February 28, 2010

This Year’s Oscar Predictions from the Mindful Critic.

Next Sunday will see the broadcast of the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.  After seeing most of the nominated films as part of my work on a recent list of the “Ten Best Films of 2009” for elephant, I find that I’m paying closer attention to the race this year just as I did last year.  As such, I have a few thoughts about the whole thing.  So, below I present the nominees, as well as my take on who “will win,” who “should win,” and who was “robbed” of a nomination.  Please share your thoughts with us!

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

Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: A Serious Man
Robbed: Invictus

The smart money is on Avatar, but I think the Academy will let the grosses be its reward. Besides, the film will suffer on “screener” DVDs, which obviously won’t include the “wow” factor of 3D and IMAX; all that will be left is the movie itself, which really isn’t that good in the final analysis. With Cameron’s Dances with Wolves/Matrix hybrid out, enter Kathryn Bigelow’s topical critics darling The Hurt Locker. The Academy returns this year to ten best picture nominees in an effort to recognize more films–in particular, smaller films in search of a greater audience. What better way to acknowledge that shift than by awarding one of the small ones? Though this looks like a race between Avatar and The Hurt Locker, I’m of the opinion that the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man is hands-down the best film nominated in this category. Too bad there’s little buzz about it. In addition, Clint Eastwood’s stately and stunning Invictus, possibly the most Academy-friendly release of the season, was badly snubbed here: for once, a piece of year-end Oscar bait was actually worthy of the prize!

Best Director
nominees: James Cameron (Avatar), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Lee Daniels (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)

Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Should Win: Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Robbed: Scott Cooper for Crazy Heart

Tarantino, Reitman, Daniels, and Cameron are all on the record saying that they think Bigelow will win and deserves to win, and she’s already bagged the Director’s Guild of America Award (generally a good predictor of who will win this prize). In addition, as the director of at least one other bona fide masterpiece (Near Dark) as well as some of the most interesting big-budget studio pictures of the last twenty years (among them, Point Break and Strange Days), her time has come. Though her work was magnificent, I personally give the edge to Tarantino: though the haters continued to gripe about his continued play in exploitation pictures, the director’s pastiche work on Inglourious Basterds reminds us that he’s an auteur of rarified imagination, patience, control, flair, vision, and daring. And no nod for Scott Cooper? What his work on Crazy Heart lacks in flashiness, he more than makes up for with understatement and classiness. He’s a major new talent.

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

Will Win: Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart
Should Win: Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart
Robbed: Matt Damon for The Informant!

This is a good category this year–lots of wonderful leading man performances. (So much that Matt Damon, who gets better with each performance and hit a career high with The Informant!, got snubbed.) Clooney and Freeman split most of the critics’ awards for their tremendous work in Up and the Air and Invictus, respectively…but Bridges has all the momentum with his recent Golden Globe and SAG wins. He’s also a five-time nominee (but never a winner), and both Clooney and Freeman already have Oscars. All things considered, if there’s going to be an upset on the big night, this is the likely category…but I kinda doubt there will be an upset. Who doesn’t want to see the Dude tuck into an Oscar?

Best Actress
nominees:  Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire), Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

Will Win: Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side
Should Win: Gabourey Sibide for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Robbed: Tilda Swinton for Julia

Like Bridges, Bullock has all the momentum. (She won the SAG Award and the Golden Globe too.) There’s a chance Meryl Streep could swoop in and win, but she’s already got a couple of Oscars (and there wasn’t all that much enthusiasm about Julie & Julia). Sibide deserves it, though, for her heartrending, brave role in Precious. Tilda Swinton didn’t make the cut only because nobody saw the startling Julia: in it, she plays the “bad girl” to end all “bad girls,” who finds herself in way, way over head. It’s another breathtaking performance from one of our greatest actresses.

Best Supporting Actor
nominees:  Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Will Win: Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds
Should Win: Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds
Robbed: Peter Capaldi for In the Loop

The most predictable award of the evening goes to… Like Heath Ledger and Javier Bardem before him, Waltz has managed to collect every major award leading up to the Oscars, and there is a ton of enthusiasm about him and his performance as the odious Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. In addition, the fact that the Academy has nominated Tarantino’s film for eight Oscars would seem to suggest that it’s going to win a couple. It was nice to see In the Loop nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but it would have been awesome to see Capaldi acknowledged as well.

Best Supporting Actress
nominees: Penélope Cruz (Nine), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Mo’Nique (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire)

Will Win: Mo’Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Should Win: Mo’Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Robbed: Melanie Lynskey for The Informant!

Another one with lots of momentum, Mo’Nique seems the likely winner here. That said, the critics’ groups adored Anna Kendrick’s delightful turn as George Clooney’s protege in Up in the Air. There could be an upset, but Mo’Nique certainly has the showier role. Pity poor Melanie Lynskey, who has been giving great performances ever since her debut (with someone named Kate Winslet) in Peter Jackson’s 1994 Heavenly Creatures, and was snubbed again: her turn as Matt Damon’s loyal wife in The Informant! was hilarious, devastating, and memorable.

Best Adapted Screenplay
nominees:  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: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire); Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)

Will Win: Up in the Air
Should Win: In the Loop
Robbed: The Informant!

Jason Reitman and novelist Sheldon Turner have been collecting an awful lot of trophies for their adaptation of Turner’s book, and what better way to acknowledge Up in the Air, which was an early Best Picture favorite? The riotous, profane, energetic script for In the Loop deserves it, though. If only for the screamingly funny stream-of-consciousness narration that he wrote for Matt Damon’s character, Scott Z. Burns’s adaptation of Kurt Eichenwald’s The Informant! should be among the nominees.

Best Original Screenplay
nominees: Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker); Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds); Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman (The Messenger); Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man); Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy (Up)

Will Win: Inglourious Basterds
Should Win: A Serious Man
Robbed: Humpday

Again, with eight nominations (second only to Avatar and The Hurt Locker), it seems likely that Inglourious Basterds will do well on Oscar night. Tarantino’s script, which has legendarily been in the works since he won for 1994’s Pulp Fiction, will probably collect the trophy. QT did lose to The Hurt Locker at the Writers Guild Awards, though… The Coen Brothers continue to raise the bar for screenwriting, and deserve it the most for their work on A Serious Man, though. Indie sensation Humpday, which starts with a wild premise and fills it out with wit, unflinching maturity, and intelligence, should have gotten noticed here.

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

Will Win: Burma VJ
Should Win: Burma VJ
Robbed: Passing Strange

People love The Cove and Food, Inc., but Burma VJ is important, especially as Burma’s ruling military junta prepares for a sham election and continues to deny freedom to Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. In one of the biggest snubs of the year, Spike Lee’s brilliant document of the musical Passing Strange is ignored.

Best Foreign Language Feature
nominees: Ajami (Israel), La Teta Asustada (Peru), Un Prophète (France), El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Argentina), Das Weisse Band (Germany)

Will Win: Das Weisse Band
Should Win: Das Weisse Band
Robbed: 3 Idiots (India)

Look for Michael Haneke’s Palme D’or-winner The White Ribbon to collect the Oscar here. India’s highest grossing film of all time, a light comedy called 3 Idiots, deserved a place.

Best Animated Feature
nominees: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, Up

Will Win: Up
Should Win: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Robbed: 9

Pixar’s Up is wonderful, and it’s Best Picture of the Year nomination cinches a win in this category. Wes Anderson’s deliberately lo-tech Fantastic Mr. Fox is stronger, though.  9‘s absence in this category is surprising, considering its enthusiastic reception by audiences.

Lastly, here are my guesses on the technical and other categories….

ART DIRECTION: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
COSTUME DESIGN:  Coco before Chanel
DOCUMENTARY SHORT:  China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
FILM EDITING:  The Hurt Locker
MAKEUP:  Star Trek
MUSIC (SCORE):  Avatar
MUSIC (SONG):  “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED):  “A Matter of Loaf and Death”

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