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 – Up in the Air (2009)

10 January 2010

Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) and Ryan Bingham (George Clooney)

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) adores the world of airports, chain hotels and loyalty cards. His life as a motivational speaker and downsizing man-for-hire keeps him travelling around America enjoying his status as a privileged business flier. Charming, slick and truly happy with his unencumbered lifestyle, which is free of physical and emotional baggage, Bingham revels in his life “on the road”. Preferring to work on his frequent flier miles collection rather than engaging with people Bingham is less than impressed when his boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) lumps him with young up-and-comer efficiency expert Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick from the Twilight films). If Tyler Durden in Fight Club represented a primal force that at the end of the 1990s wanted to break free of the commodity culture, Bingham represents the tamed desire, which ten years later, wants to embrace the superficial security and comforts of that culture.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) and Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga)

Up in the Air is the third feature by writer/director Jason Reitman and it has a lot more in common with his 2005 corporate comedy Thank You for Smoking, which Reitman also wrote, than it does with his 2007 teen pregnancy comedy Juno. As with Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air features a charismatic anti-hero lead character who in any other film would be the bad guy. Reitman and Clooney do an extremely good job at endearing Bingham to the audience and making us understand why he loves his life so much. We should feel either pity or contempt at his shallow existence but in fact we instead start to become seduced by it especially when he hooks up with Alex Goran (played marvellously by Vera Farmiga from Orphan and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) who is his female counterpart. For the most part Up in the Air is a breezy comedy that will appeal to anybody who has ever had to do extensive travel for work or attend corporate conferences.

Unfortunately Up in the Air does lose its bite in the third act and ends up lacking the wicked edge of Thank You for Smoking. Reitman drives the film towards a disappointingly conventional epiphany and then comeuppance sequence of events that detracts from the film as a whole. Up in the Air still resolves smartly and genuinely with a satisfyingly bittersweet conclusion but goes for a safe middle ground. Reitman’s film is far from being a masterpiece but he has succeeded in making Up in the Air very much a film of its time.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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