The Filmist’s Obligatory Oscar Nomination Pool

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.

Best Picture

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.

Best Director

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?

Best Actor

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.

Best Actress

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.

Best Cinematography

The Hurt Locker – Barry Ackroyd

Best Makeup

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?

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One thought on “The Filmist’s Obligatory Oscar Nomination Pool

  1. “District 9” was probably my least favorite film I saw from last year, actually. It started pretty strongly, I felt, with all the things you say it has going for it (black satire, Cronenberg-esque body horror), but I felt like halfway through it devolved into a dull, by-the-numbers video-game-action-movie. Big disappointment for me. The Best Adapted Screenplay nominees feel pretty weak this year to me, but I’d probably go with “In the Loop,” which, while not life-changing or brilliantly insightful or anything, featured more quotable dialogue than any other movie of 2009. I get annoyed when people talk about screenplays only in terms of dialogue, but, alongside the rest of the candidates, “In the Loop” definitely shines for me. I’d have to look at the list again though–I thought “Crazy Heart” was amazing, but I’m not sure that it’s nominated. “An Education” was pretty good too, despite a suddenly-sloppy last couple minutes.

    My favorite of the ten nominees is “A Serious Man,” but I’m rooting for “The Hurt Locker,” simply because, well, it looks like it’s either that or “Avatar,” and while I didn’t hate “Avatar,” it wasn’t that good either.

    “Up,” for me, belongs with the other two you mention (“Wall-E” and “Ratatouille”) as Pixar’s best. I remained a Pixar skeptic until those three came along–I’m still far from being one of their die-hard fans, but after what seem to me like three masterpieces, I’m converted. Still, I’d take “Fantastic Mr. Fox” or “The Secret of Kells” over “Up” in Best Animated Feature, if only because it feels like a waste to give the statue to Pixar yet again in a year with so, so many good animated features (although “Princess and the Frog” is, as you say, pretty dull, except for that bizarre Keith David villain).

    “Crazy Heart” was one of the best films of the year, and Jeff Bridge’s may well be the best male lead performance of the year–certainly the best of the nominees (I would’ve included Cage’s turn in “Bad Lieutenant” and Max Records amazing work in “Where the Wild Things Are” if I was in charge, but I’m sure neither came anywhere close to making the top 5).

    I felt like Streep was pretty overrated in “Julie and Julia.” She did a fine job, and part of my criticisms lie more in the script than in her execution of her character, but I didn’t feel much depth there. Carey Mulligan would definitely get my vote–it’s not the most complex performance in the world, but it doesn’t need to be, and the terrific film rests squarely and securely on her shoulders. All the comparisons between Mulligan in “An Education” and Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” may be a little silly, but I can certainly see where they’re coming from–both stars share a similarly magical, sparkling quality in their first leading roles. Also, Emily Blunt surely should have been nominated for “The Young Victoria,” one of the best films of the year.

    I thought Mo’Nique was the best part of “Precious,” and deserves the Best Supporting Actress that she’ll probably get. Though the film is weird and a mess and made me feel dirty too, and though her performance is a bit of a caricature earlier on in the film, she does a good job of developing the character, and her final scene was easily the best part of the film–she manages to make her morally reprehensible character even more sympathetic and tragic than the star of the film. I thought it was an incredibly moving scene, even if I didn’t much care for a good deal of the rest of the film.

    Anyways, there you have it. I’ll be posting my predictions (these aren’t my predictions, but my preferences), along with all my thoughts on the nominees (and what I think *should* win, given the nominations) on my column soon enough. Always fun to hear your thoughts, and thanks for giving movie blogging a good name.

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