The Oscar Debate
Well since there’s just 8 days remaining until the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reveals their picks for the the year’s biggest achievements in film, on what may be the most glamorous awards show on the planet, I guess it seems like the right time for me to voice my opinions, guesses, and notes on this year’s Oscar ballots and show. Now the big change this year is the fact that the Academy has decided to expand their best picture nominee list from the traditional 5 films to 10 films. While many were skeptical about this move, some were won over by the thought that some indie or fan favorite films that are routinely ignored year after year (most popularly the Dark Knight last year) could have a better chance. While there weren’t too many big fan favorite films, at least not as big as Dark Knight, the question leading up to the nomination readings was still “whether or not the usually very conservative Academy would have a list of nominees that better reflect the best films of the year.” Well with five more films to nominate, the world saw that a list that was…still rather boring:
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
I’ll give credit to the Academy some credit for nominating a film like District 9, a fan favorite film this year which probably wouldn’t have gotten nominated any other year, or my own pick of the year’s best film, A Serious Man. But most of the other films selected really aren’t that surprising: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, and Up in the Air were all expected to be fighting for the top prize since December. The Hurt Locker is a fantastic film and one I included on my top 25 films of the year, but the other three just weren’t my cup of tea. Avatar was the international sensation this year and it was entertaining enough to get raving reviews from big name critic as well as well as other internet critics I highly respect, but the film was just too predictable for me and the blue alien character designs just looked ridiculous to me. Its sad that every James Cameron film I seem to not care too much for goes on to break big box office record and garners massive amount of Academy award nominations (where are the best picture nominations for Aliens and Terminator 2). Cameron’s films also have a tendency to age poorly really fast. Films like Aliens, which I love, looks very dated today which is kind of sad when you consider that the original, that was made 7 years before it, still looks phenomenal. This is also the case for the first Terminator, but then again that was a pretty low budget film, and his billion dollar epic Titanic. Sadly the only film of Cameron’s that still looks as impressive today might have to be his underrated action-spoof action film True Lies. Or maybe it was because Avatar lacked Cameron regulars Micheal Biehn and Bill Paxton? Up in the Air isn’t a film I totally disliked but it was still one that annoyed me. The film tried so hard to be a kind of zeitgeist film that captured the economic trouble and technological dependency of our modern culture, but after the fourth joke about texting and the third George Clooney monologue about firing people, you realize that Reitman is just trying just a little too hard. Compare this to a film like Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, A film that really nails the recent economic hysteria among people, you’ll see how off Reitman’s film is. But even with all that said I will go on record and say I didn’t hate the film. The film has some really good performances from both it’s stars and supporting players (I especially liked Jason Bateman and J.K. Simmons) and the film has some very good witty dialogue as well as some very powerful moments, including an ending that does sidestep some big cliches. Its basically the reaction I’ve had with all of Reitman’s film; they might be a tad overrated but they are still pretty decent films. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire is another film like Up in the Air; one I didn’t hate but got far too much attention. A lot of the attention was given to Mo’Nique’s performance as the protagonist’s vicious mother, and while I think it’s a good performance, I’m not sure it warrants the type of praise it’s getting. I thought Gabourey Sidibe should be the one getting all the attention because personally I thought she was fabulous. But the film was poorly directed, trying too hard to be flashy and was far too long for me considering that most the film was seeing a character going through hell. The other nominations, like An Education, Up, and The Blind Side were just a complete disappointment. Well…Up was a great film and I included it in my top 25 film list, but it’s just bizarre to me that the Academy would nominate it for the best picture and still nominate it in the animation category. Why have a best animated film if you already know whats going to win; its insulting to the other nominees and really just a waste of time (how are you supposed to justify giving the best animated film Oscar to any of the nominated outside of the film that is nominated for best picture?) . My anger for this might also come from the fact that I believe that Coraline was the best animated film of the year. The other two, An Education and The Blind Side, are the real disappointments. An Education has received an outstanding Rotten Tomatoes score but for me the film is pretty uneven. While some performances are pretty spectacular, especially Carey Mulligan and the sadly overlooked Alfred Molina, others are pretty flat, like Emma Thompson and Olivia Williams, not because they aren’t good actresses but the characters are just too underwritten and in the case for Thompson’s character, border on characture. As for The Blind Side, it may the worst best picture nomination in the past decade, and could be the worst ever. I don’t remember the film even garnering good reviews, which isn’t surprising since the film looked like a bad made for TV movie. The nominations for District 9, Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man are all deserving, but it really doesn’t matter when you understand the race is between three films: Avatar, Up in the Air, and The Hurt Locker. It’s too bad that the Oscars don’t care to look to the great independent films that America produced this year that didn’t have the support of big name stars like Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo or Robert Siegel’s directorial debut Big Fan, films that is a hell of a lot better than The Blind Side. Or how about take notice of the horror genre for once? It’s a genre that is so unappreciated and it’s just awful to see how many great films haven’t been n0ominated for best picture because of the genre: Psycho, The Shining, Repulsion, Dead Ringers etc. Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell was incredible and deserving of a nomination as was Ti West’s fantastic House of the Devil or why not go for something foreign like Park Chan-wook’s Thist which is more complex than most that got a nomination? That also brings up another point, why not some foreign nominees? Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion was once nominated for best film as was Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, both deserving. Why not consider some foreign films like White Ribbon or A Prophet and just get rid of the foreign film category? It’s just annoying.
But whats less eventful than the best picture race is the acting categories, where at least three of the four are just about already decided. The best actor race was rather interesting when award season started mainly because there was no front runner, unlike other years where there are no brainiers like Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in There Will Be Blood or Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. Some thought George Clooney, others thought Colin Firth, and others, like myself thought, Michael Stuhlbarg was the shoo in. But out of no where, Jeff Bridges wins every significant award possible for his performance in Crazy Heart. So when the nominations came out it was easy to pick a hands down favorite:
A Single Man – Colin Firth
Crazy Heart – Jeff Bridges
Invictus – Morgan Freeman
The Hurt Locker – Jeremy Renner
Up in the Air – George Clooney
Right when I read the nominations I knew the Academy had screwed up; Wheres Michael Stuhlbarg? His fantastic performance in A Serious Man was one of my favorite all year and his snub easily ranks among the worst of the decade. The second thought was “why is Morgan Freeman getting nominated?” I hadn’t heard his name at all this award season and didn’t expect Invictus to really score any nominations. But the Academy loves Clint Eastwood and it wouldn’t be an Oscar ceremony without his film getting nominated for something. Last year Angelina Jolie got nominated for Eastwood’s Changeling, which I’m not gonna say is a bad performance, but she got nominated over Sally Hawkins, whose performance in Happy Go Lucky had basically won every critics award out there, and Michelle Williams, who’s turn in Wendy and Lucy ranks among the greatest performances of the decade. I think there’s a clear Eastwood bias. I’d also say that though George Clooney gave a very good performance in Up in the Air, its far from the actor’s best work. I could name many performances this year I thought were better like Nic Cage’s fantastic portrayal of a cop on the edge in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, or what about comedian Patton Oswald’s brilliant dramatic turn as the tragic Giant fanatic Paul Aufiero in Big Fan or even Souleymane Sy Savane’s awesome performance as the immigrant taxi driver in Goodbye Solo? Would it kill the Academy to take notice of independent cinema? But it appears to be Jeff Bridges’ year, who’s Oscar is long overdue (where’s his Academy Award for the Dude?), playing a character sure to be up the Academy’s ally. I mean didn’t they award Robert Duvall his long overdue Oscar for basically the same archetype back in 83. To be honest, I actually thought Crazy Heart was a remake of Tender Mercies after watching the trailer.
The female race however is little bit more interesting, in that there’s the best chance for an upset:
An Education – Carey Mulligan
Julie & Julia – Meryl Streep
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire – Gabourey Sidibe
The Blind Side – Sandra Bullock
The Last Station – Helen Mirren
Right now the two early favorites are Streep, for a film I totally forget about, and Bullock, who’s nominations and praise doesn’t really make much sense to me. Bullock did much better work in Paul Haggis’ overrated Crash and I believe was more deserving of an nomination then. I haven’t seen The Last Station so I can’t comment on Helen Mirren’s performance but i can say that it’s always nice to see her nominated. I think the race should be between the two new commers: Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe. Both were so good in their films and personally, I’d be shocked and delighted to see them win. I really can’t weigh in too much in this category because I really didn’t see too many great female performances in American films this year to argue with their choices. Personally I would have loved to have seen Kim Ok-bin’s sexy vampire femme fatal from Thirst get nominated and had Bong Joon-ho’s Mother been given a theatrical release in America during award season, Kim-Hye-ja would have gotten my pick. Same goes with Katie Jarvis, who gives maybe the most exciting breakout performance I’ve seen all year. The biggest snub, who I actually thought might have a shoot, was Abbie Cornish in Bright Star.
The supporting actress category seems like an open and shut case however:
Crazy Heart – Maggie Gyllenhaal
Nine – Penélope Cruz
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire – Mo’Nique
Up in the Air – Vera Farmiga
Up in the Air – Anna Kendrick
It’s Mo’Nique’s year and no one will get in the way of the inevitable. Vera Farmiga and newcomer Anna Kendrick both do a good job in Up in the Air but I don’t imagine them playing spoilers in this category. Gyllenhaal has always been a great actress for years so a nomination for her is long overdue. I never saw Nine so I can’t say much about Cruz. I will say that I know she has no shot having won an Oscar already last year. I though her performance in Broken Embraces was great and would have been happy to see her nominated for that. But Mo’Nique will win and her performance is worthy of a nomination. Personally, I’d like to see Gyllenhaal win because I’ve always thought of her as being an actress who has deserved a nomination since her breakout performance in Secretary.
The nominees for best supporting actor is probably the most interesting of the list:
Inglourious Basterds – Christoph Waltz
Invictus – Matt Damon
The Last Station – Christopher Plummer
The Lovely Bones – Stanley Tucci
The Messenger – Woody Harrelson
Waltz will win for sure and it’s a real shame. Not that he’s not deserving, I think he gives the best performance of the year, but that he should be nominated as Best Actor rather than supporting. His performance is like Anthony Hopkin’s great performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter or Forest Whitaker’s incredible turn as Idi Amin; He might not be in the film for as long as some lead performances, but his character is big enough to be the centerpiece. Invictus gets another acting nomination for Matt Damon, who I didn’t think had much of a chance because he wasn’t nominated for any other major critics’ award. But I already got my rant about Eastwood films out of the way so no need to go over it again. Stanley Tucci has always been a great actor for so many years so a nomination seems fitting. though I admit I haven’t seen Lovely Bones. Same goes with Christopher Plummer. An actor who I believe should have been nominated for The Insider in 1999, so it’s hard to be upset with this one (but again I haven’t seen the film). The next nominee was another pleasant surprise; Woody Harrelson has always been a great character actor and it’s been a while since his last nomination. But while I’m happy to see him get another nomination, I wish he would have been recognized for Zombieland instead. The big snub here is easily Christian McKay, who was looked at as an early favorite for a nomination. Not sure why his name was totally forgotten is beyond me, but i guess it happens.
The worst category I saw has to be for directors, but that’s nothing new. Year after year, it seems like there really isn’t much thought put into the list. Take some of the most recent snubs this decade: David Fincher (Zodiac), Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men), Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven and I’m Not There), Christopher Nolan (Memento), Spike Jonze (Adaptation) , and, the one that hurts the most, David Cronenberg (Spider, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises). This year continues the trend of bad choices for nominees:
Avatar – James Cameron
Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire – Lee Daniels
The Hurt Locker – Kathryn Bigelow
Up in the Air – Jason Reitman
We all knew Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron would make it (though I would have thought twice about Cameron’s nomination) and Tarantino’s was a nice surprise, but I can’t say the same about the next two. I was mad Reitman got nominated back in 2007 for Juno over a crop of more worthy directors (David Fincher for Zodiac, Tim Burton for Sweeny Todd, David Cronenberg for Eastern promises, Sydney Lumet for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Ridley Scott for American Gangster, Andrew Dominik for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Cristian Mungiu for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, and Todd Haynes for I’m Not There) and this year isn’t any better. I also think Lee Daniels is another strange pick mainly because I thought the biggest problem with Precious was it’s overly flashy direction. I would have liked to see the Coen Brothers get their nomination along with Michael Haneke for his incredible White Ribbon. Others I wouldn’t have minded seeing on the ballot would have been Ramin Bahrani for Goodbye Solo, Henry Selick for Coraline, Werner Herzog for The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Sam Raimi for Drag Me to Hell, Jacques Audiard for A Prophet, and (a long shot but) Greg Mottola for Adventureland. This was just far too disappointing of a list.
To close this long rant, I’ll add that there were many films I didn’t mention from my top 25 mainly because they have yet to get proper exposure in America, so there wasn’t much of a chance for any of them to get a nomination. But even then I’d like to add just a few films and people I would have wanted to see get nominated:
Cinematography – Christopher Doyle, The Limits of Control
Documentary – Terence Davies, Of Time and the City
Foreign Film – Lucrecia Martel/Argentina,The Headless Woman and Bong Joon-ho/ South Korea, Mother
Well that just about does for my Oscar rant. Make sure to check back daily for more Oscar related articles before the big show and leave some comments about your opinion on the upcoming event.