Monthly Archives: March 2011

Battle: Los Angeles – Marines vs. Aliens (Starcraft, Anyone?)

And then they die, just like that. At first you think a reasonable number of the characters will survive, but like I said, this movie is all about the intensity, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat no matter what. Suddenly aliens are storming into the building, swarming the characters with superior tactics and tech. Gotta get the kids out, but they’re everywhere! How do they even kill these things? Nantz cuts one open to find its weak spot but it’s like their tech has been grafted to their muscles. How the hell do you kill them?!

Six Paragraphs Earlier:

If there’s one thing that keeps me up at night, it’s fear of an alien invasion. That, and copious amounts of caffeine, the lure of videogames, and pretty much anything else, but mostly it’s the fear. That’s why I was so excited to have a marine move into my apartment with me. I figure marines are pretty badass, so with him around I could sleep easier. My excitement quickly dwindled, however, when I realized how much exercise he was going to make me do. Running every day! Plus all sorts of pushups and marine-type body-destroying things that make me hurt everywhere.

It’s all worth it though, for the protection. Only problem is, he’s the kind of marine who paints picturesque ocean views and studies vocabulary of his own volition and likes to debate philosophy, all while steadily improving his culinary skills. If we needed someone well-versed in philosophy to use grandiloquent rhetoric to persuade our malicious invaders of the immorality of their actions, I wouldn’t need marines. I could just do it myself. If we need to shoot them in the brains, I’m willing to step aside and let someone with training go ahead and do that. Thankfully, the marines in the movie were much more battle-focused than the one in my apartment.

One of the coolest parts of Battle: LA is its opening. It starts in medias res, which kicks off the action with extreme intensity. A newscast plays over the opening credits, then there’s a cut to shots of LA being blown the hell up. A military leader explains that we’ve lost San Francisco and San Diego, and Los Angeles is America’s last line of defense in the west. It cannot be overrun! Then suddenly the main characters are in a chopper, heading for the front lines, under heavy fire, with people dying everywhere. I knew Battle: LA was going to be all about war, but I didn’t think they’d go so far as to skip characterization completely. To be honest, I was excited. I’d never seen a movie do something like this before, and if they could keep up that palpitating level of pure intensity, I’d be hooked.

Sadly, it quickly flashes back to 24 hours before the attack and goes through all the standard character intros. They’re made even more standard thanks to how little time is spent on them. SSgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is the only one who becomes any sort of relatable. Every other character gets about 1 paltry minute of humanizing screen time, but there are so many marines in the troop that your eyes just glaze over while you wait for more action. After five minutes, I couldn’t have matched a single character to his backstory if my life depended on it. But who cares? It’s a war movie!

And war it does well. Around every corner lurks danger, each consecutive moment ushers in new fear, and after the first few deaths, I realized no character was safe. It’s the intensity that makes this movie worth watching. People die bravely, and people die for no reason other than bad luck; some die after heart-wrenching monologues, and some die without warning. People receive injuries, show great heroism, yield to their cowardice, and generally run the gamut of war-time emotion. The moments when two characters look at each other knowing that one is about to sacrifice himself are truly compelling, and there are more than a few poignant speeches. They may not have good backstories, but sheer adrenaline makes you care for these guys.

The set pieces and general look of the film elevate these scenes to an even higher level. The camerawork is anything but smooth, so you feel as if you’re running right alongside the marines. And Los Angeles looks like a battlefield. Fights break out in suburbs, on broken-down freeways, and, at one point, in a dimly-lit police station. The sense of fear really starts to mount as Nantz investigates alien anatomy, searching for a weakness while a select few marines are ordered to hold off the inhuman enemy. You think they’re gonna do it…

And then they die, just like that. Suddenly aliens are storming into the building, swarming the characters with superior tactics and tech. How the hell do you kill them?! The aliens are hard to kill, but the fact that they’re aliens hardly matters. Science fiction really takes a back seat to what is essentially a movie about a small troop of men facing overwhelming odds. In fact, the aliens get basically no story time at all. This is no Independence Day, what with that alien that takes over the scientist and speaks through him. Battle: Los Angeles is much more realistic and not nearly as light-hearted.

Not everything works, however. There’s a subplot about all the men distrusting Nantz that feels totally superfluous. Anyone with half a brain can tell that Nantz is probably the best guy in the world, so when they finally all come to terms through a heartfelt speech, it doesn’t jive.

The movie knows what it is: an explosive war story. It focuses on a small group, builds intensity until you can’t take it anymore, and delivers on sweet action.

Score: 3.5/5 ¢

Alignment: Spectacular Fluff

Oh and:

Michelle Rodriguez was sexy and badass, killing aliens all over the place and looking hot while doing it. She’s pretty much always the same character, isn’t she?

Epic F-Bomb usage, and in a PG-13 movie, you’ve got to make it count. During the final battle, Nantz says, “Marines, we make our stand right here. Let those bastards know who they’re fucking with.”

Written by Russ Nickel

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The Adjustment Bureau – Angels, Doors, and Boredom

(Warning: The following may and does contain SPOILERS)

Have I sinned? Is it thanks to some flaw in my character that I was led to The Adjustment Bureau? Or did sitting through the movie simply cause the fewest ripples? I tried to avoid it; I did—but every conflicting event was canceled, every excuse invalidated. I didn’t have a ride, then someone offered to drive. I was too hungry, then a stranger handed me a burrito. I had to finish building a machine that could drill to the center of the earth so I could set off some nuclear bombs and restart the spinning of earth’s core, then I realized that didn’t make any scientific sense! After so many small miracles, I knew I couldn’t avoid my fate any longer. I had to go the movies.

It wasn’t an altogether pleasant experience. The car seat had left a sticky residue on my pants, the burrito was vegetarian, and I kept worrying that the world was about to end, but worst of all was this persistent feeling that I’d been tricked. Twice in the last month I’ve ended up watching romance movies. And I never watch romance movies by accident. Because if I do, I don’t remember to bring tissues for my tears, and my face just ends up a total mess. I Am Number Four looked like an epic superhero movie, so I went, only to find myself stranded on a small island of CG in an ocean of emotion. The Adjustment Bureau was no better. What looked like a supernatural thriller starring Jason Bourne was nothing more than a tale of bittersweet love covered in a deceptively crunchy shell of conspiratorial candy coating.

I suppose bittersweet isn’t all bad, though—useful for baking. Anyway, Matt Damon stars as David Norris, an up-and-coming politician with a pretty face and a promising future. He loses an election and is on the verge of also losing hope when he runs into Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in the bathroom. It’s love at first sight. Her carefree attitude inspires him to give a heartfelt speech that wins over the public. By chance, he later runs into her on a bus, and things are looking great. The only problem is, he was never supposed to see her again.

The Adjustment Bureau knew David needed a nudge in the right direction so he wouldn’t give up, and they chose to use Elise, but they weren’t meant to be together. That goes against the Bureau’s plan, and it’s up to the agents to make sure everything goes according to plan. That’s right. There’s a secret world of agents running around the world mapping out our lives for us. The plan is God’s work, and these guys in suits are angels, and, you guessed it, there’s no such thing as free will. But love conquers everything, even God, so David sets out to prove he has free will, overcome the administrative powers of the seraphim, and tell God to suck one.

The setup is full of fate vs. free will potential, with plenty of room for conspiracy and action, but that setup is all it is. The movie never really delivers, choosing instead to spend lots of time on the love story and long-winded explanations of the workings of the Bureau. Nothing particularly exciting ever happens, save for one scene of David running from the agents. Plus there’s a bunch of arbitrary rules tossed in that reek heavily of plot device and rip you out of the flow of the film. Angels wear hats that allow them to make doors lead to distant locations. Hats?! Oh, and certain doors connect to specific other doors, so the angels have to spend a lot of time memorizing the “substreets.” This leads to the comedic line “I hate downtown.” Yeah, it gets a laugh, but really it’s just pointing out the absurdity of these arbitrary plot conventions. Turn a doorknob right and you jump to the next place. Turn it left and you meet God. And for some reason, angels are weak to water.

The Bureau’s limitations are silly, but so are their conventions. Each agent is only allowed to make so many minor changes, because after that, the effects, or “ripples” become too great, but we see one angel cause series after series of car accidents. If we start to imagine the butterfly effect, even the smallest change will have huge repercussions, and something like a car crash is really gonna fuck someone’s day. I mean, imagine. You’re driving to work, then boom! Angel messes you up with his magic. Suddenly you’re in the hospital and your wife has to leave work to come meet you. Her friend has to take over her shift, meaning she can’t go out on her blind date. It falls through and she ends up with some low-life and they give birth to Hitler 2.

Ok. Ok. People have told me that I tend to read way too heavily into the science fiction behind these love stories (read: The Lake House—basically time-travel vomit), so I think maybe I’m being a little harsh and I try to keep an open mind. I’m sitting back, trying to enjoy myself, when out of nowhere the movie tells me that the characters aren’t really in love anyway. They slap you right in the face with it. The agents explain that the only reason David and Elise love each other is because they were supposed to end up together in an earlier version of the plan! Suddenly the film isn’t about love conquering everything or even free will vs. predestination. It’s about David accidentally stumbling onto an outdated version of his fate because the agents made a mistake. It completely eviscerates the entire romance. And it’s not even revealed as a twist; it’s just mentioned in passing like it’s no big deal, but I mean, what am I supposed to be rooting for? For the beta version of the plan to win? For David to literally reach God and beat the crap out of him? Actually, that would be pretty sweet. Could be some hardcore, supernatural action sequence.

Oh well. I suppose it’s not my place to question God’s plan, for as we all know, the best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew, and leave us nothing but grief and pain. But you know whose plan I can question? The screenwriters, because this movie could use some serious adjustment.

Score: 2.5/5¢


Written by Russ Nickel

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Paul Review

About halfway through the second act of my pre-screening of Paul there was a sound error, and the dialogue and soundtrack of the movie became accompanied by a sort of droning, thumping, static sound. At first we thought it was part of the film, but after a few scenes without any justification we determined otherwise. The sound continued unabated for about half an hour, sometimes growing so loud that it was actually impossible to tell what the characters were saying. This might have been a problem, but I found that with Paul, it didn’t actually matter much. No one was saying anything so complicated that it couldn’t be deduced though body language and context. It’s too bad, because Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s previous works (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) both demand to be torn apart word-for-word to root out all the layers of comedy. Paul ditches the high-concept premise and instead becomes a crass homage to science fiction movies without ever being more than a momentary distraction.

Paul begins at San Diego Comic-Con, the first of its many fan services. Graeme and Clive (played by writers Pegg and Frost) are on vacation and taking a road trip to see all the famous UFO sightings in America. Instead, an actual alien crashes a car in front of them. Paul, a wise-cracking little green man, greets them with a snide remark and quickly convinces Pegg to drive to a remote location in Wyoming so that he can get back home. From there the film becomes a race to the finish line, with special agent Jason Bateman hot on Paul’s tail. Various events occur before the end of the movie; we meet Kristen Wiig as a one-eyed Bible-thumper who abruptly becomes a scientific objectivist after Paul uses his convenient healing powers to fix her eye and transfers his collective memory to her brain (don’t ask). Then there are some explosions, some pathos as Paul apologizes to an elderly woman for accidentally killing her dog in the prologue, and then everybody’s running to Forest Clearing A, where Paul uses some store-bought fireworks to signal a mothership the size of New York City. Sigourney Weaver cameos as the villainess, because she’s like a sci-fi staple now, and Paul saves the day by reincorporating his well-established healing powers.

I don’t really know where to start with this movie. I’m really disappointed in Pegg and Frost, who I thought were a lot smarter than this. Compared to their previous work, Paul flat-out sucks. There’s virtually no character development between anyone. Peripheral characters are either unfunny stereotypes or just unfunny. The writing feels bland and lazy, so much so that the same “joke” will be repeated three times with the only variation being that a different person said it at a different time. It doesn’t help that the film’s definition of a jok is creative profanity. The flimsy plot, which never gets beyond a manic “escape the baddies” chase, makes sense only until you actually scrutinize it, upon which it collapses from its own weight. And while the film heaps on the nerd homages, as a science fiction story it’s embarrassingly short-sighted. There’s potential in the script for something worth watching, but they never got past the first glimmer of an idea.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. I’m going to go in depth to the above points, so if you’re not interested in the process just skip to the bottom where I’ve conveniently distilled the film’s qualities into an amount of stars.

The film’s protagonist and main relationship character are naturally, Pegg and Frost. This is fine, and expected, and while it’s disappointing that Frost isn’t given the lead as was originally planned (wonder who axed that one) it’s a false distinction since neither of them really have any agency whatsoever. So they’re friends, one’s a writer and one illustrates science fiction novels. But the film is called Paul, which is neither of them, so how does he fit into the film? Well, the film tries to make him the source of conflict between them. Frost is a little more freaked out by the alien, a little more untrusting. This is kind of hard to believe because literally any nerd would gladly cut off a finger to be in his shoes, but could still work if they had backed it up with some characterization (perhaps his knowledge of science fiction leads him to be suspicious of Paul’s motives?). Instead he’s just a wet blanket. Frost comes around to Paul but becomes jealous of Pegg who, as the protagonist, gets the romantic interest. And Paul bonds with him over that, so everyone’s good and we can go into the climactic action sequence without any lingering uncertainty hanging over our heads.

I’ve compiled a theory that Frost’s character is actually written as gay and secretly pining for Pegg. There are homophobia jokes galore, enough to beg further justification. And honestly, it would completely explain Frost’s resentment and complaints that the trip was supposed to be “just the two of them.” It would even resonate with the themes of fraternal geek culture that Paul tries so hard to embody. But in the end that possibility is left unresolved. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was written in and then cut by the producers for being too “controversial”. I guess nerd audiences are okay with jokes about being perceived as gay, but to actually have a gay character (excluding the self-proclaimed bisexual Paul) would hit too close to home.

Pegg and Frost clearly had something going on with this nerds-encounter-an-alien plot. It has all the elements of their previous genre-bender films, only this time for science fiction. There’s even a formula for us to follow. At first common tropes are undermined amusingly, but they are eventually embraced and reincorporated in the end of the film. It seems like that’s what they tried to do, but for various reasons it doesn’t work, the main one being that they don’t have any kind of investment in the science-fiction portion of the story.

Science fiction is supposed to be about speculating on the vast possibilities of the universe, and what makes a close-encounter story compelling is the chance to interact with an intelligent organism entirely different from humanity. Paul the Alien is basically your college roommate inside the body of a squat grey midget.

The explanation for why his personality is so abrasive is that he’s lived on Earth for 60 years and evidently maturity or tact are qualities less enlightened species are burdened with. His explanation for why his biology is so stereotypical is dismissed as a subconscious conditioning program dispersed through the human population over the years in order to keep humans from freaking out should they ever make contact. This does nothing to explain why he’s humanoid in the first place– I guess because the answer is, “it was convenient.” That’s the answer for pretty much every interesting question the film poses.

Why does Paul have godlike powers of healing, invisibility and telekinesis?  He’s the title character for the film, but by the end we know virtually nothing about him. We know nothing of his race, where they come from or what their society is like. All we know is that we have to get somewhere to shoot off fireworks so that the massive, invisible alien mother ship will know where to pick him up. The ship only poses more questions. Did they drive all the way from Alpha Centauri to rendezvous with Paul? Or were they always there? Are they upset that the USA was interested in killing one of their citizens to harvest its stem cells? What kind of diplomatic relations does the government have with these guys, anyways? No one knows, because the movie doesn’t bother to address any of these questions.

You might say (Russ I’m looking at you), that I’m overly scrutinizing what’s just supposed to be a lighthearted romp through some old science fiction tropes. But is it too much to ask that a film riffing off of science fiction actually do its homework? If I can come up with these few questions just sitting here at my computer, couldn’t two guys actually faced with a real-live alien do at least as well? They’re poor representatives of nerd culture if they can’t approach a close encounter with at least a hint of skepticism.

2/5 Stars

Posted by Sam Julian

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The Nickel Awards: Part 1

In the wake of this year’s Oscars, we here at The Nickel Screen felt compelled to give out some awards of our own. All of those supposedly learned movie people obviously know nothing compared to us, so sit back, relax–actually, sit forward and pay attention. We put a lot of thought into this 3-post extravaganza, and you’d better enjoy it.

Nerd’s Fantasy Nominees: Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2), Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy), Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1), Rapunzel (Tangled)


If there’s one category the Academy Awards blatantly lacks, it’s this.

Why do movies really, truly exist? To spin heart-warming tales of kings who grapple with their issues? To show people how tough cutting off your arm can be? I don’t think so. Movies exist to make money, and who has money? That’s right, nerds. We sit eternally at our computers, hiding from the day star and pitifully pecking at the keys that provide our sustenance, but you know what? We make bank.

But money doesn’t equal happiness. We understand that all too well as we sweep our gazes across our rooms, eyes alighting on our mint condition Millenium Falcon replica. It sits, dusty, right next to our extensive comic book collection. To its right, a poster of Captain Kirk looks outward, ignoring the Atari 2600 which rests just below him, unused. But we don’t see happiness. No, because happiness is more than belongings.

As The Beatles taught us, money can’t buy you love, and love is all you need. But unfortunately, no real woman can ever hope to win our hearts, for we have already fallen, fallen for the phase-shifting sublimity of Kitty Pryde, for the Amazonian intensity of Wonder Woman, and for the stripping strippiness of Stripperella. Human women be damned! If only we could somehow make these fantasy babes real!

And by god, movies are the closest thing we’ve got. If there’s one dangling carrot that can get us away from our apartments—make us sit up from the chair, change out of our pajamas, and face the daylight—it’s a film version of those girls we think about day and night. That’s why movies exist. They exist for the nerd.

This year was an excellent showing of sexy. Olivia Wilde donned a skin-tight, light-up, spandex suit, drove a futuristic light-car and kicked ass on a bunch of evil programs. Only problem was that she herself was a computer program, and that’s not really my thing. Gemma Arterton trekked through the desert as Tamina, a beautiful Persian princess who wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, killing a bad guy by stabbing him in the eyes with a live snake. Emma Watson continued to age, making her hotter than ever, and more legal, and Rapunzel, despite being animated, was the epitome of purity and innocence (and the only blonde, a lot of blonde).

But despite the caliber of the competition, Scarlett Johansson won out. As Black Widow in Iron Man 2, I’ll let her catch me in her web any day. By the end of the movie, I couldn’t agree more with Tony Stark’s initial reaction of “I want one.” We get to see her change in the back of a car then run down a hallway filled with nameless henchmen, electrocuting the first one and backflipping off a table onto the second, snapping his neck between her legs. By the end of the hallway, she’s killed like 8 guys, no fewer than 3 with the leg around the neck method. Please god, I know I haven’t been the perfect person, but if you can hear me, if you truly are as benevolent as they say, that is how I want to die.

Worst Nerd’s Fantasy: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)

Oh, and I’ve gotten some complaints about Hailee Steinfeld losing this category. I keep hearing things like “she’ll grow up,” and “standards were different in the old west,” but seriously people? I mean, I agree completely, but that doesn’t make her any less annoying.

Worst Picture Nominees: Dinner for Schmucks, The Last Airbender, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


I hate The Last Airbender. I hate him and his bendy friends and his stupid enemies and that weird-ass creature he rides. I loathe them all. I hate what they’ve done to my eyes. I hate the memories they’ve burned into my brain that, no matter the amount of therapy, I cannot remove. I want those hours of my life back. I want to return to a time of innocence, when I thought the world was filled with good and honest movies, that it was a place of joy and happiness untainted by the foul, festering, fetid touch of M. Night Shyamalan.

I hate The Last Airbender. There is no plot other than that which is condensed into interminable, emotionless, soul-crushing narration. There is no tension but the tension of whether you’ll be able to make it to the end without committing a gruesome, sinful, ritualistic suicide. There is no dialogue, save that which sounds as stilted as the mad gibbering of my great Uncle Wallace, whose father was a chimpanzee and whose mother fed him nothing but industrial grade turpentine. There is…nothing. No crime so heinous, no sin so foul, no soul so tainted that warrants the horrible fate of viewing the The Last Airbender. It is, without a doubt, the Worst Picture.

Most Epic Kill Nominees: B.A. motorcycle leap+neck break (The A-Team), Iron Man laser sweep (Iron Man 2), John Malcovich bullet to rocket launcher shot (Red), Perseus lightning sword throw (Clash of the Titans)


Each year, blockbuster movies create increasingly evil and powerful antagonists for our heroes to face, but there’s only so many ways to kill a man. Iconic villains require iconic deaths, and even henchmen can earn some bit of glory by dying at the hands of a good guy’s masterful move. Iron Man’s sweeping laser that cuts a dozen evil drones in half (though can they really be called evil if they’re just drones) was memorable, but it invalidated all the fighting until that point. B.A. had some badass wrestler moves, and John Malkovich’s shooting a speeding rocket with a bullet required some serious precision, but Clash of the Titans walks home with the Most Epic Kill. Like I said, there’s only so many ways to kill a man, but how do you slay a god?! As Hades hovers ominously in the stormy sky, Perseus, standing atop the highest point in the city, raises his sword toward the heavens, drawing a sparking lightning bolt to the blade, then hurls it toward the god of the underworld. Lightning and sword strike the demon as one, sending him back to the land of the dead. Epic.

Best Fight Nominees: A-Team Flying Tank, How to Train You Dragon Final Battle, Inception Hallway, Scarlett Johansson Hallway, Scott Pilgrim Final Battle


Inception’s magical world of dreams led to some iconic action sequences whose out-of-this-world physics were much better explained than in most movies. Standard action heroes seem to possess superhuman flexibility and strength for basically no reason, but because we could believe the fighting in Inception, it became much more memorable. The zero-gravity hallway battle between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the security projections was by far the coolest thing on a screen this year. Jaded by the barrage of unoriginal action sequences that accost my eyes every year, very few things truly wow me, but watching Gordon-Levitt spin undaunted through a hallway of alternating gravity, using the fluctuations to his advantage as if it were the simplest thing in the world, that was a moment to behold.

Worst Fight: Random water benders lifting evil Zhao into air and dropping him like 10 feet

Best Line Nominees:

“Being Vegan just makes you better than most people” Vegan Todd Ingram, explaining the origin of his superpowers (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)

“I Want One” -Tony Stark, after seeing Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2)

“It must be some kind of hot tub time machine…” -Nick Weber, upon realizing their hot tub must be some kind of time machine (Hot Tube Time Machine)

“Release the kraken!” -Zeus, before releasing the fuckin’ Kraken (Clash of the Titans)


In a year with no standout line to claim a clear victory, we opted not for the powerfully dramatic nor the entertainingly epic, or even for the ridiculously bad. This year, we give the award to a line that broke the fourth wall, because we need more of this literally outside-the-box thinking in comedies nowadays. Too often, movies follow their formula, forgetting the audience that craves something inventive. Having Craig Robinson say “It must be some kind of hot tub time machine,” then turn and face the camera showed that the writers clearly understood the absurdity of the movie’s conceit but just didn’t care. It might have been silly, but it was also hilarious.

Worst Line: “Earthbenders! Why are you acting this way? You are powerful and amazing people! You don’t need to live like this! There is earth right beneath your feet! The ground is an extension of who you are!”

That was just Part 1! Click Here to Continue to Part 2: The Continuation.

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The Nickel Awards: Part 2

Best Scene Nominees: Cunnilingus (Black Swan), Confrontation (True Grit), Cursing Scene (The King’s Speech), Melting Scene (Toy Story 3), Ruffian’s Singing Their Dreams (Tangled)


For best scene, we wanted to find those moments in movies that stuck with you long after you’d left the theater. There were no specific criteria, but you know the scenes when you see them. An aging teacher, coaxing a king to let fly a string of profanities. A young fourteen-year-old confronting her father’s killer. Mila Kunis going down on Natalie Portman. In the end, however, we decided to go with the climactic scene from Toy Story 3, when Woody and friends are about to be melted into indistinguishable plastic goop. One often wondered throughout the span of this trilogy of films, watching various plastic anthropomorphs undergo bizarre dismemberments and mutilations…how do toys die? Well here it is, folks: utter annihilation in the form of slow, melting torture. The moment went on for a shockingly long time, and we watched, horror struck, as realization dawned on the characters and each one accepted their death. And then at the last moment, an impossible, uplifting salvation from above. We would never have imagined that our beloved toys would be faced with such an implacable mortal peril, but the fact that it was so heart-wrenching was proof of the power of Pixar to move our hearts. Well done, good sirs. That took balls.

Worst Scene: Aang explaining to the earth benders that there was earth all around them (The last Airbender)

Best Dialogue Nominees: The King’s Speech, The Social Network,  True Grit


It’s hard to look at True Grit in the context of the Coen’s recent triumphs such as No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man. Compared to them, True Grit is a by-the-numbers film, much less ambitious, and surprisngly simple and short. But like all the Coen’s films, it was made with a perfectionist’s attention to detail, particularly the dialogue. Not only is it historically accurate, it’s dense with characterization and flavor. Jeff Bridges is simply a joy to hear talk in his rustic grumble, and Hailee Steinfield is pleasurably precocious as a girl far more mature than her years belie. A true actor’s piece, the dialogue becomes the star of this film, revealing cultural insights and illuminating interesting power dynamics. While not a show-stopper in terms of action and spectacle, True Grit is meaty and satisfying for its brilliantly written dialogue, given to actors who know what to do with it.

Worst Dialogue: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Best Story Nominees: Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit


While the accuracy of The Social Network’s biographical content is clearly debatable, no one can deny that the story was compelling. We loved it for its writing and plot, the way each line worked overtime adding layers, and how every scene advanced the plot in a new, crucial way. The structuring of the film within two intense legal battles focuses themes of ownership, friendship, power and success, and its unconventional, almost anticlimactic ending has echoes of Greek tragedy. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue may be unrealistically verbose, and at times he forced melodrama upon the story, but the clear attention to detail and overall polish make this a screenplay worth paying attention to.

Worst Story: The Last Airbender

Best Sci-Fi / Fantasy Nominees: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Iron Man 2, Inception


With Inception, we reached new depths of science fiction invention. Dreams within dreams within dreams, all linked together—a matrix where only some are aware, a crime scene that leaves no evidence, an idea that stunned the world. This concept created unforgettable sets set in zero gravity, arctic fortresses, and, of course, “Limbo.” For days, the world spoke of nothing but unraveling the mystery and the science behind this mentally stimulating film. We watched over and over again, picking out every detail: the ring, the music, the top.
Christopher Nolan gave us what we’d all been dreaming of: great science fiction.

Worst Sci-Fi / Fantasy: The Last Airbender

Best Comedy Nominees: Easy A, Hot Tub Time Machine, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Other Guys


2010 was a particularly weak year for comedies, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World displayed a very special brand of humor that wryly embraced the hypersaturated modern sensibilities, riffing off of indie music, video games, and awkward relationships. Though Michael Cera probably wasn’t to best choice to play this movie’s eponymous hero, the clever script, snappily edited by the talented Edgar Wright, kept the laughs coming steadily throughout the film. While 3rd act sloppiness and some apparent last-minute rewrites prevent this film from being a classic, we at The Nickel Screen think that this was the funniest and most original comedy to hit theaters this year.

Worst Comedy: Dinner for Schmucks

Best Drama Nominees: Black Swan, Shutter Island, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, True Grit,


While we may have a flare for the dramatic, dramas themselves are not our strong suit. I tried to watch 127 hours on a plane one time, but my headphone jack was broken. And nobody even got close to making it to The Fighter, but we saw a few, and while they all had virtues that spoke for themselves, The King’s Speech rose above the rest.

The Social Network and True Grit had undeniably excellent acting and dialogue, but in the end, neither was as rousing as George VI’s change from stammering duke to dominant sovereign. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush played off each other perfectly, the plot was well-paced, and the story was riveting.

So Much for Part 2! Click Here to Continue to Part 3: The Culmination.

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The Nickel Awards: Part 3

Best Directing: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky), The Social Network (David Fincher),  The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper), True Grit (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)


Best Directing is a tough award to determine, because even though a director might have their fingers in every part of a film, it’s not always clear whether credit is due to them or the hundreds of people that work under them. We chose Darren Aronofsky for his work on Black Swan because, of all the directors, his personal mark was apparent throughout the film. Because of its focus on the creative process, Black Swan seemed more intensely personal that any of the other nominations, which were excellent but straightforward stories. The nod goes to Aronofsky because the story of Natalie Portman’s tortured ballerina is told as much through the camera work and the editing as it is through plot.

Worst Directing: M. Night Shyamalan (The Last Airbender)

Best Animated Feature Film: How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled, Toy Story 3


Unlike their live-action counterparts, animated films are usually a little more, well, animated. High energy, fun, and light-hearted, these movies exist to make people happy, but that in no way lessens them. Toy Story 3 is just as poignant and heart-wrenching as any film this year, and it’s made better by its wide appeal. How to Train Your Dragon threw us into a world of dragons and created the cutest creature ever. Tangled brought us back to the Disney of old, singing us a charming tale of romance. These three films were some of the best animated features to date, but Toy Story 3’s snappy dialogue, ceaseless humor, and perfect pacing, not to mention its wild emotional swings, make it the best animated film of the year. Honestly, who could resist Buzz’s Spanish setting?

Best Supporting Performance Nominees: Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech),  Matt Damon (True Grit)


Geoffrey Rush’s performance in The King’s Speech was simply sublime. His portrayal of failed Shakespearean actor turned elocutionist Lionel Logue was a delight to watch, his pleasant attitude masking a deep-seated determination. Rush was able to conjure up many laughs throughout the film, and yet his was also a deeply moving character, drawing us seamlessly into the king’s plight. Seeing him treat the king as an equal—making him swear and do silly vocal lessons—was just as excellent as watching his interactions with his family, be they acting out plays for his sons or hiding the truth of who he was training from his wife. In my opinion, Geoffrey Rush stole the show, even from a supporting role, and proved yet again how truly talented he is.

Worst Supporting Performance: Dev Patel (The Last Airbender)

Best Lead Performance Nominees: Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Natalie Portman (Black Swan)


There are those who would argue Darren Aronofsky’s schlocky ballerina psych-thriller is not a great film, and they would have plenty of ammunition. But Natalie Portman’s incarnation of protagonist Nina is indisputably flawless. Though her character is thoroughly unlikeable, the audience still finds themselves reeling from Portman’s relentless disorientation, fear, and brittleness. Her confusion and her apprehension chill us so that we the audience tiptoe like our fragile star through the plot.

“Stop being so fucking pathetic!” Vincent Cassel’s instructor shouts at her, finally giving voice to the audience’s sentiments in the first act. Portman’s exquisite weakness is intentionally what makes her so ugly in the film, so repulsive. But as her mind and body come apart in the film’s acceleration, Portman imbues her character with a haunting and resounding spirit. That transformation is so believable in Portman’s face that one almost forgets the incredibility of the plot. Even beyond this, Portman communicates the underlying fear that lingers behind the mask of the Black Swan.

And the scene in which Portman calls her mother after getting the starring part–we dare you to name another actress in her generation who can display that level of genuine emotional complexity. Congratulations, Ms. Portman.

Best Picture Nominees: Inception, The Social Network, The King’s Speech, Toy Story 3, True Grit


Even though year after year we face the stifling wasteland of unoriginality, even though most films are born only to die a quick death, crippled by their lack of creativity, even though Hollywood’s fear of greatness keeps new ideas mired in the backwaters of production hell, even though all we see is sequel after sequel of popcorn-selling eye candy, I still had a dream.

I had a dream that one day someone would rise up against the confines of Hollywood orthodoxy and say “enough is enough.”

I had a dream that one day in the deserts of Southern California, sweltering with the heat of bureaucracy, writers and producers would sit down at a table of imagination.

I had a dream that one day movies would be made not because of the marketability of their branding, but because of the character of their content.

I had a dream…fulfilled.

Hollywood’s been looking increasingly weary this year, and in case you haven’t noticed, they’re all out of good ideas. But a welcome break from the churn of vampire-robot-action was Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Not only did Inception exceed every action film to have been released this year, it revealed the very structures by which our thrillers are created. In fact, it can be read as a meta-commentary on the nature of film itself. By incorporating filmmaking techniques into the structure of the story (with its random setpieces, effortless culmination of tension, and possibly untrustworthy protagonist), Inception became an action movie that was its own formula. At the same time, it offered a compelling love story, a thought-provoking concept, and bad-ass action, all wrapped up in one incredible movie. Inception immediately became one of our favorite movies of all time, and we predict that it will be appreciated for its many many layers for years to come.

The End!

There you have it. Those are our picks for 2010. From all of us here at 5¢S, we sincerely hope you enjoyed your time here at The Nickel Awards.


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