I wrote a guest blog over the summer wherein I attacked Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and in turn I was attacked by people sticking for such a work of genius. Several Razzie nominations later, and I will accept your apologies now. That bit of pettiness aside, I’d like to take a look at the movies nominated and weigh in on how I think it will and should go (not usually the same). The big movie this year is Avatar. Technically this was one of the greatest movie making achievements ever. I will get into my admiration and criticism of this movie later, but I want to acknowledge the sheer achievement that this movie is. Also, by the time the Oscars hit, it will likely be the highest grossing movie ever. That is an amazing achievement. Does making money make a Best Picture? No, but that doesn’t disqualify it either. Let’s take a look at the other categories before Best Picture.
Obviously every technical category from cinematography to visual effects to editing will go to Avatar. If the Academy wants to invent new categories to give to Avatar, I wouldn’t mind. However, such a technical juggernaut makes discussing these categories a waste of time. Hell, nominating any other movies was a waste of time. So moving along…
Best Supporting Actor
The rest of this column will be guess work admittedly. I think I can make a pretty good guess, but this category is my stone cold lock of the century. Never have I seen such a one sided race. Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds gave one of the greatest performances of the decade. He is the absolute best villain since Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, with all due respect to Heath Ledger’s Joker. (Side note: the last few years this category has gone to a villainous performance, even more cementing this category.) The rest of the nominations are pedestrian, filler because there have to be 4 other nominations. Stanley Tucci gave a nice performance in an awful movie in Lovely Bones, but that is the only other performance even worth noting. Christoph Waltz’s evil lurking under that polite demeanor is the most memorable thing about an absolutely memorable movie.
Best Supporting Actress
This also isn’t even close. Mo’Nique gives the performance of a lifetime, or so I have heard, because Precious is the one of these movies I haven’t seen yet. I have seen scenes, though, and Mo’nique gives a visceral performance as an abusive mother that thinks she’s doing the best performance. There isn’t really much competition in this category either, and if I had seen Precious, I might feel as strongly about Mo’nique as I do Christoph Waltz. The two from Up in the Air were nice but it was DEFINITELY George Clooney’s show. Nine was the disappointment of the Oscar season, and Penelope Cruz was NOT the bright spot. Man, I need to see Precious.
This is the first time there is a difference between what I think WILL happen and what I think SHOULD happen. The hype surrounding a nomination is usually a good indication of who will win it, and the most hyped nomination in this category is definitely Sandra Bullock. The Blindside was an alright movie, but in a year, I won’t even remember it existed. Sandra Bullock wasn’t anything special, and had a very stereotypical part. I have never thought she was very good in anything, but she is inexplicably one of the most popular actresses in America. Although, I think she should automatically be disqualified since she was nominated for a Razzie in the same year. Once I see Precious, I may decide to go with Gabourey Sidibe, since it definitely seems that she gives a phenomenal performance as an abused, pregnant inner city teen. It is the part that Oscars are made of.
Since I haven’t, my pick is the Oscar stalwart Meryl Streep playing real life chef Julia Child in Julie and Julia. She is always awesome, and this year is no different. I have seen clips of Julia Child, and Meryl is dead on. This is the most spot on performance of a real person since Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. One can never go wrong with Meryl Streep, but Sandra Bullock has the people on her side, and this year the Academy is determined to give the people what they want. Thing is, until Avatar came and saved us, the people made Razzie nominee Transformers the highest grossing movie of the year.
This is a two man race. Morgan Freeman played Nelson Mandela, which seems a role to which Freeman was born to play, but he didn’t deliver. He was average, and uninspired, and was hamstringed by playing Mandela in a sports movie. George Clooney, as he often does, gave a great performance in Up in the Air, but not quite enough to give him Best Actor. It seems every year I say “Man, Clooney was good, but…” I’m really starting to feel bad about it. Christopher Plummer is filler. This category boils down to Jeremy Renner in Hurt Locker and Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Jeremy Renner plays a bomb defuser in Iraq who is addicted to adrenaline, and is constantly putting himself and his squad in jeopardy. Jeff Bridges is a washed up country singer looking for a second chance. Both performances were top notch. They were both so likeably flawed that you couldn’t help but root for them. Jeff Bridges made me cry, but Jeremy Renner made me awe at the complexity of his character, and that is why I choose him. I believe the academy will choose Jeff Bridges, and I don’t blame them, but by far the most morally complex character of the year was Jeremy Renner’s in The Hurt Locker.
Best Adapted Screenplay
This is one of those teller categories. Almost every year, the best picture wins one of the two best screenplay categories. Again, I haven’t seen Precious, but I believe it will win. It really does sound amazing, and it is getting the backing from the emotional crowd. If Up in the Air is a legitimate threat to win Best Picture, I could see it winning also. These are the only two with a real chance to win. District 9 overachieved to even be nominated, and An Education and In the Loop are two independent to be taken seriously.
Best Original Screenplay
This could be the battle that wins Best Picture. I believe there are 4, maybe 5, real candidates for Best Picture, and the two top are Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker. One will be eliminated by not winning this category. Tarantino’s Basterds is his finest work since Pulp Fiction, which did win this category long ago. Mixing witty dialogue with a heart-pounding story and shocking violence is a winning formula. Killing mass amounts of Nazis doesn’t hurt either. The Hurt Locker is much more emotional a tale. It is tense, and seemingly main characters are snuffed out when least expected. It is also a hardcore examination of what it’s like to be a soldier, and in maybe the most dangerous occupation in the most dangerous place for it in the world. It is handled deftly and believably. All the characters are written like people you know. I am split down the middle on this one, and I have no idea who the Academy will pick. I believe whoever wins this battle has the inside track on the most coveted prize of all, Best Picture.
I would love to see this award go to Quentin Tarantino. I have loved him for so long, that now that he is nominated, it would be great to see him win. However, and I feel like a traitor for saying this, I don’t think he was the best director this year. Kathryn Bigelow and Jason Reitman have both made movies I have loved. I hope that one year I see both of them win a Best Director, but not this year. I haven’t seen Precious, but even if I had, I don’t think it would change my mind on this at all. James Cameron MUST win this award. He worked on this movie for years, developing the technology and waiting until it was able to be made. Avatar is a technical achievement, the likes of which the movie industry hasn’t seen since Star Wars back in 1977. He took the gimmick of 3D and made it mean something. He didn’t just make something pop out at you, he used 3D to bring you into his world. He used it to tell his story, and it worked SO well. Regardless of whether Avatar is Best Picture material, you have to give James Cameron this award for what he achieved with this movie. He has changed the face of film making and none of these other directors can say that.
Finally, this brings us to the main event, the one award that makes the Oscars good or bad, correct or incorrect, the Academy film geniuses or no-talent hacks: Best Picture. I will rank each one of them for you, and since the field has expanded from 5 to 10 as to accommodate popular movies, I will tell you whether or not a movie would have been nominated anyway or is just to appease the masses.
10. District 9- This movie has overachieved so much by being nominated for anything, I just can’t see it winning. I suppose the lynchpin for this nomination is that it is a Sci-fi movie with heart and a real message. If that weren’t the same description as the technologically superior Avatar, I could take this nomination more seriously. One thing it does have going for it though is that Sharlto Copley gave an amazing performance, and him not being nominated for best actor is one of the only snubs I think there were this year. I believe this an add-on.
9. An Education- This nomination is a nod to those people who delighted in the years when Oscar Nominations were reserved for movies no one had ever seen. It is a coming of age story about a girl learning about herself and the world with one Hell of a performance from Alfred Molina as her father. I don’t think this has much of a chance, because this is the year of mainstream and it definitely doesn’t appeal to that. I believe this is just filler.
8. A Serious Man- A great updating of the Book of Job. It is awesome how the Coen Bros. slyly adapt works into movies you never see coming. O Brother Where Art Thou from the Odyssey is in the same vein. This doesn’t have the star power or the emotional impact that the legitimate contenders have, but it does have the Coen name, and that is why a believe it is added on.
7. Up- Expanding the number of nominees to include more popular films means that the Academy will be looking to family films too. Pixar has cornered the market on entertaining family films. This is the current Pixar film, and thus it was nominated. I don’t believe this has as legitimate a shot as previous Pixar films like Wall-E or Finding Nemo. That isn’t to say I don’t think it belongs. There are not many films that had the emotional impact or sheer likability this one had. In fact, maybe the only ones that do are the movies higher on this list.
6. The Blindside-This movie has a good combination of family drama and real life to it. This is based on a true story, and the real story is feel-good and inspiring. This movie does a good job of capturing those aspects. Sandra Bullock is noticeable I guess, but I felt the acting was this movie’s major flaw. That and it doesn’t have much new to say. Sure it’s based on real life, but that doesn’t mean it changes the way we see the world or anything. I definitely think this movie was added to the list to appeal more to the masses, but it does have its worth. But, like I said earlier, I won’t even remember it a year from now.
5. Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire- This is the one I haven’t seen, but hopefully I will by the time the Oscars come around. I put it at number 5, because I think it has potential to be much higher, but I don’t know for sure. It has the makings to be the most real picture of inner city poor since The Wire, which is a very good story to be compared to. It looks very moving. In fact, the scenes I have seen made me tear up, and I didn’t have any concept of the context. I fully anticipate weeping like a baby, but I am excited to see this anyway.
4. Up in the Air- What can I say? Another near miss by Jason Reitman and George Clooney. They are both talented enough to win awards, but year after year it seems their competition is just a little better. Clooney was also money this year with The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I look forward to the day that Jason Reitman and George Clooney both reach the promised land. I just don’t think it’s this year.
3. Avatar- As I said earlier, James Cameron was the Best Director of the year, and this movie is a technological achievement. It deserves many accolades. Best Picture isn’t one of them. Movies tell stories. The biggest weakness of this movie is its story. That is a pretty big liability. Without 3D, Avatar would just be another Sci-fi movie. It should be recognized for what it has achieved. It didn’t achieve best picture. All the money in the world can’t by original ideas and emotional impact. Another bad sign is that this wasn’t nominated for any screenplay awards. As I said before, those are almost sure telltales of the Best Picture and Avatar isn’t even nominated. I would not be surprised if this won though, because Titanic suffered all the same issues and faced much stiffer competition from LA Confidential.
2. The Hurt Locker- This really should be 1A. I have debated with myself over whether this or Inglourious Basterds is more deserving of an Oscar since I saw this. I own both of these movies, and could watch either one over and over. I excitedly talk of the merits of both with my friends and vehemently recommend both to anyone who hasn’t seen them. In the end I didn’t choose against this because of any deficiency here, but more as a commendation of the Basterds. This has realistic and complex characters played by great actors in intense, morally trying situations. What more could one ask for? If the Academy goes this way, I will be ecstatic.
1. Inglourious Basterds- When I first saw Pulp Fiction, it changed my perception of what movies could be. I thought Tarantino had earned my loyalty for a lifetime. However, over the last ten years, Tarantino made one piece of crap after another, and my impatience for failure eroded my love for him. With Inglourious Basterds he has won me back with a vengeance. All the great features of Pulp Fiction are back. His magnetic characters reciting the most amazing dialogue ever written played by Hollywood Heavyweights playing against type, maybe even creating a new type for themselves. From one intense situation to the next, Tarantino orchestrates one of the most delightful ballets of destruction ever caught on film. He does it his way. No convention gets in his way, not even history. It is brave film making, and it pays off in a huge way. If this wins, the Academy will have gotten it perfectly right, regardless of whatever happened the rest of the night. That right there should tell you that the odds of this winning are slim, but stranger things have happened…
I’m not always right, but I like to think I am. Thank you for reading this, and feel free to disagree with me, just don’t dare say Transformers got snubbed.