Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar nominations 2010

Earlier today, the nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards were announced by actress Anne Hathaway and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak. To no one’s surprise, the leading contenders were rival war films Avatar and The Hurt Locker by the former husband-and-wife duo of James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow respectively. They led with 9 nominations each followed by the 8 nominations of Inglourious Basterds.

But there were a few surprises, both good and bad. The biggest of these were in the expanded Best Picture category, which nominated 10 films for the first time since 1943 when Casablanca won. District 9 and A Serious Man were pleasant surprises; The Blind Side was not. Although it wasn’t a total shocker (many such as Roger Ebert had predicted its inclusion) it seems utterly out of place and undeserved.

The problem was the faulty reasoning for having 10 nominees in the first place. Some people were upset that The Dark Knight was not nominated last year. Not me though; I liked the movie a lot but it didn’t even make my top 10 list. I found it very stylish but emotionally hollow, especially regarding Batman’s reaction to a death. There were also too many plot holes to make it a truly great film. Nonetheless, its omission was seen as regrettable by the Academy since they do want high ratings and when the nominated movies are box-office hits, like Titanic or Lord of the Rings, the ceremony gets much higher ratings.

This pursuit is a fool’s errand because sadly great movies are rarely box-office hits. Many films almost succeed because of their critical failure, such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen which made over $400 million despite its lowly 20% rating on rottentomatoes.com. Titanic and Lord of the Rings were the rare exceptions that were critically and commercially well-received.

All this would have been moot this year since the new box office champ Avatar is also a nominee. So the Oscars would have drawn a huge audience with or without the expanded nomination field. Avatar has been suffering the backlash that always occurs when something is successful. It has been criticized by the right, the left, the Catholics, the disabled, anti-smoking groups, and many others. Viewers who are seeing it post-hype are inevitably disappointed, not realizing that that is a function of how hype can destroy one’s ability to enjoy something for what it is. Personally, my feeling is that Avatar would be a worthy winner in spite of its flaws as it does have many special qualities and artistic merit.

My preference would be for The Hurt Locker or Up in the Air as those are both great films. Neither of these films could be improved. Unfortunately, The Hurt Locker wasn’t a box office hit and only made $12 million. But perhaps now it will find its audience on DVD. Up in the Air was a very delicate film that wasn’t exactly a comedy or romance, yet got everything right when there were so many ways it could have got it all wrong. Now it’s suffering its own backlash from people who may have expected it to be a true rom-com and also because the dirty smear campaigns of studios such as the Weinsteins have falsely portrayed Jason Reitman as a credit-thief and egomaniac. (see the LA Times story, and some of the nasty comments that follow)

I must confess I have not yet seen A Serious Man but I am a big fan of the Coen bothers and don’t doubt its quality as a film. As I mentioned, Avatar is also worthy, as are District 9 and Up. But Up has the Animation Category which the others don’t (although perhaps Avatar should), and District 9 will be in the shadows of the much larger budget sci-fi film of Cameron’s. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be upset to see these nominees win the big prize.

For me, An Education and Inglourious Basterds are mediocre choices. I found An Education interesting but rather insubstantial. I’m not given to nostalgia and the period accuracy didn’t have me swooning like it did some others. The story was predictable and problematic, and it was not as funny as it seemed to think it was. Inglourious Basterds on the other hand was a bit of a long-winded mess. It has a great performance by Christoph Waltz, but which overshadows everybody else to the film’s detriment. And although Eli Roth may not belong behind a camera, his lame acting here shows he doesn’t belong in front of one either.

But The Blind Side and Precious aren’t even mediocre. Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail rightly calls The Blind Side “one of those supremely false true stories.” It is a TV movie masquerading as an inspirational film. A black friend jokingly summed up the moral of the film as “everything will work out if you have a rich white parent.” Precious is hardly any better despite its darker content and black cast. It ultimately is still a manipulative melodrama with a passive victim as protagonist and the message that “when someone who hurts you finally opens up their heart to you, then hurt them right back.” Others have pointed out that it does a disservice to blacks and the poor (NY Times - To Blacks, Precious Is ‘Demeaned’ or ‘Angelic’, Guardian - Precious is an insult to the poor).

Needless to say, I’m not thrilled with the acting nominations either then, especially since Waltz, Bullock and Mo'Nique are considered shoo-ins along with Jeff Bridges. But Jeff Bridges is a great actor with a fine career, even though Crazy Heart is just a so-so film. He’s great in it and fully deserves the honour. Waltz does great work too, but is really the lead of the film, not a supporting actor. He’s in the wrong category, so it’s unfair competition. Bullock is a decent actor who could very well embarrass the Academy by being the first actor in history to win an Academy Award and a Razzie Award (for worst acting) in the same year. She received a Worst Actress nomination for All About Steve.

As for Mo'Nique, she does a fair job with her caricatured role, but she only has one tough scene and she blew it by crying. Most people are just too easily impressed by actors who cry, but top actors will tell you that it’s often harder to hold it back when you feel like crying. Her director Daniels actually told her not to cry, but she did and thus ruined the balance of the scene by making her character sympathetic and Precious the cruel one. Aside from that complaint, I’m just tired of comedians, singers and rappers getting all the work and accolades, when I know so many talented black actors who may never get those breaks because they actually studied acting. Jennifer Hudson got an Oscar for singing and still doesn’t know how to act, as she showed in Sex and the City.

Anyhow, I actually do have a lot of respect for the Academy Awards and I think they get it right more often than people give them credit for. I happened to agree with them in some of their more controversial choices (like Shakespeare in Love and Crash for Best Picture). And I realize that there’s no pleasing everyone, so that people will always complain no matter what. This is a very subjective process and highly unlikely that any two voting members of the Academy agree on every category, let alone us average Joes.

As we get closer to the date, I’ll have more to say about the whole process. But that’s all for now.


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

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

Best actress
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best supporting actor
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

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

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

Best foreign-language film
Ajami Israel
El Secreto de Sus Ojos Argentina
The Milk of Sorrow Peru
Un Prophete France
The White Ribbon Germany

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

Best original screenplay
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Tom McCarthy, Up

Best animated feature film
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

Best art direction
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Sherlock Holmes
The Young Victoria

Best cinematography
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

Best sound mixing
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Best sound editing
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

Best original score
Avatar, James Horner
Fantastic Mr. Fox, Alexandre Desplat
The Hurt Locker, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
Sherlock Holmes, Hans Zimmer
Up, Michael Giacchino

Best original song
"Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog, Randy Newman
"Down in New Orleans" from The Princess and the Frog, Randy Newman
"Loin de Paname" from Paris 36, Reinhardt Wagner and Frank Thomas
"Take It All" from Nine, Maury Yeston
"The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from Crazy Heart, Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Best costume design
Bright Star
Coco Before Chanel
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Young Victoria

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

Best documentary short
China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner
The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant
Music by Prudence
Rabbit a la Berlin

Best film editing
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

Best makeup
Il Divo
Star Trek
The Young Victoria

Best animated short film
French Roast
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)
A Matter of Loaf and Death

Best live-action short film
The Door
Instead of Abracadabra
Miracle Fish
The New Tenants

Best visual effects
District 9
Star Trek

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