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!

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