On March 7, critics, professional and amateur alike, will be ready to cast their votes for the 82nd Academy Awards. But when the last golden trophy has been doled out, many may be scratching their heads. That’s because 2009 was a lackluster year for film. Like an Olympics category with no real competition, the great films of the year stand out and everything else feels like filler.
Though Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin are great choices as hosts, let’s hope the quality of their material isn’t as flat as in several of their SNL appearances.
As for the nominees…
With 10 Best Picture Nominees this year, it will be fun to see who comes out on top. Due to the dearth of great films, this year may not have been the best year for the Academy to make the change, but the local economy will certainly benefit from increased advertising, a spike in Oscar parties and more dollars going to local hotels, restaurants, limousine services and other service providers.
Of the 10 Best Picture nominees – “Precious”, “Avatar”, “An Education”, “A Serious Man”, “Inglorious Basterds”, “District 9”, “The Hurt Locker”, “The Blind Side”, “Up” and “Up in the Air” – my favorite of the batch is “District 9”, even though I’m sure it won’t win Oscar gold. The sci-fi thriller about aliens invading Earth was skillfully directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson on a not-so-big budget. The filmmakers managed to pull off outstanding special effects, with a riveting story and docudrama stylistic touches that kept the tension high and the budget fairly low.
But everyone who has been following the Oscar buzz knows that the real competition for Best Picture is between the top box office grossing film of all time, “Avatar”, and the independent war title, “The Hurt Locker”. Of the two, I’d like to see “Avatar” win, so sci-fi is recognized as a viable, award-worthy genre. Perhaps the most interesting part about the battle of these two films is that James Cameron, director of “Avatar”, and Kathryn Bigelow, director of “The Hurt Locker”, used to be married. Oh, I can hear the red carpet buzz already.
Now, on to the other nominations.
The competition is steep for Best Actress in a Leading Role with three potentials: Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”), Meryl Streep (“Julie & Julia”) and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”). Streep and Bullock have the support of the fans but their performances are far from award worthy. Sidibe is most deserving, but Bullock will most likely jump in for the steal.
Morgan Freeman, while enjoyable in “Invictus”, is the odd man out for Best Actor in a Leading Role, with a solid but not overly compelling performance (surprising considering the story of Nelson Mandela should be compelling…until turned into a rugby film). George Clooney (“Up in the Air”) and Colin Firth (“A Single Man”) provide critically acclaimed performances, but they just don’t stand up to Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”), who’s been nominated now for the fifth time without a win. And while Bridges will outshine Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”), the young actor has proven himself a worthy force on the big screen.
“Up” owns Best Animated Feature, though other nominations provide an unusual amount of wondrous storytelling with “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “Coraline” and “The Secret of Kells”.
Original Song will go to “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart” or one of the two Randy Newman songs from “Princess and the Frog”, but let’s hope James Horner’s score for “Avatar” doesn’t win, putting to rest any future hopes of revamping “The Lion King” for outer space.
“Precious” will probably win Adapted Screenplay, though “District 9” deserves it.
For Original Screenplay, it’s anyone’s game since the Academy tends to favor the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino, but Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”) and Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) turned some heads—and Pixar flicks are always beloved. Also, don’t be surprised if “Star Trek” sneaks in a win or two.
Let’s not forget supporting stars. Mo’nique is a shoe-in for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her part in “Precious”, a very different direction for the comedian and former star of “Showtime at the Apollo”. And Christoph Waltz (“Inglorious Basterds”) provides one of the most hysterical and horrific performances of the year, easily making him a favorite and easy win for supporting actor.
When Hollywood films “Julie & Julia”, “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Blind Side” along with subpar endeavors “Nine” and “The Lovely Bones” receive nominations, you know this isn’t an amazing year for Hollywood films. Tragically, rather than looking for foreign and independent gems, Oscar settled for films with the right box office numbers. Still, it’s hard to ignore the groundbreaking work of both epic and independent films, as they both provide remarkable examples of where the imagination occurs amidst $400 million dollar budgets or small private funding. In the end though, it’s about time the underdogs got their due: “District 9” and “The Hurt Locker” deserve a great deal of recognition for being the little films that could.
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