2.02.2010

irrefutable wisdom about the Oscar nominations

Because the world is waiting for them with breathless anticipation, I bring you my thoughts on this year's Oscar nominees (or the ones I care at all about, anyway). To follow along, please find the official nominee list here.

BEST PICTURE
I was pleasantly surprised by this group, and for once I've seen half of them. The selections are really interesting to me: two sci-fi movies, an animated movie (well, 2.5 of them if you count Avatar and District 9, the former moreso than the latter), a small indie film with limited audience appeal, an orgy of profane ultraviolence, and an Iraq War movie. I haven't seen "Precious: unnecessarily long subtitle featuring both the source novel's title and the pseudonymous author's pen name" or The Blind Side, but in some ways I sort of feel like this is equivalent to nominating both Deep Impact and Armageddon.

So, Avatar. Have you seen it? It's statistically probable that you have. Yes, it's essentially "Dances With Alien Catpeople" with (possibly) goofier writing. Avatar's categorymate District 9 provides us with the contrast of a sci-fi adventure that's actually intellectually stimulating, but let's not kid ourselves; Avatar is the clear favorite in this category for reasons both cynical and pure. As for purity, it's totally undeniable that Avatar is a major triumph of visual cinema. The 3D is certainly the best anyone's ever seen, and it's used very effectively (ha) without being gimmicky most of the time. James Cameron has legitimately done something nobody else has really managed to do before, and he deserves his kudos for that. Cynically, however, I'm forced to acknowledge that the Industry NEEDS Avatar incredibly badly. 3D is likely the last major effort the Industry can make to get audiences back into theaters, and it's their opportunity to get 3D into the home viewing market (see also the 2010 CES conference). The Industry can only make massive profits when they successfully control content distribution, and 3D provides one last way of attempting that kind of control. Exhibitors, studios and consumer electronics manufacturers all needed Avatar to be a huge, massive hit and they got their wish. Whether the movie's success actually translates into the salvation of Hollywood remains to be seen, but they're definitely going to pile on the justificatory awards, as we saw at the Golden Globes. Do not be pissed off when Avatar wins Best Picture; there are Reasons.

Now, I would argue that Avatar's shoe-in presence in the Best Picture slot actually provides the space which allows such odd and interesting and probably doomed choices for the other nine nominees. District 9 is an excellent movie on all fronts, but typically the Best Picture category goes nowhere near sci-fi when they can help it. The inclusion of A Serious Man makes me feel like it's the mid-90s again, when the Academy was interested in paying some lip service to small, independent films. Inglourious Basterds is an idiosyncratic, ultraviolent, over-the-top piece of catharsis porn with some unbelievably excellent acting and the best object lesson in building tension that I've seen in a very long time. As such it could well have been nominated without Avatar's snowplow clearing the way, but, again, this feels like a very mid-nineties style choice for the Academy.

The rest of the Best Picture nominees are films I either haven't seen (Up, The Hurt Locker), or I haven't seen and also don't care about. It's entirely possible that Precious... is an incredible, moving social commentary, but I have serious doubts that The Blind Side is anything other than pukeworthy treacle.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Christoph Waltz, please. That's one perfectly compelling, frightening Nazi.

In general I don't have a lot to say about the acting awards this year, but look for these categories to be go-tos in which the Academy will recognize Best Picture nominees that aren't Avatar. They may pull one of their favorite shocker moves and give the Best Actress statuette to an unknown first-timer in the person of Gabourey Sidibe, but... actually, now that I think more about it, that's a pretty likely outcome.

ANIMATED FEATURE
Up will likely take this because it won't win Best Picture. Before I saw Avatar I felt Coraline was definitely the best 3D movie I'd yet seen, so that's a contender. Fantastic Mr. Fox is great and fits well with the mid-90s vibe happening in the Best Picture category, but I think the award is more likely to go to Up. I, personally, would have liked to see Avatar nominated in this category, but those who know me are familiar with my feelings on just what the hell an "animated feature" is these days.

ART DIRECTION
Lots of strong contenders here, but c'mon... Avatar invented a whole world in incredibly rich detail (what up, Richard Taylor!), and this is a category the public understands very little about so it's a good one to toss at the Best Picture winner as support for the decision. Then again, it's also the only category The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is nominated in, so the Academy might want to make a final nod toward Heath Ledger and any kind of a nod at all toward Terry Gilliam. But it's an outside shot.

ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
Uh, duh... its achievements in cinematography are the primary selling point of Avatar. If the movie absolutely deserves to win anything it's nominated for, this is the totally noncontroversial category. Maurio Fiore had better be clearing a statue-sized space on his mantle. In any other year, Inglourious Basterds would win.

DIRECTING
Again, the favorite is Avatar, if for no other reason than it was clearly the most obviously difficult and consuming of the nominees to direct. Best Directing should be the confluence of the greatest performances, the most artful framings, and the most skillful elevation of stock elements past cliché... as such, probably every nominated film OTHER than Avatar has a legitimate claim to this award, but unless the Academy starts to feel guilty about the kudos it's laying all over Avatar they're not going to give it to anyone other than James Cameron. The other nominees are victims of bad timing.

FILM EDITING
A category close to my heart. While I haven't seen all of the nominees, I would really like to see Inglourious Basterds take this statue. Avatar was no slouch editorially, but the editing was hardly the overriding feature of the movie (and c'mon... three editors, one of whom was the director/writer/producer/overlord). Inglourious Basterds is a masterpiece of tension and tension is almost entirely about the skill of the editor. Sally Menke has proven her genius many times; let her take this one home.

ORIGINAL SCORE
Avatar will win this, which is lame because James Horner is laaaaaame. I'd love to see Fantastic Mr. Fox take the win, personally.

SOUND EDITING / SOUND MIXING
These are probably more gimmes for Avatar, though all of the nominees could probably lay equal claim to the awards and it would be nice to see some variety to the night.

VISUAL EFFECTS
Again, Avatar, and rightly so. Though in any other year it would be District 9... the seamless blend of live action and CG animation in District 9 was incredibly impressive and tasteful.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
This is where Push... will win, probably. The Academy obviously wants to recognize this film somehow and a writing win is a pretty legit honor. Also, this movie is largely about the story of the movie itself, so there are metareasons to give it a writing nod. I just hope "Sapphire" comes up on stage with the screenwriter.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
I think we have a battle here between A Serious Man and Inglourious Basterds, though The Hurt Locker (which I haven't yet seen) might take this to satisfy the Bigelow/Cameron battle and because it's apparently quite a good movie which the Academy would like to honor in some way. A Serious Man is the nominee most dependent on the sheer quality of the writing, though Inglourious Basterds certainly doesn't lack Tarantino's skill with a screenplay.

And that's all I care to prognosticate about and this point. Enjoy your Oscar parties, everyone.

4 comments:

zophos said...

"I haven't seen "Precious: unnecessarily long subtitle featuring both the source novel's title and the pseudonymous author's pen name" or The Blind Side, but in some ways I sort of feel like this is equivalent to nominating both Deep Impact and Armageddon."

Why? Because they both have BLACK PEOPLE?

One has a down-and-out black person rescued by Sandra Bullock, the other has an incest-AIDS-baby-having black person rescued by another black person (not uglied-up Mariah Carey).

I was hoping Sam Rockwell would get a nod despite the fact that Sony did not push for him at all, but oh well.

QXZ said...

NO MORE THAN ONE 'BLACK MOVIE' PER BEST PICTURE NOMINATION PER YEAR. Well, you've got me in the sense that I haven't seen either movie so I can't really comment on the subtle distinctions between them.

I should put Moon on my Netflix list.

Leah Riley Woods said...

I am surprised that you haven't seen UP, though I'm surprised with myself for not having seen Inglouriuious Basturds, so I guess I can't berate you too heartily.

zophos said...

YOU HAVEN'T SEEN MOON?!

I ended up rewatching it this afternoon which reminded me that Clint Mansell and Duncan Jones (ne Zowie Bowie) were also both robbed. At least Clint Mansell is used to it.

Also, yeah, Up is good, too.