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2010: An Oscar Primer

So, the big day is finally here. Well, the big day that begins the lead-up to the big day. Because, love it or hate it, Oscar still rules the highbrow portion of the American move industry in a lot of ways. Today’s Oscar nomination announcements were of particular interest because this marks the first time in decades that the Academy (in what is basically a desperate grab for failing television ratings) has doubled the Best Picture field from 5 to 10.

I am basically of two minds about this decision. On the one hand, it was obvious that it would lead to nominations that should not even remotely be considered serious contenders for the top industry film award. On the other hand, I can’t deny that it makes things interesting. There may not be 10 worthy nominees for Best Picture, but there are definitely more than 5. (Actually, I should qualify that a bit. Of course there are 10 worthy nominees for Best Picture of 2009. However, many of them are nowhere near the Academy’s radar.) In any case, for me, nearly all of this morning’s surprises came from the Best Picture category, so I’ll move straight on to that.

Avatar – This is no great surprise, particularly after Avatar‘s big night at the Golden Globes. I’m sure fans of The Dark Knight are feeling a twinge of bitterness this morning, and I wonder just how much the backlash for the Academy’s failure to nominate that film last year had to do with what is obviously a populist choice this year. Then again, aside from the fact that this film is still raining giant buckets of money over a month after its release, Avatar does satisfy many of the tropes that Oscar loves in its films. The film has “only” 9 nominations: Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects. Virtually all of those are technical awards, which is to be expected, and which (I hope) does not speak highly of its chances for the Big Award.

The Blind Side – I wish I could say I was more surprised by this choice, but I can say that I am far from pleased. I will confess right now that this is one of two Best Picture nominees that I have not yet seen, but this is definitely a pick that rings totally false in this category. Sports movies as a genre are as tired and formulaic as romantic comedies, and sports films dealing with racial issues have been absolutely done to death. I am not pleased at feeling obligated to see The Blind Side, with its mere 2 nominations. The other is, of course, for Sandra Bullock as Best Actress. Is it safe to say that the bigger nomination is the sole result of that performance? I don’t know, but I am sure there were other films more deserving of this spot. Where are the foreign films?

District 9 – This prompted my first real gasp of surprise. I enjoyed District 9 immensely. In fact, it was the only summer action-blockbuster that I did enjoy last year. But Best Picture? Really? On a practical level, Avatar has made far more money and its technical achievements have received far more attention, virtually guaranteeing this film also-ran status. However, it felt so fresh and original, that I can’t say I’m not happy to see it here. What a year for science fiction fans! District 9 has 4 nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Visual Effects. I am pretty confident it will strike out in every category, but it should be proud to have made the list.

An Education – This film, which I managed to catch in November, was pretty much a lock. I expect it to be huge at the BAFTAs (or “British Oscars”). It’s a quiet, beautiful little film with a stand-out performance by Carey Mulligan, but (unlike The Blind Side) that isn’t the only thing going for it. There are 3 nominations for this film, with recognition for Mulligan’s performance (Best Actress) and a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Hurt Locker – This was my first pick for best film of the year when I saw it back in July. I immediately knew that it was one of the top films that I would see all year, and I have watched with pleasure as recognition and acclaim have continued to build. This is genuinely a fantastic movie, and I would be very happy to see it win. Matching Avatar, it has 9 nominations: Best Actor (Jeremy Renner), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing.

Inglourious Basterds – I have to say that I am also pleased to see this film nominated. Never count Quentin Tarantino out. I didn’t go to see this movie when it first ran in theaters, but on the strength of the response it got, I went once it made it to the dollar theater. And then I promptly saw it a second time. There are some really interesting things going on beneath the surface of this movie, and of course it carries the inimitable flair of Tarantino’s style. I don’t believe that this film will win the big award, but I wouldn’t be upset if it did. Inglourious Basterds is nominated for 8 awards: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire – This is the other major nominee that I have not yet seen. Now, of course, I wish that I had. I missed a few opportunities to do so because I was never sure I was really in the mood for it, and now I have very little to say about it, except that it has a very respectable 6 nominations: Best Director, Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe), Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Editing.

A Serious Man – I am beyond thrilled to see this movie nominated. Its nomination is the best argument I can think of for having 10 nominees. It was the best film I saw this year, and perhaps even in the last few years. I cannot imagine that it will win, but I love that it is getting this kind of recognition and exposure. Of all the nominees this year, this is the one that I will be watching again and again and again. It only has 2 nominations, with one for Best Original Screenplay.

Up – 10 nominees or not, you could have knocked me over with a feather when this title appeared on the list. After the Academy’s unforgivable treatment of WALL-E last year, it seemed that the animation ghetto truly was impermeable. Up joins Beauty and the Beast as the only two animated films ever nominated for Best Picture (unless you count Avatar, of course), and it is the first animated film to be so recognized since the creation of a special animation category. I couldn’t be happier about that. Up received a total of 5 nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Animated Film.

Up in the Air – This may end up being the most polarizing choice among the nominees. Its spot on the list has been a virtual lock for months, and (were it not for The Hurt Locker) I would say its chances for victory are excellent. Its fans are outspoken in their praise, but its detractors are equally vehement. I saw the film twice, and enjoyed it very much both times. I feel that it does deserve to be on the list, and I would not be appalled if it won, but there are no less than 4 superior films among the other nominees. Up in the Air has a healthy 6 nominations (although 2 are overlapping): Best Director, Best Actor (George Clooney), Best Supporting Actress (Vera Farmiga), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Kendrick), and Best Adapted Screenplay.

And now for a brief look at the other nominees, beginning with those which I have already seen:

Star Trek, 4 nominations . . . and the only nominee for Best Visual Effects that wasn’t also nominated for Best Picture. How weird is that?
The Princess and the Frog, 3 nominations . . . but 2 of them are for Best Original Song. Well, they were both good songs.
The Messenger, 2 nominations . . . I can’t say that I really enjoyed this movie at all. I wasn’t sure what it was trying to say, but I was pretty sure I disagreed.
Sherlock Holmes, 2 nominations . . . I really liked the music (probably the film’s strongest feature), so I’m glad to see it recognized there.
Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2 nominations . . . This is such a radically different and enjoyable film that I can’t believe the Academy couldn’t find more to say about than, “It was animated and we liked the music.”
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 1 nomination . . . I’m not sure why this movie was nominated for anything. I’m even less sure why the thing it was nominated for was its cinematography.
Julie & Julia, 1 nomination . . . A pretty enjoyable little movie which served as the vehicle for Meryl Streep’s 16th Oscar nomination. The woman is an institution.
Coraline, 1 nomination . . . Another very enjoyable and totally different sort of movie that got itself stuck in the animation ghetto. You can tell it was a strong year for animation from the lack of Dreamworks filler.

The nominees that I plan to see:

The White Ribbon, 2 nominations . . . I know very little about this film. It is foreign, and people whose opinions I trust say it is amazing.
Invictus, 2 nominations . . . I really wanted to see this while it was in theaters, and I just couldn’t make it happen. I’ll get to it as soon as I can.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2 nominations . . . Reviews are mixed, but I find what I’ve seen of this movie irresistible. I’ll be catching it regardless, but I’ll probably be disappointed.
A Single Man, 1 nomination . . . This has gotten so much positive attention that I can’t stay away.
Bright Star, 1 nomination . . . Everyone in the English department has been telling me I have to see this for quite some time now. Hopefully I will be able to soon.
The Secret of Kells, 1 nomination . . . A best animated feature that I hadn’t even heard of? The trailer for this looks amazing, and now I can’t wait to get my hands on it. But . . . where to find it?
In the Loop, 1 nomination . . . This looked pretty funny when I saw a trailer, but then I heard absolutely nothing about it until the nomination popped up today.

Nominees that don’t really interest me (but which I may end up watching anyway):

Nine, 4 nominations . . . I was on this train until it got completely derailed by awful reviews. I’m pretty surprised that it still got this many nominations, and I like musicals (and that cast) enough that I may just give it a look.
Crazy Heart, 3 nominations . . . I was pretty underwhelmed by both the concept and the trailer for this movie, but we’ll see.
The Young Victoria, 3 nominations . . . This had probably the worst trailer I’ve seen in quite some time, and I was forced to sit through it on several occasions. Still, The Duchess surprised me last year, so I’ll probably end up giving it a try.
The Last Station, 2 nominations . . . A movie about Tolstoy? Sign me up! But . . . I found the trailer a bit off-putting, so I’m still kind of teetering on the fence.
The Lovely Bones, 1 nomination . . . Another hotly-anticipated film that got completely trashed by the critics upon release. Harsh.
-Coco before Chanel, 1 nomination . . . Audrey Tautou is a talented actress, but . . . meh.
Il divo, 1 nomination
Faubourg 36, 1 nomination
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 1 nomination . . . There’s no way I’m sitting through this movie. Yuck. Is the Academy going to sit there with a straight face and tell me that they couldn’t find any other 2009 film with notable sound? Because if they do, I will say that they are lying.

The non-minees, neglected movies that made me ask “What happened?” (undoubtedly incomplete):

The Road, Critics seemed to like it, audiences responded well, the pre-release buzz was huge . . . and then it simply vanished from the radar. I thought it was a fascinating and well-made film that would reward multiple viewings.
Watchmen, This movie got trashed by a lot of people, but then, so did several of the nominees. I liked it, but more importantly, it accomplished some pretty significant things both technically and aesthetically.
Moon, It was a very small film that never got very far, but it was well-liked by those who managed to see it. It told a fantastic and totally convincing science fiction tale with a small budget and a limited setting. I guess with 3 major science fiction films already well-represented among the nominees, there just wasn’t room for one more.
Away We Go, The dominance of the quirky indie film must truly be behind us if this delightful movie failed to achieve any recognition.
The Informant!, Far from perfect, this movie was still full of laugh-out loud funny moments and had some very interesting things to say. Plus, Matt Damon was amazing in it. But then, he’s already got a nomination this year.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I saw this several times in the theaters because it was so frivolously entertaining. Its absence from the animation category is a further testament to the excellence of animated films this year.
Zombieland, For what? I don’t even know. All I know is that this was one of the most fun cinematic experiences of the last year.
(500) Days of Summer, I guess nothing about this movie really screamed “great” . . . but it would have seemed like a reasonable choice to fill out some category or another.
Where the Wild Things Are, I didn’t like this movie as much as some people did, and perhaps there was a certain ambivalence about the whole thing that kept it from being recognized. Still, I’m pretty amazed that it slipped past without a sound.

Finally, last and least, my own predictions and hopes for the final outcome:

Best Picture: I’d be happiest to see A Serious Man, extremely happy to see Up, and quite happy to see Inglourious Basterds walk out with this award. However, I think The Hurt Locker has the best chance at winning it, and I would be very happy with that selection. I’d call Up in the Air a dark horse, but still possible (not an awful pick), and Avatar an unfortunately strong candidate which would displease me greatly. I don’t see any of the other 4 having a chance.

Best Director: This award belongs to Kathryn Bigelow, and she would be the first woman to win it (she is the fourth ever nominated). However, I would also be happy to see Quentin Tarantino win his first directing award.

Best Actor: I’ve only seen two of the nominees in this category, but Jeremy Renner gave an amazing performance in The Hurt Locker, and I think he has as good a chance as anyone to win. Tough call.

Best Actress: I bear Sandra Bullock no animosity, but I hope she doesn’t win. This could very possibly be her year, though. I’d prefer to see the award go to Carey Mulligan, who also has an excellent shot.

Best Supporting Actor: Again, I’ve only seen two of the nominees, but my money and my preference are on Christoph Waltz, for playing one of the most fascinating villains, nay characters, of the decade with such poise and style.

Best Supporting Actress: I have no idea here. If only Vera Farmiga had been nominated for Up in the Air, I’d probably go with her, but there’s always the possibility of a vote split. And my own preference would actually be on Anna Kendrick.

Best Original Screenplay: This is an incredibly strong category this year, and I would be happy and not terribly surprised to see any of the nominees win (with the exception of The Messenger, of course). However, I’ll go ahead and throw my best wishes to A Serious Man.

Best Adapted Screenplay: I suspect that this will go to either An Education or Precious. But I’d rather see it go to District 9 or Up in the Air.

Best Cinematography: Definitely The Hurt Locker, though Avatar (despite being an animated film) probably has a good shot at this.

Best Editing: Personally, I’d have to say Inglourious Basterds, but Best Editing is often aligned with whatever wins the biggest awards, so hopefully it will go to The Hurt Locker.

Best Art Direction: Surely Avatar will (deservedly) clean up in the technical and aesthetic categories.

Best Costumes: Bright Star?

Best Makeup: Star Trek?

Best Original Score: All pretty strong entries (though I have to say Avatar is the weakest . . . a very derivative score from Horner). I really have no horse in the race, but the music that made the strongest impression on me was probably from Up, with a nod to Sherlock Holmes.

Best Original Song: I’d give this one to Disney if they didn’t have the vote-splitting problem. But I probably have a tendency to overestimate that phenomenon.

Best Sound & Sound Editing: Sound is one of the best and most effectively used elements of The Hurt Locker, and I think it has a good shot.

Best Visual Effects: Avatar, for sure.

Best Animated Film: This is kind of tough thanks to the inclusion of Up in the Best Picture category. People who really love it may throw their votes there and promote some other animated film in this category. I don’t think Up can win Best Picture, and I’m conflicted about whether I’d rather see it or Fantastic Mr. Fox win in this category. However, I do think it will come down to those two.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. I will return to this spot in one month (more or less) to see how things turned out, and probably kick myself for some of the predictions that, by then, will seem much more obviously off-base.

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~ by Jared on February 2, 2010.

4 Responses to “2010: An Oscar Primer”

  1. It will be a little while before I have my own Oscar predictions together – I am nowhere near as up on the nominees as I was last year, when I correctly predicted all but 3 categories (I was ON FIRE). BUT, I do have to say that from the brief survey of those films I have seen and the nominees up there, I was on the whole very surprised by the Academy’s nods. There were several great films and several brilliant performances that were missed out in several categories.

    I would have liked to see “The Soloist” garner further recognition – that one is similar to the Blind Side, but at least didn’t wrap everything up so neatly, nor gloss over the true problems facing impoverished people (both of which The Blind Side did – the treatment of the kid’s mom’s drug problems was incredibly frustrating). You are correct in that it is a movie driven by Sandra Bullock’s performance alone, and frankly, if we’re going based solely on her acting, (I shudder to say this), “All About Steve” was better…and I’m dead serious about that…and I admit, I’m also a little sad to admit that I’ve seen it (I was trapped on a plane for 17 hours and it was there…so sue me).

    The other film I wanted to see honored at least on some technical level because the filming was just so darn well done was (500) Days of Summer. I may be a little bit biased and blinded by my love for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but the movie did a great job of subverting its stated genre, and doing it in a unique and funny manner. It got some recognition at the Golden Globes, but apparently not enough to carry it through to the Oscars. Sad day.

    I have the DVD of “The Hurt Locker” sitting on my table right now, and my roommate and I plan on watching it this week sometime, so I’ll hopefully be able to give you my assessment of it – I’m really looking forward to seeing it, though war movies are often not my taste.

    All in all, I look forward to conversations in the office about this leading up to the Oscars and post-Oscars. :)

  2. Agree on “An Education.” Wonderful film.

  3. Just saw The White Ribbon, and I was curious of what you thought so decided to check on here. Have you managed to see it yet? My theater was packed (which surprised me until I remembered what city I was in), though my friend and I were probably the only two under the age of 60. It was definitely an emotionally difficult movie to watch, and I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with the filmmaker when it was done. Though three hours later I’m still debating with myself about the world view he presented, which I suppose is generally the mark of a good film.

    And In the Loop is really amusing, and it make me oh so grateful that I didn’t follow the rest of my college classmates into the bureaucratic nightmare that is DC. (Instead I chose academia, which actually probably isn’t much better…) And the newest character in the Office is in it, so that’s a plus.

  4. I *haven’t* been able to see it yet, although I really want to. I’ll be in Dallas on March 10th, so if it’s still showing somewhere, I’ll see it then. I’m not sure I’ll have a chance before that. It must be weird to see that stuff with an audience. I saw “Precious” all by myself here in Waco, and “A Single Man” was shown here for about 6 days. I saw it on the last day and there were about 4 other people there. I didn’t like it very much . . . but that’s not the point!

    Got “In the Loop” from Netflix this weekend, and watched it twice. I loved it, but I had to watch it more than once to catch all of the jokes. Hilarious stuff. The disc also included a full half-hour of deleted scenes, which were quite funny (but probably best left out . . . the movie was the perfect length, I thought).

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