Cinema Autopsy on the 82nd Academy Awards Nominees (including predictions)

4 March 2010

The nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards have been out for some time now and the general consensus seems to be that 10 nominations for the Best Motion Picture of the Year award has devalued the category, the inclusion of The Blind Side in two major categories is baffling but that otherwise the nominations are more or less what was to have been expected. In fact, the Oscars this year are shaping up to be one of the most predictable years yet.

I’m not going to comment on the any of the documentary or short film categories as I haven’t seen the majority of the films nominated but I will share my thoughts and predictions about the feature films up for various awards. Alternatively you can go straight to my ranked list of all the nominated films or the list of my predictions.

Best Motion Picture and Best Director

The Hurt Locker

The big story this year is that the two favourite films, Avatar and The Hurt Locker, are respectively by action film maestros James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, who used to have a professional and a personal relationship (they were married). Bigelow seems to be preferred mainly because Cameron won in a big way previously with Titanic (1997) and was kind of obnoxious about it while Bigelow has been previously ignored by the Academy.

The Academy frequently rights past wrongs by awarding people for less deserving films to make up for previous oversights and there is a good chance that will happen this year to Bigelow. The Hurt Locker is certainly a very good film but it is not a good as many of Bigelow’s previous films including Near Dark (1987), Blue Steel (1989) and Strange Days (1995). A lot of people are also excited about the gritty realism that Bigelow brings to the Iraq conflict but I can only explain that by assuming that they haven’t seen Nick Broomfield’s Battle for Haditha (2007) and are yet to see Paul Greengrass’s Green Zone (2010), both of which are superior films.

However, I still think Avatar is going to win the main prize and honestly that would suit me just fine. I’m rarely one to back the big, bloated, over-exposed Hollywood eye-candy film but of all the films nominated this year I truly think Avatar is overall the film that deserves to win. As I discussed in my original review and the subsequent occasionally heated comments, Avatar may have its flaws but it is such a technological achievement and such an immersive experience that it completely won me over. It certainly deals with archetypal characters and re-hashes a very familiar story rather than going for anything resembling narrative originality but I firmly believe that there is an art to repackaging a well-worn tale and making it something exciting again. Avatar over-exceeds  expectations and not many films can make that claim.

Acting awards

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

Jeff Bridges seems destined to win Best Actor for his performance in Crazy Heart and so he should as his role in the film is one that he’s been building up to for his entire career. While many people are betting on Sandra Bullock winning Best Actress for The Blind Side, and she is the best thing about this loathsome film, I think the charm, freshness and non-rampant conservatism of Carey Mulligan’s performance in An Education may in the end win over the Academy’s voting members. I certainly hope so anyway but I suspect I am being naive. Christoph Waltz should and will win Best Supporting Actor for Inglourious Basterds and Mo’Nique should and will win Best Supporting Actress in Precious.

Writing awards

For the screenplay awards I’m pretty certain that the very good yet  middle-of-the-road Up in the Air will win Best Adapted Screenplay while Best Original Screenplay will go to The Hurt Locker. However, I’d much rather see the political and poetically profane In the Loop win for Best Adapted while the tightly written animation Up should really win for Best Original.

Technical awards

The White Ribbon

If Avatar does indeed win Best Motion Picture then I’m certain the Academy will compensate by not only giving The Hurt Locker Best Director but a bunch of other awards including Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. However, editing should go to District 9 for its seamless blend of cinematic styles while cinematography should go to Christian Berger’s incredible work in The White Ribbon. In fact, The White Ribbon is one of the most perfectly shot films ever made so I do hope the Academy prove me wrong and recognise its achievement in the cinematography category.

Production award

My pet hate with all film awards is that Best Art Direction and Best Costumes usually always go to whatever film was set the furthest in the past. Recreating historical details is always deemed more worthy that actually using art direction and costumes to reflect character or themes in a filmic way. So even though I haven’t seen The Young Victoria I’m sure it will win Best Art Direction while the visually bold, inventive and exhilarating The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus will miss out. In most other years I’d tip The Young Victoria to win Best Costumes too but I’m pretty sure that Coco avant Chanel will win because it’s about a fashion designer and the Academy are just so crushingly obvious like that sometimes.

Others

Avatar

Up, of course, will deservedly win Best Animated Film and the massively acclaimed A Prophet will win Best Foreign Language Film. Original score will go to Avatar and it would be very embarrassing if any song other than “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart won Best Original Song. Star Trek may as well take Best Make Up and as for Best Visual Effects … well, I can’t imagine even the most ferociously anti-Avatar critic thinking it won’t and doesn’t deserve to win for this one.


Ranked list of all nominated films
Doing this ranked list of films nominated in the various 82nd Academy Award categories actually demonstrated how foolish star ratings can be and how it is almost next to impossible to adequately compare films with such different purposes, audiences, styles and genres. Nevertheless, I persisted and this is the result:

✭✭✭✭✩
Avatar (James Cameron, 2009) 9 nominations
Up (Pete Docter, 2009) 5 nominations
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009) 2 nominations

✭✭✭✭
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009) 4 nominations
Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009) 3 nominations
Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009) 1 nomination
A Prophet (Un prophète, Jacques Audiard, 2009) 1 nomination
A Serious Man (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 2009) 2 nominations
An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009) 3 nominations
In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009) 1 nomination
Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2009) 4 nomination
The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2009) 3 nominations

✭✭✭✩
The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Michael Haneke, 2009) 2 nominations
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008) 9 nominations
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) 8 nominations
A Single Man (Tom Ford, 2009) 1 nomination
Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009) 6 nominations
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009) 6 nominations
Julie & Julia (Nora Ephron, 2009) 1 nomination
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009) 2 nominations
Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009) 2 nomination
Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009) 1 nomination

✭✭✭
Coco avant Chanel (Anne Fontaine, 2009) 1 nomination
Sherlock Holmes
(Guy Ritchie, 2009) 2 nominations
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates, 2009) 1 nomination

✭✭✩
Nine (Rob Marshall, 2009) 4 nominations
The Last Station (Michael Hoffman, 2009) 2 nomination

✭✭
The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson, 2009) 1 nomination

✭✩
The Blind Side (John Lee Hancock, 2009) 2 nominations
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Michael Bay, 2009) 1 nomination

Not seen
Ajami (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, 2009) 1 nomination
Il Divo
(Paolo Sorrentino, 2008) 1 nomination
The Messenger
(Oren Moverman, 2009) 2 nominations
The Milk of Sorrow (La teta asustada, Claudia Llosa, 2009) 1 nomination
Paris 36 (Faubourg 36, Christophe Barratier, 2008) 1 nomination
The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Juan José Campanella, 2009) 1 nomination
The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore, 2009) 1 nomination
The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2009) 3 nominations


My predictions list

A full list of all the nominees can be found on the official Oscars website and I’m sure several thousand websites and blogs elsewhere. Here are my predictions in one straightforward list:

Best Motion Picture: Avatar (James Cameron and Jon Land)

Directing: The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)

Actor in a Leading Role: Crazy Heart (Jeff Bridges)

Actress in a Leading Role: An Education (Carey Mulligan)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Inglourious Basterds (Christoph Waltz)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Precious (Mo’Noque)

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Up in the Air (Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner)

Writing (Original Screenplay): The Hurt Locker (Mark Boal)

Cinematography: The Hurt Locker (Barry Ackroyd)

Film Editing: The Hurt Locker (Bob Murawski and Chris Innis)

Sound Editing: The Hurt Locker (Paul N.J. Ottosson)

Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker (Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett)

Art Direction: The Young Victoria (Patrice Vermette and Maggie Gray)

Costume Design: Coco avant Chanel (Catherine Leterrier)

Animated Feature Film: Up (Pete Docter)

Foreign Language Film: A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)

Music (Original Score): Avatar (James Horner)

Music (Original Song): Crazy Heart (“The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett)

Makeup: Star Trek (Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow)

Visual Effects: Avatar (Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones)

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – An Education (2009)

23 October 2009
Jenny (Carey Mulligan)

Jenny (Carey Mulligan)

Based on the autobiography of British journalist Lynn Barber and adapted by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), An Education is a coming-of-age film about Jenny, a 16-year-old girl who starts a relationship with a much older man. An Education is the second English-language film directed by Danish director Lone Scherfig with the first being the very impressive romantic comedy/drama Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself – a film about a suicidal man. Scherfig is clearly drawn to highly unconventional feel-good material because despite the weird and uncomfortable dynamics at play in An Education it is a strangely seductive and sweet film.

Stylistically everything about An Education suggests that it is romance film. The soft lighting, gushing music and gorgeous 1960s London setting are all designed to conflict with the fact that the film is about a highly questionable relationship between a confident yet naive school-girl and an older man who is clearly not all that he seems. Jenny is played by Carey Mulligan, an emerging actor whose more prominent recent roles include a part in Public Enemies and playing Kitty Bennet in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice.  Mulligan is astonishing and commands the screen with the assured graceful vulnerability of a young Audrey Hepburn. As Jenny she is both sympathetic in her desire to break away from her routine existence to embrace life and infuriating in her recklessness. Jenny is a likeable, strong, intelligent and assured character who is still capable of making huge errors in judgement. She’s not too far removed from the titular character in Juno except Jenny speaks, behaves and rationalises far more convincingly.

David (Peter Sarsgaard) and Jenny (Carey Mulligan)

David (Peter Sarsgaard) and Jenny (Carey Mulligan)

The supporting cast in An Education is terrific and Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, Elegy) gives what is possibly his best performance as the mysterious David. Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2) is wonderful as Jenny’s taskmaster father and Dominic Cooper (The Duchess) is suitably foppish as David’s playboy best friend. Emma Thompson has a couple of over-the-top yet very amusing scenes as the bigoted principal at Jenny’s school.

Scherfig is an intriguing director who is deceptively skilled at taking material that could be considered dark or unsettling and turning it into something very accessible.  There’s a lot going on under the surface of An Education but at face value it is simply a very warm, funny and enjoyable film.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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