Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oscars 2010 Educated Guesses

A little early this time, but I'm going on vacation tomorrow so this is my last chance!

Best Animated Feature
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

Who Will Win: This cateogry is the most competitive it has probably ever been in its short history. Up's status as a Best Picture nominee is unique, and there's no precedent to look to for how it may affect the votes in this category. That said, I think the widespread love of Pixar's latest hit will result in a win. However, I'm not overly confident this time. Princess and the Frog would win if this were the mid-90s. Coraline was released so long ago (February 2009) that it feels like it should have been nominated last year. Academy members are known for short memories, so the fact that it was included at all is a compliment. Nobody has seen Secret of Kells outside of a few random people in LA. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a much different could easily steal the trophy from Up. But for now, I'm playing it safe.

My Choice: Up. Though Coraline is close.

Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for The Messenger
Joel and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Bob Peterson and Pete Docter for Up

Who Will Win: I think The Hurt Locker's gonna get some love here. Boal's screenplay was almost devoid of monologues or anything so dramatic, and he still crafted some really vivid characters and nightmarish scenarios. Still, Tarantino won this award in 1994 for Pulp Fiction and he may very well do so again. I was going to cite Up as a major contender as well, but then I realized that all of that movie's best moments had no dialgoue at all.

My Choice: Tarantino. For all of his excesses, the guy really knows how to use dialogue to build tension. It's uncanny.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche for In The Loop
Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for District 9
Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious
Nick Hornby for An Education
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for Up in the Air

Who Will Win: I doubt voters will let Up in the Air leave empty-handed, and this is probably its best shot for a win. The annual "dramedy" that fllls out a Best Picture slot almost always walks home with some writing award, and this should be no exception. I can imagine a scenario where An Education upsets, though.

My Choice: Up in the Air's script was very hit or miss for me. It had great interaction between characters, but all the voiceover was just too...ostentatiously "hip." Meanwhile, District 9 had some really creative stuff going on in terms of structure, but maybe that's better recognized in Editing. Even so, I'd like it to win.

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz in Nine
Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
Mo'Nique in Precious

Who Will Win: In the past, this category has been notoriously difficult to predict. Well, not this time. Mo'Nique has got this locked down for her towering performance in Precious. It helps that the two Up in the Air ladies cancel each other out. Cruz and Gyllenhaal are just fller.

My Choice: Mo'Nique is obviously deserving, but I really liked Anna Kendrick and thought she was the best part of Up in the Air. Hopefully, she'll be back.

Best Supporting Actor
Matt Damon in Invictus
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

Who Will Win: Another near-certain outcome. Waltz has been stomping all over his competition at the preliminary award shows, so there's no reason to believe he won't do so again. None of the others are even close.

My Choice: I'd love to see Woody Harrelson get something for Zombieland, but that might be asking too much. Let Waltz have it, he was great.

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
Helen Mirren in The Last Station
Carey Mulligan in An Education
Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia

Who Will Win: Meryl Streep is a regular in this category, and rightfully so, but she hasn't actually won since Sophie's Choice in 1982. Her problem is she keeps getting matched up against other beloved performers who have never won. That's exactly what's happening this year with Sandra Bullock. Mark my words, Streep will win at least one more time before her career ends, but probably not this time. I would be very surprised if Bullock lost.

My Choice: Gabourey Sidibe. I'm not sure who decided that Mo'Nique would be the one to get all the awards, when Sidibe's performance is just as good and even more important to the film as a whole. Her work is even more impressive when you watch her talk show appearances and see just how different her real-life bubbly personality is from the sullen Clareece "Precious" Jones.

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
George Clooney in Up in the Air
Colin Firth in A Single Man
Morgan Freeman in Invictus
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Who Will Win: Bridges. It's just his time. He's a popular veteran with many great performances under his belt. The one with the best chance of upsetting is Jeremy Renner, who nailed what had to have been a strange, difficult role.

My Choice: Bridges. This is The Dude we're talking about! The fact that he doesn't yet have one of these is shameful.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
James Cameron for Avatar
Lee Daniels for Precious
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

Who Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow seems poised to make history regardless of how the Best Picture race ends. A victory means she will be the first woman to ever claim this prize, and that's hard to resist. Even James Cameron has said he wants her to win, which is good, because his tendency for annoying acceptance speeches will probably work against him.

My Choice: Bigelow is an unheralded talent who has been producing great stuff for decades, and the skill on display in The Hurt Locker is the work of a master.

Best Picture
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Who Will Win: With this many nominees, perhaps it's best to work backwards. The Blind Side is riding a wave of affection for Sandra Bullock and doesn't have a chance. An Education and A Serious Man are way too tiny and obscure. District 9 is....just too edgy and awesome, I guess. Up is not quite strong enough to do what Beauty and the Beast couldn't...especially against nine other films. Precious got a lot of acclaim when it was first released, but has since been overshadowed by other films. Ditto for Up in the Air. So, that leaves three very different films.

A handful of Oscar pundits are speculating about the possibility for a stunning upset by Inglourious Basterds, with the rationale that a lot of Jewish Academy members really love the idea of Brad Pitt and his motley crew killing "Naht-sees." If that did come to pass, it would easily be the most shocking turnaround in at least a decade. I still think it's between Avatar and The Hurt Locker, and this is where the Academy's new preferential ballots come into play.

The somewhat confusing new procedure asks members to list the ten favorite films of the year, and takes all of the picks (and their positions on the list) into account when tallying the winners. This is where a divisive film like Avatar gets hurt. Sure, plenty of people probably named it number one, but there are a lot of others who likely didn't put it on the list at all. It certainly doesn't have a lot of love in the writers branch - the lack of a screenplay nomination is telling. Meanwhile, it's very hard to find anyone with anything bad to say about The Hurt will have many number one picks, but also a lot of second and third picks. I find it hard to believe that a love-it-or-hate-it film like Crash would have beaten Brokeback Mountain in 2005 with these rules in place.

So with all that in mind, I am going to very tentatively predict that The Hurt Locker wins, but Avatar still needs to be taken seriously (especially if members were persuaded by its box-office accomplishments) right up till the moment the envelope is opened.

My Choice: Richard Corliss of Time Magazine summed it up well:

"The most significant beneficiary of the expansion of this category, District 9 can now proclaim itself the first sci-fi-horror-splatter movie to be nominated for Best Picture. But the film is so much more: a parable of the white man's enslaving an alien race, a sensational debut feature for South African director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp (just 29 when the picture opened) and a demonstration that genre films can satisfy smarty-pants adults as well as dweeby teen boys. In a better, fairer world, the top Oscar would occasionally go to a movie like District 9."

I'm done until March 7.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Wide Range of Brow

The announcement has been made. Let's take a look at the big ten.

Best Picture
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

I'm liking this ten nominees thing. Overjoyed at District 9 being up there, that was a great movie that just needed a little push provided by the rule change to overcome the typical dismissal of sci-fi at the Academy Awards. Sci-fi masterpieces like Terminator 2, The Matrix and Children of Men were all ignored in past years, so it's very cool.

Up is now the second animated film in history to contend for the top honor....though Beauty and the Beast managed to do it in 1991 with five nominees, a feat that still deserves mad props.

There's really something for almost everyone's taste on this list, which is not often said about the Oscars. For example, An Education is almost tailor made for upper-class WASPy types who will tell their country club friends how moved they were by a young girl's various complex life experiences. The polar opposite of that is The Blind Side, a big surprise that is definitely living up to its name right about now. It's one of those inspirational sports movies that are beloved by the public but sneered at by critics for being too simple. Those looking to get their cynicism fix can check out A Serious Man, the latest Coen Bros. examination of society's suckage.

Precious and Up in the Air were givens. I suppose Inglourious Basterds was too. Never count out a movie about Nazis and the Holocaust, no matter how offbeat the tone is.

However, from my vantage point, this is going to be a close battle between Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Following the big A's win at the Golden Globes, Hurt Locker has picked up a lot of random guild awards (PGA, DGA) that make it a strong contender. To make it a little juicier, the directors of these two movies, James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, were once married. Expect a lot of "War of the Roses Oscar Battle" type articles in the weeks leading up to the awards.

Let's talk about Avatar. Though it makes me cringe a little bit, it must be considered the front-runner. The Dark Knight wasn't considered serious enough for consideration last year, and now a movie about blue people is probably going to win? I don't get it. But it's okay, that colossal mistake paved the way for more Best Picture nominees and helped get District 9 up there, so I guess I don't have to be bitter about that anymore.

Avatar is now called the highest-grossing film of all time, which is technically true, but the math involved is fairly obnoxious. Most of its tickets were for 3D IMAX screenings, which are twice as expensive. Not only that, if you adjust for inflation, Gone With the Wind is still at the top 70 years after its release. Avatar falls to about 25. It reminds me of how Transformers 2 opened on Tuesday night and then bragged about a great opening weekend. Uh yeah, when you start your weekend on frickin' Tuesday, it will be pretty successful!

The battle between Avatar and Hurt Locker is about much more than its divorced directors. Allowing for a bit of hyperbole, it's almost a clash between dueling ideologies on what makes a movie great. Avatar is a stunning technical achievement that has been embraced by the world and will be an inspiration for countless aspiring filmmakers, despite paying only middling attention to things like story and characterization. The Hurt Locker is a tiny film, barely seen by the public but adored by critics. It's steeped in skill and professionalism, and it gets better in the days after you see it as you begin to feel its quiet power.

I'm tempted to say it's highbrow vs. lowbrow, but Avatar's not really lowbrow. It's more like middlebrow...or just brow?

There were virtually no surprises in the acting categories, so I'll get into them when I do the full-on predictions closer to the ceremony. I do want to react to these two, though.

Best Documentary
Burma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Which Way Home

I would like to extend a hearty "fuck you" to the Academy for excluding Anvil. It's almost impossible for any doc to make this category that isn't an angry look at some political issue. Now it's The Cove vs. Food, Inc. What pisses the members off more - dead dolphins or random disgusting stuff in their food? We'll know soon.

Best Animated Feature
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

Awesome list, but...The Secret of Kells? I'm embarrassed to say I've never even heard of that one. Shame-driven research indicates it's a French animated film that won't even be relesed here until March. Let the pirating ensue!