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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 18, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Oscar countdown: “The Kids Are All Right”

We’re halfway through our alphabetical march down the Best Picture list with Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right,” a small-scale story of an L.A. family that’s hard to classify as a drama or comedy. (Some writers use the word “dramedy,” but to me, for some reason, “dramedy” just means a movie that isn’t very good.) Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, quite wonderfully, play longtime spouses with two teenage kids and more-or-less contented lives, disrupted when the kids contact the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo, never better, and that’s saying a lot) who’s their laid-back biological father. Cholodenko has said that the idea for the film came from her own experiences starting a family with her partner, and the film does have an irresistible real-life quality to it; you feel as if these are people you know. There are wonderfully funny moments in “The Kids Are All Right,” and moments that break your heart — such as Bening’s face upon learning that the love of her life has been unfaithful, or young Mia Wasikowska, bravely facing the first minutes of her life without her family. This movie has about as much chance of winning Best Picture as, oh, “The Bounty Hunter” — which is to say, none whatsoever — but I think movies like this are why the category was expanded to ten: to make room for those “little,” hard-to-classify movies that nonetheless resonate with viewers.
Total U.S. box office: Just under $21 million
Total Oscar nominations: Four, for best picture, actress (Bening), supporting actor (Ruffalo), and original screenplay (Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg).
Best chances for a win: This movie is really only a contender in one category, best actress (though it just might be a dark horse for screenplay). Annette Bening is beloved in Hollywood, is a four-time nominee who’s never won, and Hilary Swank (who’s beaten her twice before) isn’t in the mix this year. Then again, Natalie Portman is, and her “Black Swan” performance has been scooping up all the accolades. Bening’s role is far less showy, but it’s a master class in the subtleties of film acting. I think she just might surprise.
Odds of this movie creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Well, it was definitely weird that Julianne Moore wasn’t nominated, but that seemed more due to uncertainty between lead/supporting roles than to any shortcoming on Moore’s part. (Strange though, isn’t it, that Hailee Steinfeld is nominated in supporting for a role much larger than Bening’s — who’s in lead?) It’s a disappointment for Moore, who’s also never won an Oscar despite four nominations, but she’ll have other chances. Ruffalo, should he stage an upset and win supporting actor (pretty unlikely, unless both Christian Bale and Geoffrey Rush get involved in some shocking scandal before the ballots are due), seems likely to give a charmingly weird acceptance speech, but I doubt it’ll happen.
Where I’d rank this movie among the 10 Best Picture contenders: 6
Based on the relatively low box-office, I’m guessing many of you haven’t seen this film. If you did, did you like it?

The grownups are all right, too: Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in “The Kids Are All Right” (photo credit; Suzanne Tenner, copyright Focus Features)

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