Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Commentary: OK, fine. Let's talk Oscar nominations.

When I was in my 20s, I genuinely treated the Oscars like the Super Bowl for nerds; I’d set my alarm to get up early on nomination day, jotting down the nominations as they were announced, and talk ‘em over all day with my drama geek friends. But I soured on the awards a few years back (“And the Oscar for Best Picture goes to… Crash!”) and I’ve now taken a more casual view of the big ceremony. It’s a thing, it happens, I’ll watch if it’s on, whatever.

But here’s some thoughts on today’s nominations, since it’s in the official Film Blogger bylaws that you have to at least comment on them:

BEST PICTURE: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

Hey, look it’s the big change to this year’s ceremony—ten nominees for Best Picture! So that we can sit through twice as many too-brief, nonsensically out-of-context clips on Oscar night! Yaaaaay!

Seriously though, I could slash this down to the usual five in about a second and a half. But it is cool that District 9 got a nomination for Best Picture, and that Up isn’t just relegated to the ghetto of Best Animated Film. Maybe that’s where Avatar should be—but I kid our new all-time box office champ. (Sigh.) Of course, that dull piece of boilerplate shouldn’t be in the list; neither should A Serious Man, as much as I love me some Coens.

Though Up in the Air is the best of this bunch, everyone seems to agree (based on previous awards and that always-telling total number of nominations), that this is a two-horse race, between the 3-D cat smurfs and The Hurt Locker. Team Bigelow for me, but money talks in that town.

BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; James Cameron, Avatar; Lee Daniels, Precious; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Bigelow seems to be the odds-on favorite here, and I’m actually fine with that;
Hurt Locker
isn’t my favorite of these films, but her tight-fisted direction was a considerable achievement. Especially for a girl! (C’mon, that’s the subtext of a lot of what’s out there today.)

BEST ACTRESS: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Helen Mirren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

I haven’t seen The Blind Side yet, and I promise I’ll get over my “Good God that looks like Radio” complex and do so. But I don’t think that really matters in terms of prognosticating; Bullock’s gonna win this one, since everyone’s decided it’s her Julia Roberts/Erin Brokovich moment, Hollywood’s chance to reward a likable actress for all the crazy money she’s made for them. I was pulling for Gabby, if for no other reason than I doubt she’ll ever have the opportunity to turn in this good a performance again; the same probably can’t be said for Carey Mulligan, but Jesus is she great in An Education. Also: would have liked to have seen Emily Blunt get nominated for The Young Victoria over Helen Mirren, who doesn’t do much of anything new or terribly interesting in The Last Station.

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

I know the last person in this world I should feel bad for is George Clooney, but I kinda do. Back in 2006, he turned in a downright brilliant performance in Michael Clayton, only to watch Daniel Day-Lewis swoop in with his iconic turn in There Will Be Blood and win every award in sight; it feels like the same thing happened this year. He’s wonderful in Up in the Air, but Crazy Heart is yet another terrific performance from one of our most underappreciated actors. Bridges wins this, in a walk.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Penelope Cruz, Nine; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart; Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; Mo’nique, Precious

No one’s even bothering to talk about anyone other than Mo’nique winning this one, and I’m just fine with that—she’s powerful good. But this may very well be the strongest of the acting category; every damn one of these performances is memorable and effective, in its own way. Frankly, my favorite is Kendrick, who deftly maneuvers a finely-tuned performance out of what could have been a very standard role.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Matt Damon, Invictus; Woody Harrelson, The Messenger; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station; Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

I like Stanley Tucci and all, but it pains me to see a pile of suck like The Lovely Bones get anything resembling a nomination. My favorite performance of this bunch is probably Woody Harrelson’s, but there’s no denying the power of Waltz’s baroque turn. His award season winning streak will continue right on through Oscar night.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, District 9; Nick Hornby, An Education; Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci, In the Loop; Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious; Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

The nomination for the wonderful, scathing In The Loop was the nicest surprise on this list; it hasn’t got a chance in hell of winning, but hopefully its appearance on this list will get more people to check it out on DVD and Blu-ray. There’s also something wonderful about now being able to say “Oscar nominee Nick Hornby.” But Oscar voters will see this as their chance to reward Up in the Air, and it is, indeed, the best script of this bunch.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker; Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, A Serious Man; Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, Up; Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Another good batch of scripts. My gut tells me this is where they give Quentin his prize, but a Hurt Locker sweep could end up shutting him out.

A few other random thoughts:

  • I realize that Where the Wild Things Are is an acquired taste, and most of those who saw it either love it passionately or shrugged it off immediately. But Dave Eggars and Spike Jonze’s terrifically expansive screenplay certainly deserved a nod—and no technical nominations? WTF?
  • Make sure you see A Prophet in the week between its release and the Oscars, so you can scream angrily with me when the dull, empty White Ribbon steals its Best Foreign Film Oscar.
  • Kind of a mixed back of Documentary Feature nominees—yes, I liked the Ellsberg movie and Food, Inc., and I hear great things about The Cove, but nothing for Pressure Cooker? Capitalism: A Love Story? Outrage? It Might Get Loud?
  • Most of the nominees for Original Score are wonderful—and then there’s James Horner, recycling his same old shit for Avatar. Most of the nominees for Original Song are terrific—and then there’s Randy Newman, recylcing his same old shit for The Princess and the Frog. Can we get a moratorium on nominations for these hacks?
  • Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin will host. Which reminds me—thank God that talk of nominations for the repugnant It’s Complicated were just wishful thinking by Nancy Meyers’ agent.


The Oscars are in a month or so. I’ll probably have it on while I’m doing other stuff.


  1. I think this is the only time in my life I've come down against a Coen brothers effort getting recognition. *Hangs head in shame*

    I know it doesn't have a chance in hell, but I'm pulling for Up to win best original screenplay.

    Also- WTF no nomination for Marvin Hamlisch?? The score for The Informant! completely elevated that movie.

    Kind of hoping whoever wins for best original song mentions what an honor it is to be nominated in the company of everybody BUT Randy Newman.

  2. Oh, good call on the Hamlisch nomination. That was a massive oversight.