Monday, February 1, 2010

Oscar, Oscar

For some reason, I'm not as jazzed about Oscar season as I've been in years past. Part of me wonders if it's because the winners seem to already have been determined before the nominations are even announced. Part of me wonders if the expansion of the Best Picture category has taken a little of the competitive spirit out of it. In a year that seemed to be relatively mediocre at best, there doesn't seem to be an abundance of films jockeying for those ten spots. Many critics believe that the expansion from five to ten best picture nominees was made to help blockbuster, audience-friendly flicks make the list. After last year's snubbing of The Dark Knight, the outcry was presumably large. The need for such an expansion, then, seems a little moot this year when the big frontrunner (maybe) is Avatar, a film that now stands as the highest grossing film in the world. Nominations come out tomorrow, though, so I feel a sort of impetus to chime in with some thoughts and predictions. Maybe that will get my excitement going.


So here we go . . . .

Best Picture
  • Avatar
  • Up in the Air
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Precious
  • The Hurt Locker
These five seem to be the recognized shoo-ins, the films that would have occupied these slots no matter how many nominees were allowed in this category. The question now becomes how is the Academy going to fill out this category when the five best pictures of the year are already assured of a spot on the list? How about these five?:
  • Up
  • Star Trek
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • The Hangover
These five, I'm not as confident about. Well, I think Up is probably a sure thing. Ever since the creation of the Best Animated Feature category, a lot of fine films have been on the short list for nomination consideration. Up just gets to be the one that lucks into a nomination under the rule change. We wouldn't be talking about it as a contender if there were only five nominees, particularly considering the strength of the "guaranteed" slate, but it's nice to see the animated art form get a little mainstream recognition again.

As for the other four, I am perfectly prepared to be way off base on those. I wonder how much genre will play into the nominations. Will the fact that Star Trek, District 9, and Avatar are all sci-fi movies hurt one or more of them? Will the Academy think, "Well, Avatar's in there so forget those other two" even though I kind of felt like Star Trek was a more engaging and entertaining film than Avatar, if I'm being honest. An Education is one of those films that critics would have been begging the Academy to remember, one of those movies that you always suspect would have been next on the list. As for The Hangover . . . well . . . one of my main hopes when the Best Picture category expanded was that it would allow room for comedy to get a little more recognition. This was not a huge year, though, for comedies. There were the adult niche kind of comedies like Julie and Julia and It's Complicated (two of my favorite films from 2009). Those two films, though, didn't necessarily have the critical groundswell that, say, a Little Miss Sunshine or Juno have had in years past. I think that (500) Days of Summer would be an excellent addition to this list, but it's lack of big commercial success may keep it out of the running (even though, truth be told, I'd include it over The Hangover). I also really loved Away We Go, but that movie tended to repel critics just as much as it charmed them. What makes me put The Hangover on this list over (500) Days is that it is the comedy that seemed to work all the angles most successfully -- it was critically beloved and a box office success. It is the kind of film that would never even have a shot in other years, but with ten slots up for grabs, it could be a real contender for a nomination this year at the expense of the other comedies I've listed or a more artistic, critical darling like A Serious Man. With "sure things" like Nine and Invictus stumbling out of the gate, it could make things a lot easier on those ragtag buddies.

Best Actor
  • Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • George Clooney, Up in the Air
  • Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
  • Colin Firth, A Single Man
  • Morgan Freeman, Invictus
I know I just said that Invictus stumbled out of the gate, but even the critics who panned it tended to focus a lot of love and admiration for the acting work done in the film. And let's be honest -- right now, this is a two-man race between Bridges and Clooney. The other nominations are just padding to fill out the category. In other years, Renner and Firth would both be solid contenders, but Bridges and Clooney have claimed a pretty early advantage here. There are a lot of other actors I'd like to see in here -- Matt Damon for The Informant!, Joseph Gordon-Levitt for (500) Days of Summer -- but it's tough to go up against Freeman, especially when he's playing Nelson Mandela.

Best Actress
  • Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  • Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia
  • Carey Mulligan, An Education
  • Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
  • Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Again, I don't expect many surprises here. Again, it seems to be a two-woman race between Bullock and Streep who are both coming off amazing years with multiple hit films. I have to confess I think I was slightly more taken with Streep's performance in It's Complicated if only because it allowed her to go to that real, understated place she works in so well, but there's no denying she was amazing (and nomination worthy) in Julie and Julia. The other three have spent the awards season so far smiling in their seats while Bullock and Streep walk to the podium, so it's safe to assume they'll be doing the same thing come Oscar night.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
  • Alfred Molina, An Education
  • Matt Damon, Invictus
  • Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
  • Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
There is a lot of room for surprise here, although the ultimate winner will probably be no shock at all. I could imagine this list with Stanley Tucci (most likely for The Lovely Bones, although I think his work in Julie and Julia was a delight) or with Alec Baldwin. Molina is my gamble, but the guy has been doing amazing work for decades with little appreciation or recognition. This may finally be his shot at a nomination. I'm pulling for him even if it's at the expense of Tucci and Baldwin, two actors I adore.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Monique, Precious
  • Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
  • Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
  • Julianne Moore, A Single Man
  • Diane Kruger, Inglorious Basterds
This room doesn't quite have as much wiggle room as the Supporting Actor race, although, again, the winner seems pre-determined. Monique, Kendrick, Farmiga, and Moore have been racking up bags full of nominations this season. My gamble here is picking Diane Kruger instead of Penelope Cruz. Here's the thing -- I love Penelope Cruz, and I know she was the best thing about Nine. But that's the thing, she was perhaps, from what I've heard, the ONLY good thing about Nine. That movie was such a huge disappointment, that I could see Cruz being shut out if only to punish Nine for letting so many people down. And it also becomes a delicious screw-you to the Weinsteins, to nominate the actress from the movie that got kind of buried at the end of the summer only to emerge as a hit over the Christmas blockbuster that fell flat on its bloated face. Plus, Penelope Cruz just won last year for the far superior Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I would personally rather see Basterds's Melanie Laurent on this list, but there seems to be a groundswell for Kruger, so . . . . Kruger it is.

Best Director
  • James Cameron, Avatar
  • Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
  • Quentin Tarentino, Inglorious Basterds
  • Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
  • Lee Daniels, Precious
And here's where the "original five" will become clear -- which five movies would have been nominated regardless of whether there were five slots or ten. I would be hard pressed to come up with another director to unseat one of these five. Clint Eastwood edged out Daniels for the Golden Globes, but everyone knows the HFPA are whores for celebrities. Nine's failure almost surely falls in the lap of Rob Marshall, so it becomes hard to imagine him getting any recognition here.

Nominations are announced tomorrow morning. I'll comment sometime after to see how well (or poorly) I did.

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