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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Few Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

Check out the full list of nominees at
Lock It In
This is a "lock" year for the supporting performance categories, with Christoph Walz (Inglorious Basterds) and Mo'Nique (Precious) picking up every possible supporting actor and actress award thus far.

I'm tempted to call Jeff Bridges a lock for his turn in Crazy Heart, what with him also scooping up every award in sight, but Jeremy Renner's nomination is something of a surprise, so if Oscar night becomes Hurt Locker night, it's possible he could upset.

Spread the Wealth
The Academy spread the acting nominations across a wide field of films. Up in the Air is the film with the most acting nominations: three.

Five of a Kind
It was a strong year for animated films, and accordingly, the Best Animated Feature category contains five nominees for the first time since its inception.

Up, Up and Away
Thanks to the expansion of the Best Picture category to ten nominees, Up became only the second animated feature to be nominated Best Picture. Beauty and the Beast was the other one, but it did it in 1991 when only five films were nominated for Best Picture.

Of course, the big Oscar story right now is the expansion of Best Picture category from five nominations to ten. If I had to guess, based on the distribution of other awards and nominations amongst the ten Best Picture nominees, I'd say that Blindside, Up, A Serious Man, An Education and District 9 were the benefactors of the expansion, with Avatar, Precious, Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker and Inglorious Basterds the likely nominees had the field remained at five (for further proof, see the Best Director nominations relative to the Best Picture nominees).

Speaking of Blindside, with the expansion of the category, many insiders felt that one of two critically acclaimed sports movies would earn a nom, either Blindside or Invictus (though it's debatable how much of a sports movie Invictus really is). While Sandra Bullock continues to gain Oscar momentum for her role in Blindside, her film, lacking any guild nominations or critics' prizes, taking the perceived "Sports Movie" spot from Invictus is a surprise upset.

No Stars
Similarily, insiders felt that in addition to Avatar, a Best Picture nom would go to one of two popular and well-received sci fi pics: District 9 or Star TrekDistrict 9 ended up taking the top spot, while Star Trek had to settle for four nominations in the technical categories.

Meryl Streep had another Best Actress Oscar all but on her mantle when Julie and Julia preimered last summer, but since then she's been splitting awards and accolades with Sandra Bullock's turn in Blindside. With Blindside garnering a Best Picture nom and Julie and Julia quiet except for Streep's nomination, Bullock is poised as the favorite. But you can never fully count Streep out of an Oscar race.

Lost 500 Days
Indie favorite 500 Days of Summer was an odds-on favorite for a Best Original Screenplay nomination (and possibly a Best Picture nom, in the Little Miss Sunshine tradition) but it was snubbed from both categories. Not that it had much chance in the tightly-contested original screenplay category against Hurt Locker and Basterds.

It's All About the Ratings
The generally accepted reason for the Best Picture expansion was that the academy was hoping to add more popular films (and, if we want to be charitable, bring more attention to smaller, less well known films such as An Education) in an attempt to boost the ratings of the awards ceremony (Call it the Dark Knight Expansion: had the popular and nomination-worthy Dark Knight been nominated last year, as some expected, then more people would have watched the show; basically, they wanted to make room for popular blockbusters as well as indie darlings). To that end, the expansion worked, giving nominations to the high-grossing and critically well-received Blindside and Up, as well as the sleeper hit and sci fi favorite District 9, while also nominating the little known and acclaimed A Serious Man and An Education (other popular favorites considered potential nominees, such as Star Trek and the Globe-winning The Hangover were still snubbed).

It remains to be seen if the ratings will be up this year, but assuming they are, this is a tricky year to use as a gauge of whether or not the Best Picture expansion worked in bumping those ratings. Poised to overtake Titanic as the highest grossing film of all time in the US this weekend, hands down the most popular film of the year (and thus the one most likely to pull in the most non-Cineophile, non-regular Awards show viewers), Avatar is considered by most insiders to have been guaranteed a nomination whether the field was open to five or ten. Thus, should the ratings be higher, the Academy will have no real way of knowinf if that's because more popular films were nominated, or if it just worked out that the highest grossing movie of the year was worthy of consideration regardless (as was the case with Return of the King and Titanic, the benchmarks for Oscar ratings success).

Battle of the Exes
It's a story you'll likely to be sick of by the time Oscar night roles around, but this year's awards are shaping up into a battle between ex spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow's respective films (Avatar and Hurt Locker). Both are nominated for Best Director. Should Bigelow win, she'll become the first female director to win a Best Director Oscar, while Cameron is nominated for the first time since his Titanic win, for the first film he made since Titanic.

While much of the pre-awards season buzz was building up an Avatar/Up in the Air showdown, now it seems the battle will come down to Avatar and Hurt Locker. Both are tied for the most total nominations (nine) and it's often said that the film with the most nominations wins best picture. Avatar won the Golden Globe, while The Hurt Locker picked up Directors Guild and Producers Guild awards, two awards that are considered accurate Oscar forecasters (however, in 2005, Brokeback Mountain won both those awards only to lose the Oscar to the more LA-centric and broadly-appealling Crash, so Avatar could cause a similar break from tradition). If I had to pick right now, I'd go with Bigelow for the director win and Avatar for best pic. But that could very well change by Oscar night. Either way, it seems we have an actual race on our hands, with the outcome up in the air (as opposed to Up in the Air).


  1. Cool - Battle of the Exes! I hope she wins! I haven't seen Up in the Air or The Blindside yet...
    I really liked Star Trek and Precious. District 9 was awesome - the lead actor was fantastic...

    And let's not forget little Zinkzork

  2. I have a feeling AVATAR is going to win most everything.

    I should know by now that BEST PICTURE doesn't mean "This was this most engaging story, best directed, visually pleasing film of the year" but it does mean "Hey, someone spent an obscene amount of money on the film and advertising, lots of people went to see it, and most thought it was watchable." or it's just an award for a niche accomplishment (see RETURN OF THE KING, THE DEPARTED, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)

    Actually, I just looked at the past 20 years of best pic winners and most of them I like. It always seems like I have a better film in mind that should have won. MICHAEL CLAYTON for example.

    I'd give the award to UP IN THE AIR, but only because I haven't seen HURT LOCKER yet.

    I'm still from the standpoint that AVATAR is a tremendous technical achievement but the story, acting,and cheesiness really amount to a mediocre film.

  3. I've seen two of the movies up for best picture...that's two more than last year.

  4. This is a "lock" year for the supporting performance categories, with Christoph Walz (Inglorious Basterds) and Mo'Nique (Precious)

    I haven't heard of the movie Precious...let me look at

    Nope, I don't see it. I don't see Mo'Nique nominated for any movie called Precious.

    All I could find is that Mo'Nique was nominated for the movie Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.

  5. Damn you Dr. Bitz! Damn you! >shaking fist<

    @Palindrome: So maybe their expansion plan worked, then? ;)

    @boots~: Right now, my feeling is that Avatar and Hurt Locker will probably split a lot of stuff; Avatar will get Visual Effects, Hurt Locker will pick up the two sound awards, Avatar gets Best Pic but Bigelow gets best director, etc. Of course, a lot can change in a month.

    "Best Picture" is definitely an oversimplified term, and is as much about politics, advertising, studio stumping and popularity as it is pure craft. Which is one of the reasons I make a point to see all the Best Picture nominees. Even if my favorite or the one I think most deserving doesn't win, I'm guaranteed to at least see some good movies worth seeing.

    (I loved Michael Clayton, btw. I have such a man crush on George Clooney...)

    I'll still argue that Avatar's STORY wasn't a problem; it was simplistic, but in a timeless, Joseph Campbellian, fable kind of way. Where the script faltered for me was in some of the dialgoue (which was cheesy and/or cliched in too many places) and character development (particularly in the case of the main villain).

    Oddly enough (and I haven't seen Hurt Locker yet, so grain of salt and such) I'd almost rather Cameron win for director and Hurt Locker win best pic, because while Avatar is a good film with flaws, Cameron deserves some recognition for orchestrating the building of a complex world and delivering a fantastic visual feast. Meanwhile, Hurt Locker is probably the better, more complete, less flawed work overall (again, I say that based only on what I've heard of it so far).

    @Joan Crawford: Bigelow is considered the best director favorite, at the moment, at least.

    Also, I just learned yesterday that back in the day, she also directed one of my all time favorite craptacular movies, the Swayze-riffic epic, Point Break. That makes her aces in my book, right there!

  6. Dr Bitz, FTW!

    Why have i never heard of Hurt Locker? Am i crazy?

  7. A little bit, maybe? :)

    In your defense, if you haven't been following the awards season stuff, you probably wouldn't have heard of the Hurt Locker. It came out last fall, and while critically acclaimed, it made something like 12 million total before leaving theaters (which, if it wins best picture, means it would be the lowest-grossing best picture winner ever, by a wide margin). I don't know if it even made it out to MN, but it's on DVD now.

  8. "Hurt Locker" was showing at Riverview, for sure and the Lagoon, I think.

  9. I agree with your analysis of the AVATAR Script. I was along for the ride until Michelle Rodriguez's character turned and didn't blow up the tree or whatever. That was the WTF where did that come from moment. Also the villains BIG FCKN KNIFE on his mech suit! "I'm MILITARY! I'm HARD core! Put a BIG FCKN KNIFE on that ARMOR SON!

    I also hate how CGI artists always seem to make "exotic" creatures move around so much! It seems like every muscle in the animal's body is flexing and relaxing moment to moment! That doesn't sound like NATURE!

    George Lucas is notorious for this and now so is Cameron.

  10. Yeah, I *liked* Michelle Rodriguez's character, but she pretty much just did the stuff the plot told her to do. I can buy that some of the soliders would see what was happening to the tree and the people, and would be aghast, and might even pull away, but they never really established why she, of all the soldiers, was the one to react that way.

    And the villain is easily my biggest problem with the movie. When he first showed up spouting nothing but military cliches, I thought it was kinda funny. "Oh, here's the military drill instructor character, he's a walking cliche, I get it, ha ha."

    Then he turned out to be the main bad guy. And never developed beyond the drill instructor cliche.

    Jeez, at least we knew WHY Giovanni Ribisi was all about the genocide; he was in it for the money, and his job. The colonel? He was just...evil...I guess?

    Oh, and I don't know what you're talking about; I flex ALL the time.

  11. I'm sorry, there's no way someone who directed Point Break should ever win an oscar for best director. That's a stink she should carry on her for the rest of her life.

    In fact, I'm afraid to see the Hurt Locker now for fear that at the end of the movie the main character will throw his military medals into the ocean for no good friggin' reason.

  12. Heh. I KNEW you were going to say that as soon as I pointed it out.

    the main character will throw his military medals into the ocean for no good friggin' reason.

    He had plenty of good reasons. The Swayze had just died. He was worn down by the system, man. He didn't want to play by the rules anymore. It was time to embrace a life of hippie surfers, living for the moment, man. Or...something.

    Yeah, I got nothing. :)

  13. LOL! Point Break! I haven't thought about that in a while.


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