Oscar Picks

posted Feb 5, 2010, 5:29 PM by Jeff Brandt   [ updated Feb 6, 2010, 1:47 AM ]
Due to my lack of knowledge about the differences between sound editing and mixing, my failure to see many foreign films, shorts, or documentaries, and general apathy toward the awards for musical scoring, you're going to notice some categories missing in this list. That's OK. At least I'm being honest instead of going out on a limb and picking a movie without really being informed.

You can find the full list of Oscar nominees here.

BEST PICTURE


You saw this coming: Inglourious Basterds, hands down. It's a movie for people who love Spaghetti Westerns. It's a movie for people who love WWII dramas. It's a movie for people who love lots of dialogue. It's a movie for people who love mind-bending action sequences. It's a movie for people who love movies, period. This is an instant classic, and if there is justice in the Academy, it will win Quentin Tarantino the Best Picture glory that has eluded him thus far.

On a side note, I was really impressed with the Academy's picks in this, the first year of the awards reverting to the 10-nominations model of old. It would have been nice to Moon up there, and I think District 9 and The Blind Side could be discarded, but 80% ain't bad.


ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE


I'm not terribly excited about my choices in this category, but I would give it to George Clooney in Up in the Air. Jeremy Renner came close in The Hurt Locker, but I don't think he has the kind of inner complexity or psychological struggle as Clooney's character. Which is a big step for Clooney, who usually comes off as kind of a flat character whose motives you can spot from a mile away.


ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE


The most impressive acting of the year, in my book: Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. His performance as the weaselly detective sniffing out lies is what really propels the movie to Top 10 of the Decade status. I'm not even sure why Stanley Tucci was considered here. Sure, he did a decent bit of work as the creeper in The Lovely Bones, but it didn't exactly blow me away or show me anything I haven't seen before.


ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE


I thought An Education was good, but I don't quite understand the buzz about Carey Mulligan. For me, this is an easy pick: Gabourey Sidibe, the film rookie in Precious, takes the cake (but probably shouldn't eat it too (lulz)). The film's writing was good, but what made it really special was the leading ladies' authentic acting. Which leads me to . . .


ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mo'Nique, as I said in my review, really wowed me as the title character's ignorant, selfish, and abusive mother. The performance was so raw, so powerful, so stomach-churning. I hope we get to see her do something like this again.



ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Hats off to Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) for bringing us Coraline. I'm digging this new brand of animated features that are not quite children's movies. There's nothing really wholesome or Wonder Bread about it, which I'm all for. It's high time that "animated" and "for-children" became uncorrelated concepts.

I'm not sure if psychedelic is the right word, but Coraline is definitely trippy -- visually in
ventive in a way that more reserved animated movies are typically not. I will admit, though, that I haven't seen Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I wouldn't be too broken up if Coraline lost to that . . . Unlike when Ratatouille beat Persepolis. That was a travesty.


ART DIRECTION


To give this to any film but Avatar would be a sham. No, it was not the best movie of the year, and hell no, it didn't deserve all of those Golden Globes (What were the awards voters thinking?). For all the effort and millions poured into the project, the plot wasn't even that great, and the acting was simply unimpressive. But the scenery . . . my god, the scenery. It was truly something to behold. Kudos to James Cameron for growing up an angry nerd with a wild imagination; it really paid off in his vivid depiction of Pandora.



CINEMATOGRAPHY

I had to roll this one around in my mind for awhile. I could change my mind on this in an hour or two, but at the moment, I'm going with The Hurt Locker. Shaky, documentary-style camerawork is not an original concept at this point, but I think Barry Ackroyd uses the technique here for maximal effect.

Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War picture amplifies its tense moments with arresting camerawork: we see individual grains of dirt kicking up from a bomb explosion in slow motion; long distance firefights, seen through the perspective of binoculars and a sniper rifle scope; the view from inside the bomb disarmer's spaceman suit. Avatar and Inglorious Basterds are beautiful works, but there aren't as many moments in those films that made me think, "Wow, look at what they did with the camera."


DIRECTING

If this award went to the director that achieved the most surprisingly good performances out of his actors, I would have to pick Lee Daniels for Precious. However, it doesn't, and I'm not. As a proponent of auteur cinema, I believe that the winner of Best Picture and
Best Director should usually go to the same film. 2009 would be no exception. Quentin Tarantino prevails again.


ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Another nod to Up in the Air, based on a novel by Walter Kirn. Director Jason Reitman shared screenwriting duties with Sheldon Turner (The Longest Yard (!?)). I don't fully credit George Clooney for his own great acting; I credit the script and Reitman's direction for using Clooney correctly.


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY


This is another toss-up for me, but my vote goes to A Serious Man. The story and its construction -- particularly the beginning and the end -- create a kind of puzzle that will have you attempting to reconstruct the plot hours after you leave the theater. When I think of great stories, I think of ones that demand I ask myself "What the heck does this mean?" Inglourious Basterds, while certainly more entertaining, and featuring better actors and visual artistry, cannot match the sheer storytelling power of the Coens this year. It's unfortunate -- but not surprising -- that A Serious Man did not equal the box office pull of No Country for Old Men or Burn After Reading.


NEXT UP:

My review of Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Colin Farrell.


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