Friday, March 5, 2010

And the Winner Should Be...

The Academy Awards are Sunday and everybody has an opinion. I saw a lot of movies in the theater last year plus a few on DVD, so maybe I should have an opinion on the Oscars. To wit...

I didn't see any of the films nominated in these categories: Documentary (Feature); Documentary (Short Subject); Foreign Language Film; Short Film (Animated); and Short Film (Live Action).
Without a dog in the hunt, I'm not paying attention to these guys.

Animated Feature Film
Of the five nominated films, I only saw two, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Up.  Up was pretty good but I hated Fantastic Mr Fox, so Up gets all my votes.

Costume Design
I only saw one of the nominated films in Costume Design and that was Nine, so I hope any of the ones I didn't see gets it.

Film Editing
Avatar; District 9; The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds; Precious

I saw all but Precious. When I think about just the editing, I think any of the four would be fine. District 9 and The Hurt Locker featured a lot of steadycam shots which makes their level of difficulty higher, so that's something. Interestingly, Avatar was mostly photo-real animation with fairly ordinary looking live-action scenes, so maybe it shouldn't get this award.

Il Divo; Star Trek; The Young Victoria

Of these three, I've only seen Star Trek.  Star Trek deserves it for no other reason that they took the scrumptious Rachel Nichols and turned her into one of those green women that Kirk is so famous for - ahem - admiring.

Art Direction
Avatar; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus; Nine; Sherlock Holmes; The Young Victoria

Art Direction is incredibly important in a visual medium. I didn't see Imaginarium or Victoria, but of the other three, Avatar is in a class of its own.

Avatar Mauro Fiore
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Bruno Delbonnel
The Hurt Locker Barry Ackroyd
Inglourious Basterds Robert Richardson
The White Ribbon Christian Berger

Also important in a film. I don't know how important the camera was in Avatar since it's 90% animated. Half-Blood was pretty drab, while Hurt Locker was the best recent example of the hand-held style, but a few scenes in Inglourious took my breath away, so let's give the trophy to the Basterds.

Music (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

I didn't notice anything special about the music for Avatar, The Hurt Locker or Up, so that means each one had appropriate music. I'd be happy if any of the three took it.

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

Of this group, I've seen Nine (all its songs sucked) and Crazy Heart. Don't really care about this category. Interesting that songwriter Ryan Bingham shares a name with George Clooney's character in Up in the Air.

Sound Editing
Avatar; The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds; Star Trek; Up
Sound Mixing
Avatar; The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds; Star Trek; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Honestly, for both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, each of the nominated movies was fine.

Visual Effects
Avatar; District 9; Star Trek

As unenthusiastic as I am about Avatar being a great movie, I will go on record saying Avatar takes this one and retires the trophy.

Actor in a Supporting Role
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

I didn't see the movies with Harrelson and Plummer in them, but it doesn't matter. Christoph Waltz created such an original, memorable character that no one else in the category could come close to what he did. If Waltz doesn't win this trophy, the Academy isn't serious about rewarding excellence.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Penélope 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

Didn't see Precious and hated Nine, so that trims the options a bit. Gyllenhaal was pretty good but I'd rather see either of the ladies from Up in the Air get the nod.

Actor in a Leading Role
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

Bridges is getting a lot of press and was fine as the singer in Crazy Heart but he wasn't that much better than the others. I might take points away from Freeman because he was playing a famous living person and he just wasn't the guy we see on the news. I think Renner gets extra points mainly for being unknown but in your face wonderful. Any of the nominees could be said to earn this award. I wonder if Matt Damon shouldn't have received a nomination for The Informant.

Actress in a Leading Role
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 & Julia

Haven't seen The Last Station or Precious, and An Education is my movie for tomorrow. I'm part of the emotional groundswell for Bullock, but I wouldn't object to Streep taking the trophy, either. However, missing from the list of nominees is Mélanie Laurent from Inglorious Basterds. She's wonderful as the French Jew suddenly swimming in Nazis in occupied Paris.

update 3:03pm March 6
I just returned from seeing An Education, featuring nominee Carey Mulligan. I'm guessing that if more people had seen An Education, we'd have more of a horse race. Mulligan is wonderful and deserves serious consideration for Best Actress, although I'll bet this won't be her last chance.

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

Have only seen two of the five, so I'll reserve my opinion.

Writing (Original Screenplay)
The Hurt Locker Written by Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds Written by Quentin Tarantino
The Messenger Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
A Serious Man Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Up Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Basterds was bold, Serious was crap, Up was fun and Hurt Locker was intense.  What will you be in the mood for on awards night?

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

Separating the director's job from the movie as a whole is tough task. Cameron assembled the most complicated movie in history, so as a manager, he's best, but Reitman and Bigelow got great performances out of human actors and Tarantino put together an event movie. Take your pick.

Best Picture
Avatar James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
The Blind Side Gil Netter, Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson, Producers
District 9 Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
An Education Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
The Hurt Locker Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro, Producers
Inglourious Basterds Lawrence Bender, Producer
Precious Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
A Serious Man Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
Up Jonas Rivera, Producer
Up in the Air Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

This is the first year in decades where the nomination field is more than five. I think the Academy would have been better off expanding the field to only seven or eight if their goal was to add some suspense - ten is a bit much. Avatar should probably take this on points. District 9, The Blind Side and Up are here just to take up space. A Serious Man is one of the worst movies of 2009. The Hurt Locker and Inglorious Basterds are both great and deserving of praise but I don't know that they are greater than Avatar. Up in the Air is a great character study but, again, is it better than Avatar?

update 3:03pm March 6
Let's add An Education to the movies truly deserving consideration. It's an intimate little period piece with a good story and some great performances.

I've now seen nine of the ten nominees for Best Picture. The question remains: Will the Academy - 5800 members, predominately actors - pick the glitzy style of Avatar over the substance of The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air or An Education?  Or will they go really crazy and give it to the in-a-league-of-it's-own Inglorious Bastages?

Enjoy the awards.  May the awards go to people and projects that don't suck.

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