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

Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

Top Ten Films of 2009

6 January 2010

Balibo

Instead of writing the usual apology or disclaimer for creating a Best Of list, I’m just going to confess that I love creating these lists as they provide a snapshot of what films I was most immediately impressed by from the year that has just finished. As time passes many of these films will fade from memory while some continue to resonate and establish themselves in film history so it will be nice to be able to refer back to such a list and remind myself of films that may be forgotten.

Top Ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australian in 2009

  1. Balibo (Robert Connolly, 2009)
  2. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)
  3. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
  4. Genova (Michael Winterbottom, 2008)
  5. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
  6. Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009)
  7. Up (Pete Docter, 2009)
  8. Two Lovers (James Gray, 2008)
  9. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)
  10. Every Little Step (Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern, 2008)

Rachel Getting Married

The film that left the biggest impression on me in 2009 was Balibo, which left me initially feeling completely shattered and later left me in awe of how skilfully crafted it is with its combination of human drama, international politics and historical detail. The only two films I saw twice in the cinema in 2009 were Rachel Getting Married and Avatar; films at almost the opposite end of the spectrum to one another in representing what cinema can achieve. The ultra small scale Rachel Getting Married provided a deeply emotional examination of family dynamics and my love of cinema that captures a sense of place and something deeply human is further reflected by my inclusion of Genova, Samson and Delilah, Two Lovers and Every Little Step. The extravagant spectacle Avatar created one of the most immersive cinema experiences to date and my love of cinema as a visual art form is further reflected by my inclusion of Antichrist, Up and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Honourable mentions

Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008)
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)
Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)
Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
Gomorrah (Gomorra, Matteo Garrone, 2008)
Summer Hours (L’Heure d’été, Olivier Assayas, 2008)
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)
The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)

Top Ten unreleased films (in Melbourne)

Love Exposure

While Melbourne is a tremendous city for film, especially with cinemas such as Cinema Nova that are very much committed to independent releases, a number of exceptional films still miss out on getting general theatrical releases. Fortunately for the Melbourne based film lover there is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and what seems like an endless stream of film festivals picking up the slack. For this reason I’ve separately listed films screened in Melbourne in 2009 but not given a general theatrical release (and to date not scheduled for a 2010 release).

  1. Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008)
  2. 35 Shots of Rum (35 rhums, Claire Denis, 2008)

  3. Paper Soldiers (Bumazhnyy soldat, Aleksei German MI., 2008)
  4. Thirst (Bakjwi, Park Chan-wook, 2009)
  5. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom, Kim Ji-woon, 2008)
  6. Public Enemy Number One (Part 1) (L’instinct de mort, Jean-François Richet, 2008)
  7. Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009)
  8. Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
  9. JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008)
  10. T Is for Teacher (Rohan Spong, 2009)

Dogs in Space

Melbourne also benefits from a wide range of retrospective screenings and in a year that was already spectacular for Australian cinema it was an added bonus to have screenings and then long overdue DVD releases of Richard Lowenstein’s 1986 masterpiece Dogs in Space and Ted Kotcheff’s ‘lost’ 1971 classic Wake in Fright. Watching a newly restored print of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (C’era una volta il West, 1968) at The Astor Theatre was another highlight on the cinematic year as was visiting ACMI’s Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood exhibition. The Melbourne Cinémathèque once again provided a terrific program in 2009 and it was great to finally catch-up on some previously unseen films by Ingmar Bergman and Samuel Fuller as well as discovering for the first time the under-appreciated cinema of Frank Borzage.

Also appears here on Senses of Cinema, Issue No. 53, 2010.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

Bookmark and Share


Film review – Up (2009)

30 August 2009
Russell and Carl

Russell and Carl

It almost doesn’t seem fair. How on earth can other animation studios possibly compete with Pixar? After making so many computer animated classics from Toy Story onwards, Pixar then came out with WALL·E, which is not only one of the greatest animated films ever made but set a new standard for animation, intelligent storytelling in a family film, and getting the perfect blend of pathos and humour. So what does Pixar do next? They do it all again and produce Up, one of the most unlikely films of the year. The hero in Up is Carl Fredricksen (voiced by veteran television and film actor Edward Asner), an elderly widower. Rather than be forcibly removed from his home, Carl ties thousands of helium filled balloons to his house and flies it away to fulfil his lifelong dream of living in a remote part of South America known as Paradise Falls. Along the way Carl acquires the companionship of an over enthusiastic 8-year-old boy named Russell (new comer Jordan Nagai), a talking dog named Dug (voiced by Pixar regular Bob Peterson) and a rare bird that Russell names Kevin.

Directed by Pete Docter (who previously directed Monsters, Inc.) Up simply gets every element right. Paradise Falls is rendered beautifully and much of the scenery in the film has the same bizarre terrain of some of the weirder Warner Bros cartoons. The animation is not realistic but this actually allows it to be incredibly expressive. Up is a superbly plotted film with all aspects of the story having an overall purpose, which is often rare in other animated films that tend to simply rely on one event flowing into the other with little overall cohesion. Likewise, there are no throw away jokes in Up and all the humour is timed and designed to facilitate the film as a whole.

u340_1acs.sel8.cmyk.70.jpg_rgb_scaledThe characterisation in Up is also extremely impressive and we get considerable insight into both Carl and Russell. Carl is a grumpy old man but rather than being reduced to a stereotype, we get to learn and understand how he has arrived at the point of life that he is at and we can therefore empathise with him. If nothing else Up wonderfully challenges us to re-evaluate our attitudes towards older people by putting what we perceive to be their grumpiness into perspective.

Up is a glorious film about love, friendship and the spirit of adventure. It is about pursuing your dreams no matter what stage of life you are at. The action is thrilling, inventive and highly unusual while the dynamics between the characters are frequently hilarious and also incredibly poignant. The range of emotions that this beautiful, funny and surreal film will take you through is astonishing. Up is yet another triumph from the incredible Pixar studios.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

Bookmark and Share

Read more reviews at MRQE


Cinema Autopsy is taking a break

13 April 2009

Hi everybody

I’m going to take the next week or so off so there won’t be any updates on Cinema Autopsy until the week beginning Monday 20 April. Check back as one of the things I’m going to post soon is a transcript of a terrific interview I did with Warwick Thornton, the director of the extraordinary Australian film Samson and Delilah.

In the meantime I’ve decided to be completely indulgent and post links to the trailers for a bunch of films coming out over the next 12 months that I’m looking forward to. This is by no means a definitive list, just some clips I stumbled across while wasting time on YouTube one day. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any trailers available yet for John Hillcoat’s The Road as that is one film that I am incredibly excited about. But for now I hope you enjoy wasting some time with the following clips.

Read the rest of this entry »