years after Toy Story 2, we revisit Woody, Buzz and their friends as they prepare for the major adjustment that is Andy going to college. Often surprisingly dark and scary, Toy Story 3 ultimately balances the fact that change is inevitable with the fact that kids and toys are forever.
Can I still see it? Yes. It's on home video and can be streamed on Amazon and iTunes. (Again: tiny, tiny number of theaters.)
Our critics: David Edelstein: "This beautiful movie weaves together our joyful fantasies of the past, the ones that helped form us, and our darker fears of being forgotten — and in that weave it offers hope that we can somehow reconcile those poles of life for ourselves." Kenneth Turan: "How great that this tribute to old-fashioned toys becomes a love note to old-fashioned movies as well."
Who made it? Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski ... you know the drill) directed and wrote the film, from the novel by Charles Portis; starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin.
What is it? The Coen Brothers version of the novel previously adapted in a film that won John Wayne an Oscar, it follows a girl who hires the battered marshal Rooster Cogburn to catch the man who killed her father.
Can I still see it? Yes. It's still in theaters. Find a showtime.
Our critics: Bob Mondello, comparing this remake to the original: "Happily, the brothers Coen don't skimp on epic sweep and sturdy narrative." Kenneth Turan: "Mattie Ross is [Hailee Steinfeld]'s first major role, but it's not likely to be her last." David Edelstein: "The Coens' True Grit, amusing and impressive as it is, is an arm's-length experience without much emotional power."
More: Hailee Steinfeld on All Things Considered :: The Coen Brothers on Fresh Air :: A 2006 installment of "You Must Read This," in which crime writer George Pelecanos discusses the novel True Grit. Read an excerpt.
The Kids Are All Right
Who made it? Directed by Lisa Cholodenko (High Art); written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg; starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson.
What is it? A surprisingly tricky comedy-drama about a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) whose two kids track down the sperm donor who helped their mothers conceive them — a development their moms initially fear.
Can I still see it? Yes. It's out on home video and can be streamed on iTunes and Amazon. (Also in a tiny number of theaters.)
Our critics: David Edelstein: "The self-satire of The Kids Are All Right is so rich, so hilarious, so healthy you wonder how anyone could find a reason to vote against it." Ella Taylor: "If there's a sin committed in The Kids Are All Right, it's less sexual than moral: The movie's real critique is aimed at the heedlessness of playing with others' emotions and taking what doesn't belong to you. Indeed, the action progresses to a ringing endorsement of traditional family values and an homage to the sheer hard work that goes into building, maintaining and defending a family — for anyone, gay or straight."
More: Lisa Cholodenko on Fresh Air :: A profile of Mark Ruffalo from Morning Edition :: Bob Mondello on a summer of nontraditional families :: Lisa Cholodenko talks about songs that inspire her on KCRW's Guest DJ project
Who made it? Directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire); written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy from Aron Ralston's book (which is, kind of amusingly, called Between A Rock And A Hard Place, seriously); starring James Franco.
What is it? The true story and largely one-man show starring James Franco as Aron Ralston, who famously amputated part of his own arm to free himself after a rock-climbing accident.
Can I still see it? Yes, it's still in theaters, though not as widely as some of the others on this list. Availability in large parts of the country is limited. Find a showtime.
Our critics: David Edelstein: "127 Hours leaves you jittery, crazed. I hated every minute, but its combination of Jackass-style gross-outs and never-say-die American uplift looks to me like box-office gold." Ella Taylor: "In the absence of existential payoff — and really, why would there be, given that what saved Aron was his practical know-how, his physical courage and very possibly his lack of imagination, none of which add up to a movie? — Boyle falls back on heavy weather and some grisly stuff for the climax."
The King's Speech
Who made it? Directed by Tom Hooper (The Damned United and the HBO miniseries John Adams); written by David Seidler; starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter.
What is it? Somewhere between a period drama and a sports movie (and based on a true story, but only kind of), it follows King George VI as he reluctantly becomes king and faces down the stutter that's haunted him all his life, with the help of his wife and an unconventional Australian speech therapist.
Can I still see it? Yes, it's still in theaters. Find a showtime.
Our critics: Bob Mondello: "A film that's smart, lush and a lot more amusing than you'd expect."
More: Tom Hooper on Fresh Air :: Colin Firth on All Things Considered (with a snippet or two of the original King's real Speech) :: A discussion of stuttering on Talk Of The Nation :: A discussion from KCRW with Firth, Hooper, and Bonham Carter :: Tom Hooper on KCRW's The Business
Who made it? Directed and written by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento); starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and plenty of others.
What is it? A trippy, super-complicated thriller built around the premise that one person can travel into the dreams of another (often with guns) (and sometimes for money), it explores the story of a man named Cobb, a mercenary who uses dream travel as a tool of industrial espionage and possibly a way of managing his own past.
Can I still see it? Yes, it's available on home video and is streaming on Amazon and iTunes.
Our critics: Kenneth Turan: "A popular-entertainment knockout punch so potent it'll have you worrying if it's safe to close your eyes at night." David Edelstein: "It's not terrible — just lumbering and humorless and pretentious, with a drag of a hero."
More: Leonardo DiCaprio on All Things Considered :: The music of Inception :: The Nolan Brothers - More Hype Than Talent? :: Bob Mondello on originality in dream sequences :: Pop Culture Happy Hour talks about Inception :: Hans Zimmer (who wrote the score) on Talk Of The Nation :: Does Inception mark a return to originality? :: Physics and dreams (from NPR's Cosmos and Culture blog, 13.7) :: Monkey See on Inception reviews