In place of my usual slot of three reviews, I thought I’d finally set down finger to keyboard on the Oscar nominations, for the internet record. Aand you can call me on these, folks. In fact, I more than invite such a thing; I welcome a challenge to my authoritah, and I’d love to get some real discussion going on about this up and coming awards ceremony, as opposed to any of those – other film blogs, with their shiny banners and whatnot.
I’ll never be as big a fan of Pixar as everyone else seems to be – individual films, like WALL-E and Ratatouille, I certainly have a healthy fondness for, but as a whole, their output of work for the last decade hasn’t really pulled me in the same way that it has so many others. I love that they’re trying to keep what they call ‘traditional animation’ alive, but I think that too many of their films seem to fall just short of a concrete realization, either because too much of the writing comes off as overly sentimental, or the humorous elements often seem a little too pat, or any number of other things. Up! falls in with this crowd – like everyone else has said, the first ten minutes alone could easily win the Best Animated Short, but the film keeps going, and falls to the same problems that have faulted a lot of Pixar’s other movies, that I mentioned above. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds I wasn’t all that crazy about, either – I picked his Kill Bill films for the “rest of the best of the decade” epilogue for the project some weeks back, but it’s this film more than any other that kind of defines all of the problems I have with his filmmaking style, something that I could probably write an entirely other post about. Of the giant crop to pick from, there are two that my heart really stands behind – those being Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker; though, if I had to bet money, it’d be the latter. The guiding hand of the former is obviously a new one to film, and in a few places, this does become a little overly obvious. The Hurt Locker, on the other (other) hand, comes with a sure and strong hand by a director already experienced with the form, and it more than shows. So, it ultimately gets my support – and, I have to say, I love the fact that three tried-and-true visceral action films have gotten nominated for the top prize. This kind of thing hasn’t happened in a long time. And, I swear to Christ if AVATAR even comes close to winning I’m going to go crazy and do an Indian fire-dance, so help me.
Similarly, with my preference for Best Picture being The Hurt Locker, I have to go with Kathryn Bigelow for this one, although this does pose an intriguing opportunity to present Tarantino with the award that he seems to be aiming for. I can’t say that I enjoyed Precious as much as so many others did – it seemed very much like a more contemporary version of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, or something like that. And, while that film was enjoyable, I probably wouldn’t present it with any sort of award, myself. There’s so much here that is almost laughably over-the-top and presented with such a glamorously greasy sheen that it just kind of makes you feel bloated and dirty after watching it. Why is James Cameron even here?
Here, I’ll deviate from my crush on The Hurt Locker for a minute – this one can only go to Jeff Bridges portrayal of Bad Blake from Crazy Heart, rightfully. I’ll be that guy and say I wouldn’t mind if this film replaced AVATAR in running for Best Picture – but, it’s Jeff Bridges understatedly humanistic performance that the entire film hinges on, one that gets so rightfully to the heart of its character that you feel like you’ve known this guy for a long, long time. His accent feels so well-worn, rough around the edges, that at times the film seems like it would almost need subtitles for anyone not accustomed to that kind of quick, Texan drawl he does so well at replicating. Indeed, this character reminded me so much of my own father, in mannerisms and dress as well as the trace of his life through the picture, that it’s almost eerie. Go, Bridges. Go.
Yeah, we could all say, “does Meryl Streep really need another one of these?” And, the answer is – well, she deserves it, I think. Yes, it’s imitation, and the Academy seems to have a real thing for succinct imitation, obviously. But, I think there comes a point where a performance can move past being just imitation and into being a character and performance all its own – and, Streep’s turn as cook Julia Child goes well past this barrier, seeming to capture that intangible familiarity behind the laugh of her character, something that would only emerge as hollow from any other, I’m certain. Also, it must be said that I can’t say that I found any of the other nominated performances that astounding, outside of maybe Gabourey Sidibe’s Claireece Jones, despite the rest of the film.
Best Supporting Actor
Unfortunately, the same could also be said for this category as well. But, despite the overall unfulfilling nature of the film it was a part of, Christopher Waltz’ Hans Linda from Inglourious Basterds is the one idiosyncrasy – it’s a shame there weren’t more, but what a twitchy, unpleasantly staid man Waltz has created, here. With a smile a bit too wide, and teeth within just a bit too white. Nervousness incarnate.
Best Supporting Actress
I would love to see Mo’nique win, just for the sheer novelty of such a thing – that’s not a crack against her, you readers must understand. But, I used to watch The Parkers on UPN all the time, back in the day, and while it might be to my own detriment, I can’t help but see her still as “loud, man-crazy Mrs. Parker,” and all of that kind of thing. Maybe this is coloring my opinion of her work in Precious as well, but that’s kind of a given, isn’t it? I think my heart really lies with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s young mother, from Crazy Heart. There’s a particularly strong sense of honesty, here – and, I don’t know why this was relegated to the Supporting Actress position, as she occupies almost as much time in the film as Jeff Bridges’ Bad Blake.
Best Original Screenplay
Up shouldn’t be here, I don’t think – really, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, this is only a contest between A Serious Man and The Hurt Locker, and again, I think this belongs firmly with the latter – I’ve written extensively about it elsewhere on the site, but if I were to try and summarize it’s worthiness for this particular award, this might be the only film that seems to fully represent the breadth of something as trying and as harsh as being an American soldier in these hazardous times. It’s something sparse, and elemental, and it is nothing less than, one of the best films of this past decade, saying nothing on its status among the films released this year.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The fact that Neil Blomkamp was able to take the spine of a six minute short film built around a single implicitly obvious political allegory and expand it into an entire film can do nothing less than cause a double-take. While, again, at times it is very much obvious that this is the trembling but sure hand of a new and beginning director of film being given the opportunity to work on a larger scale than he’d been prepared for, for his first picture, for the most part, this is a fully formed work, one of blackly humorous satire, Cronenberg-esque body horror, and some truly visceral actioneering.
Best Animated Film
While there’s nothing in the guidelines to prevent its nomination here, there’s no reason UP should’ve been nominated for both this and Best Picture – for all of the things it implies about the quality of itself and of the other films in this roster. For my part, I think my vote lies with The Secret of Kells, which I’d only just seen recently. It seems to stretch and take the animation techniques perfected in so many of the contemporary network animated series and move them toward their most ultimately personal form. Coraline is something to see, as well – while I’d always envisioned something a bit more MirrorMask-esque and closer to Dave McKean’s artwork for Gaiman’s children’s novel, but Selick’s hyper-cartoonish claymation approach acknowledges itself and knows exactly how to work within its own visual framework to create something entirely creepy, and other. And, I love it whenever I hear Tim Burton’s name get mentioned in relation to it. It makes me chuckle. The Princess and The Frog – well, I like that Disney’s started a slow move back toward line-drawn animation, but this doesn’t bode well, outside of some startlingly idiosyncratic touches, like a certain character’s death, and the character of the antagonist in general. So, Kells. AVATAR belongs here, I think.
Best Foreign Film
Well, I’ve only seen A Prophet and The White Ribbon, and between the two of them, I think I’d probably like to see Jacques Audiard’s film receive the award just a little bit more – it’s a visually dynamic sole-character piece, charting the main character’s trajectory through a six-year prison term, framing the character’s mental deterioration in a familiar-yet-healthily-exercised framework of everyday prison ebb-tides, the exoticism of which is enhanced by the Frenchiness of the film.
And, then there’s the rest – those mostly technical categories, and stuff like that. Usually, you don’t write but a line about these, and so I’ll try and keep to that unspoken tradition.
Best Documentary Feature
The Cove – Louis Psihoyos
Best Documentary Short
The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant
Best Live Action Short
Kavi – Gregg Helvey
Best Animated Short
La Dama y la Muerte – Javier Recio Gracia
Best Original Score
A short note, here. My pick is, again, for Marco Beltrami and co.’s, score for The Hurt Locker. But, look at the other scores here, and remember how – outside of that for The Fantastic Mr. Fox – amazingly uninspired they all are, coming from their respective names. James Horner’s flat, unevocative score for Avatar, half-assedly utilizing old Disney-esque Pocahantas tropes. Sherlock Holmes score from Hans Zimmer, which feels – for him, anyway – like a strangely by-the-numbers affair. And, so on.
Best Original Song
Ah, but here’s a good one. Crazy Heart‘s “The Weary Kind,” by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett.
Best Sound Mixing/Sound Editing
Star Trek – Mark Stoekinger, Anna Behlmer and co.
Best Art Direction
Sherlock Holmes – Katie Greenwood. What a wonderfully smokey steampunk-but-not, exaggerated England they’ve created, here. I want to see more of this.
The Hurt Locker – Barry Ackroyd
Star Trek – Barney Burman and co.
Best Costume Design
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – Monique Prudhomme
Best Film Editing
The Hurt Locker – Chris Innis, Bob Murawski
Best Visual Effects
District 9 – Dan Kaufman and co.
It’s strange – there are a lot of films missing that seemed like they would’ve been essential to the running, and there are films present that probably shouldn’t have come within a million, million light years of being nominated – like Transformers 2 or Nine, which should both be allowed to go into that deep, inevitable abyss alone and unloved like the ugly little monsters they are. Still, the presence of ten nominations for the Best Picture has done it some good, I think – it’s been a long time in coming since an action film, any action film, has been nommed’ for the top prize, and here, there’s not just one, but four. And, while I’m opposed morally and spiritually to The Big One, the other three are more than welcome examples of the form. I hope we see more of this, in the future. We’d damned well better.
Now, let’s see just how right I am. I’ll throw twenty in the pool – any takers?