Monday, February 8, 2010

A Week of Reflection: The Oscar Nominations

So, we've had a week now to mow over all of the films nominated for this year's Academy Awards. I've been avoiding most commentary on the subject. Not only because of my self-imposed sabbatical, but because for the first time in a long time, I hadn't seen all the films nominated for Best Picture. I guess that's bound to happen when they expand the field to ten--a decision I am still adamantly against, and this year's BP ballot only strengthens that feeling. But, since last Tuesday's announcement, I have gone out of my way to go see The Blind Side and District 9, and can give full analysis.


The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up In The Air

This actually isn't a bad list at all. But it is sullied by its inclusion of The Blind Side (which is not nearly as racist as I expected, but ten times dumber). The Academy hoped that the ten-wide ballot would include a few more commercially successful films, and they got what they wanted, at the cost of their integrity. If any Academy member says The Blind Side deserves to be on a plain anywhere with The Hurt Locker or A Serious Man, they're simply lying to avoid the shame. I was giddy though to see them throw a bone toward An Education, which seemed to be getting swallowed by the big December releases. I wasn't in love with Up In The Air or Precious, but their nominations don't bother me, if only because they were so expected.

When the high notes on your film are things like "not as racist as expected", you may have a problem...


Kathryn Bigelow, THE HURT LOCKER
James Cameron, AVATAR
Lee Daniels, PRECIOUS
Jason Reitman, UP IN THE AIR

This has been a two-man (or woman, considering James Cameron's new haircut) race for a long time now. Bigelow directed the best film of the year and Cameron directed the biggest. It's actually an intriguing showdown, particularly because of the two's personal connection (which you can read about on TMZ, not here). I guess I understand the Avatar backlash (no film that makes $2 billion is going to leave unscathed in the world of cruel internet movie dweebs), but it's hard not to credit Cameron with creating something most of us have never seen before. That said, I'm still on Team Bigelow, and find her work on Hurt Locker to be a brilliant balance of character, action, tension, and message. More of Bigelow's work effects us between the ears, as opposed to Cameron who only effects our eyes. As for Daniels, Reitman, and Tarantino: all good work gentlemen, but you don't stand a chance.


Jeff Bridges, CRAZY HEART
George Clooney, UP IN THE AIR
Colin Firth, A SINGLE MAN
Morgan Freeman, INVICTUS
Jeremy Renner, THE HURT LOCKER

I'm glad the Academy showed some mercy and decided to give little-known Jeremy Renner a nomination for his brilliant work in The Hurt Locker. That said, he, Clooney, Freeman, and Firth all have front row seats for Jeff Bridges' lifetime achievement ceremony. Not that Bridges isn't good in Crazy Heart, it's just that everything about it smacks of "Hey, I've paid my dues. If I sing a few songs and throw in some alcoholism, will you give me that damn Oscar already?". Fair enough, the dude abides. No objections, except for Freeman, who is obviously getting nominated for the role and not the performance. If this were an award for merit, Freeman would be nowhere to be seen.


Sandra Bullock, THE BLIND SIDE
Carey Mulligan, AN EDUCATION
Gabourey Sidibe, PRECIOUS
Meryl Streep, JULIE & JULIA

This shortlist, on the other hand, is abominable. Where is Abbie Cornish's brilliant subtlety in Bright Star? Ellen Page's wonderful, ensemble-leading, rollerskating work in Whip It? And what excuse can you give me for excluding Tilda Swinton's career-defining work in Julia? Only Carey Mulligan gave a performance of any real substance (I don't totally mind Sidibe's nomination, because its a startling debut, but I don't think I'm saying anything controversial when I say she's a bit stiff). Streep is now getting points for mediocre work, and while Bullock is the single thing about The Blind Side that isn't unbearable, it's still second-rate. As for Helen Mirren's work in The Last Station, I will get back to that later.

It's okay, Tilda. At least I know how good 'Julia' is...


Matt Damon, INVICTUS
Woody Harrelson, THE MESSENGER
Christopher Plummer, THE LAST STATION

I guess it's too much to ask, when they included Jeremy Renner, that they also include The Hurt Locker's Anthony Mackie. Those two performances work off each other so well, it's so hard to think that one is getting recognized and the other isn't. But alas, we're left with this mish-mash of unadulterated brilliance and exhausting blandness. Matt Damon does little to nothing in Invictus. Stanley Tucci's work in The Lovely Bones isn't even the best thing he's done this year (am I the only one who found him much more enjoyable as the rock of encouragement in Julie & Julia?). Harrelson and Waltz were both great in their films, and rightfully so, they're the two biggest contenders for the win--though I think Waltz has all but won this Oscar already. Then there's 80-year-old Christopher Plummer, getting his first Oscar nomination for The Last Station. Didn't I say I wanted to wait before talking about this film? More about it later.


Penelope Cruz, NINE
Vera Farmiga, UP IN THE AIR
Maggie Gyllenhaal, CRAZY HEART
Anna Kendrick, UP IN THE AIR

Holy Maggie Gyllenhaal! Probably the most legitimate surprise of the major nominations, particularly since it's a case of a great performance of a horribly written character. The Academy chose Cruz to represent the abominable Nine, though Marion Cotillard is much better. Both of them pushed out my beloved Julianne Moore, who I'm sure had less of a shot at a nomination (for A Single Man) than most of us thought (I was leading all of the wishful thinkers). The two Up In The Air girls got there much-deserved nominations, as well as Mo'Nique, who seems to have a tight grip on that front-runner status. What a surprise. Another category that has been all but decided.

Do you think they'll even have those Oscar morning jitters? Probably not...


Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, A SERIOUS MAN
Alessandro Comen & Oren Moverman, THE MESSENGER
Bob Peterson, UP


Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, DISTRICT 9
Geoffrey Fletcher, PRECIOUS
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, UP IN THE AIR
A Shitload of People, IN THE LOOP

What happened to my beloved 500 Days of Summer? At the last moment, everyone decided they didn't like the script. Not that I could pick a nominee there that could be replaced--all very good films and good scripts. Even Adapted Screenplay had the pleasant addition of the hilarious, witty In The Loop. No real complaints here.

So what do we have? A bunch of predictable actor's categories, but all the other major awards (Director, Screenplay, Picture) are very much up in the air (good god, forgive that pun). Which brings me to me long-awaited feelings on The Last Station. Why on Earth have you refused to let any of the regular viewing public watch you? We are well into February, and its only playing in LA and New York. This is unacceptable, and quite frankly, reprehensible. That the Academy awarded this behavior makes me entirely frustrated. How can you nominate a film no one has seen?

Interested in getting nominated for Oscars without people seeing your film? Contact the producers of 'The Last Station'...

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