February 20, 2010

Oscars 2010 - The Best Picture Race

Lunch_OscarStatue_325_325x445This year the Academy has elected ten films to compete for Best Picture. You may be thinking that sounds like a lot of contenders and it is! This is the first time there has been this many nominees since 1943 and there have been as many as twelve nominated films in a given year. I have to wonder why they decided to expand the number of films this year. I am guessing it has to do with the failure of The Dark Knight to be nominated last year. Granted, I do not think it would have helped it win, but the nomination would have been nice and the recognition well-deserved. In any case this year's crop is a mixture of the popular and the indie, films everyone has seen and those virtually no one has seen. Who will win? I am sure you all have your guesses.

What I am hoping to do here is let you know who is nominated and give my thoughts on their virtues and perhaps even some thoughts as to why or why not I believe each will win or lose. I am not likely to be right, but it could prove an interesting exercise.

First off, here are the ten nominees, in alphabetical order: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, and Up in the Air. Let me also add a couple of titles I felt were snubbed: The Road, Moon, and (500) Days of Summer.

In many cases the Best Picture winner is also nominated for Best Director. Both do not always win, but the indicators point to this being true. Going by this, five nominated films can be eliminated right off the top. Still, we should not dismiss them out of hand, perhaps we will be surprised, This being true, let's take a look at the easily eliminated five first. Performances are a different story as it is easier to separate a strong performance from a film than it is to remove the director's hand in the overall scheme of things.

The Blind Side
This is one of the two nominees that I have not seen. I am not ashamed to admit that as I was cutting corners (I see way too many films to begin with) I thought this looked like one that could safely be skipped. Perhaps the bad trailer is to blame, but I had no interest in seeing it. The movie has the look of so many inspirational films that have come before. Judging by the positive reactions and its impressive (and record making) box office I am wrong. I know I will eventually see it, but have not as yet. While inspirationals appeal to the Academy, I do not feel this really has a chance.



District 9
Here is a movie that I absolutely love. This was my pick for best of the year (rather my favorite). Directed by Neil Blomkamp this science fiction film is firing on all creative cylinders. The characters are fascinating, the effects spectacular, the story involving, and the list goes on. You are given a lot to chew on here. I am not foolish enough to believe it will win, but I am ecstatic that it was nominated. It is definitely a film that you should see.



An Education
The second of the films I have no seen. I was a little surprised to see this one get a nod. Frankly, I have heard it is a good film but that talk is always overshadowed by the performance of Carey Mulligan (who received a Best Actress nomination). The film is a coming of age story set in the 1960s as a young girl's life changes in the wake of a playboy's arrival. Another film I am sure to see at some point, but never really inspired me to rush out and see it.



A Serious Man
The latest Coen Brothers film failed to garner the duo another directing nomination. As for the film, I am not as enamored with it as others have ben. Still, it is a very good, very personal film from some of the best working filmmakers. The film centers on an embattled Jewish man, a college professor who believes in order as his life is beset by disorder. The snub here is Michael Stuhlbarg for Best Actor.



Up
Pete Docter and Bob Peterson co-directed this Pixar classic that has become the second animated film to be nominated for the big prize (after Beauty and the Beast). This is a phenomenal film that ranked number 4 on my top films. It is funny, exciting, and emotionally moving. However, in addition to the lack of a director nomination, it is also up for Best Animated Feature, a fact that is sure to hurt it here, much like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was hurt by a Best Foreign Feature nomination some years ago. Still, the fact that it got nominated is great and well deserved.



Now let's move onto the five films with corresponding Best Director nominations. These I have ranked in order of likelihood to win. This is not necessarily the order I would like them to be, I mean District 9 was my number one for the year. This is the order I think they will rank when all is said and done, even though we will only ever know number one.

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
As soon as I saw this film, in addition to feeling very moved by it, I saw the image of Oscar statuette's dancing in my head. I was not so sure about the wins so much as I was about the nominations. I predicted Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. It received all of those nominations. I feel that it's best chance is in the acting categories, particularly supporting actress. It is a very good film, however its initial buzz seems to have faded in favor of other nominees.



Inglourious Basterds
I would love to say this has a better chance than fourth, but while critics have taken to it, the end of year awards have not exactly come rolling in. Still, I have a feeling this is a movie that will only grow in esteem over the years. It is funny, you never really know what films will have staying power, awards are not always an indicator. Quentin Tarantino has crafted a great piece of revisionist history that is also a love story to the medium of film. Besides, it is a shoe in for Best Supporting Actor and would like to believe it has a shot at screenplay.



Here is where things start to get a little tricky. This and the two films to come are as close to a toss up as you can get. All three have taken in some prestigious year end awards. This is my best guess as to how they will fall together.

Up in the Air
Jason Reitman's third film has gathered a lot of steam of late. It is a very good film with strong performances and a fantastic screenplay. It is a movie that arrived at just the perfect time with its story of people at a crossroads and the fact that the main character flies around to fire people. It is captivating and poetic. I is not a flashy film in the least, but it is one you cannot take your eyes off of. This is definitely a front runner (of course, I pick it for third, but still).



The Hurt Locker
When this was in very limited release, I hopped a train to New York City and saw this and Moon. Let me tell you, it was one great day for movie. I am so glad to have made that trip. This is a subtle and nuanced film that is also edge of your seat exciting. It is quite the accomplishment for director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, not to mention star Jeremy Renner. It is the story of a bomb defusing team in Iraq and the dangers they put themselves in and the personal toll it takes. This one has been gaining a lot of steam of late, having picked up a handful of awards. I think this has a very strong shot at winning. It would not surprise me in the least. It is also the only one of the top three choices here to rank in my top of the year list, coming in at number eleven (a standing that can change on a moments notice).



Avatar
All right, conventional wisdom would say that a science fiction epic would not have a chance at winning. No science fiction feature has ever one. However, I feel that Return of the King's win a few years ago changed that as to that point no fantasy film had won. Could this be science fiction's turn? I feel it has at least an equal shot at winning as Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker do. Avatar is a great film and one that deserves consideration. It is the top grossing film of all time but more than that it has entered the public's consciousness like no other film has done since, perhaps, Titanic (another James Cameron offering). When Titanic one, I do not feel it was the best film that year, but it was the best experience. The same could be said for Avatar. Cameron pushes boundaries and has created soe jaw droppingly fantastic technologies that will surely have an effect on film history. Will it be enough to push it over the top? I think it may. It is not the best film of the year but it could prove to be more historically significant than any of the other nominees (including my favorite of the year, District 9). We will know come March 7, 2010.



Whoever wins, just remember that there were a lot of good films in 2009 and it will be time who will be final judge of which films will prove worthy of praise.

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