Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2009 Oscars: The major categories. Because it doesn't hurt to try. Part 1.

Hello all.
As you may or may not know, I nurse a bizarre obsession. For nine months out of the year, my inarticulate keening can be contained with the studious application of certain film-related websites. Those other three months, however, I enter full-on gibbering mode. And guess what? It's November, baby.
...My three-month allotment should start in December.
The hell with that.
Sure, it might seem odd to all of you sane people out there, but November is 100% Oscar Season. I can hear your protests: 'But...But...The Oscars are in March! Most of these films haven't even been released to the public yet! This is insanity!' No. No, dear reader. Insanity is the fact that the 2009 Oscar race coverage began the day after the 2008 Oscar ceremony. I've been staring into this big, glitzy abyss for too long, and you're about to reap a little bit of the benefits. So, without further ado, I shall tackle Oscar Nomination predictions for the major categories, which is to say acting, writing, picture, and director. I'll warn you now: I might lose you. I've got nine months of prior knowledge on this subject, and things that seem elementary to me might be new territory for you (example: someone says "Mo'Nique." If you aren't immediately thinking about what she'll say when she wins, then you've probably had a life these past nine months. Good for you.). Anyway, here we go.
*revision: This is kind of an epic post, so I'm just going to limit it to picture and director today. Following later will be screenplays and acting.*

Best Picture
You might be aware that the Academy recently expanded the best picture category to 10 slots, as opposed to the traditional five. This has, understandably, caused pandemonium in Hollywood, as well as bouts of insanity. Every damn film that gets released and becomes even a modest hit has someone yelling 'my God, we have a best picture nominee!' I kid you not: people have said that for Harry Potter, Star Trek, The Hangover, This is It, Paranormal Activity, and even goddamn New mother-...loving Moon. Here this, and here it good. (For added emphasis, I shall use all caps. Also, it would be helpful for you to put on your 3-D goggles at this time.) 10 SLOTS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE ACADEMY WILL CHANGE ITS TASTE. (You may remove your 3-D goggles now.) Yes, there are 5 extra slots. That doesn't mean that they will suddenly love comedy (the last comedy to win was Annie Hall, in 1977. It remains the only out-and-out comedy to be nominated, unless you count It Happened One Night, in 1934, or Lost in Translation in 2003), or science fiction (the only science-fiction film, and by science fiction I mean 'taking place in the future' film to ever be nominated was A Clockwork Orange. Please bear in mind that I don't count Star Wars as science fiction), or horror (The only straight horror film to ever be nominated is The Exorcist, or, if you count it as horror instead of 'psychological thriller/drama', The Silence of the Lambs). What I'm saying is that those extra five slots will be filled with the normal: Holocaust films, intimate dramas, big 'prestige' films, and, if we're lucky, one or two indie competitors.
With all that in mind, I've narrowed the hopefuls down to fifteen films, which can be split into four groups. I honestly don't believe that any other films than these fifteen have a fighting chance. I could be wrong, though.

Critical Successes that have already been released
This category is pretty self-explanatory. These are films that came, were seen, and conquered. Every single one of these films is in, barring something insane happening. They are: The Hurt Locker, Precious, An Education, and Up in the Air. Mind you, two of these films still haven't received wide release. They were still seen by enough critics, though, to form a consensus.

The Big, Prestige-y "Oscar-Bait" Movies that no one has seen
These movies are enigmas. They're obviously meant to receive awards attention, but good intentions aren't a guarantee of success. Some may flop, some may soar. Who knows?
The Lovely Bones: I honestly can't see this one going wrong. Lots of Internet space has been devoted to how this one's going to fail, but I honestly can't imagine Peter Jackson and co. directing Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz, Saorise Ronan, Stanley Tucci, and Mark Wahlberg, using already-fantastic source material, and coming up with anything that isn't spectacular. This one's in.
Invictus: A Clint Eastwood romp through soccer in post-apartheid South Africa starring God/Morgan Freeman. I don't mean to sound cynical, but it doesn't matter if this is good or not. There are too many old, conservative Academy members who will watch this, think 'my, what a fine film,' and toss it onto their ballots for giggles. My guess is this film will be rather middlebrow. But hey, middlebrow doesn't hurt with the Academy.
Nine: A musical adaptation of a Fellini film starring the bad boy of indie cinema, fleshed out by gratuitous amounts of fantastic actresses, directed by the man who was last rewarded for bringing Chicago back to life. Sounds like a no-brainer. My guess? It will be good, but not good enough to win.
Avatar: Some people think this will do the same thing to movies that Jesus did to the southern US, back when he visited Atlanta in 1963 (that's how it went, right?). Others think this will be the biggest flop in film history. Personally, I think the film, like Titanic, will have trouble reconciling its compelling story and jaw-dropping technical proficiency with its third-grade level script. But honestly, the quality probably won't matter. As I said before, the Academy doesn't go for sci-fi. This film will almost literally have to be Jesus to make it in. And remember, James Cameron: Jesus was crucified. Good luck to you, sir.

Films Released earlier that were good, but not good enough to be locked in
I suppose I shouldn't say "good enough." What I mean is big enough, or universal enough, or talked about enough. All these films have a good chance, but there aren't many slots open. It's going to be a bloodbath.
Bright Star: Jane Campion's Keats-flavored biopic was a hit with the film festival crowd, but fell flat on its face once it was released for general consumption. I'm sure it's a lovely film, and will no doubt be considered for other, smaller categories, but I don't think it has the juice to fight its way into the top 10. Sorry.
Inglorious Basterds: Who'd have thunk, right? Historical revisionism isn't usually the Academy's cup of tea, but God, they love WW2 movies more than life itself. Plus, this is one of the best-reviewed movies of Tarantino's career. They might want to welcome him back into the fold, since his movies haven't really caught on with the Academy since Pulp Fiction (excluding Pam Greer's nomination for Jackie Brown).
A Serious Man: I'll be the first to say it: The Coens might be too weird for the Academy. Plus, they won the big award only two years ago, and inviting them back again might seem like too much, too soon. Still, there are people out there calling this the Coen's best film. It's certainly not the majority opinion, but Oscar history has proven that a small group of rabid supporters is just, if not more, successful than being well-liked by a large group.
Up: Pixar's been flirting with the best category the whole millennium, even with only 5 slots. It only makes sense that their latest effort, which was received with critical acclaim as always, makes the cut when the field is expanded. End of story.

Movies that have yet to come out that might make a splash
These films aren't quite unseen: most have bowed at festivals or screeners or the like. They aren't big enough, however, to be in the "Big 4" I mentioned earlier. They might have a chance, or they might not, depending on how they're received by the public.
The Last Station: The Academy loves biopics, and this Tolstoy-themed romp certainly won't let them down in that respect. This feels like the sort of stuffy, period "prestige" piece that has been missing the cut for the past few years. In a large field, however, I figure middlebrow will cut it, as long as it appeals to the right audience.
The Road: This one's tough. On its festival debut, it seemed rather polarizing; some people loved it, some people hated it, and many more seemed indifferent. Then again, Cormac McCarthy movies have done well at the Oscars before (*cough, no country for old men, *cough*). Still, this one is noticeably more bleak, and hasn't been earning the "masterpiece" accolades that No Country received. This is quite the long-shot.
A Single Man: This could be the biggest wildcard: the festival audience loved it to death, the regular critics seem to not be moved. Plus, this movie is pretty gay (...literally), and the Academy has trouble warming up to that. Still, if its as impressive as its Venice Film Festival response indicates, they might have to sit up and notice anyway.

There you go. 15 films. Barring a miracle, 10 of these films will make it? Here's my prediction, in order of likelihood:
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air
The Lovely Bones
An Education
Inglorious Basterds
The Last Station
Alternates: A Single Man, A Serious Man

Wow. That took a while. If anyone's still reading, let's try for Best Director. This one's easier; only 5 slots. Traditionally, best picture nominees dominate this category, with 1 or (rarely) 2 slots open for films that aren't recognized in best picture, but exhibit undeniable style and control. With the expansion of the best picture race, however, best director gets confusing. Some say that these five nominees will represent the "real" best picture, aka these five will be the academy's preference. If so, will the direction be ignored, or will reputations and politics still figure in?
As far as locks are concerned, we've got three: Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker, who succeeded in bringing the Iraq war to screen with flying colors, meshing style, tension, and dramatic elements seamlessly. Jason Reitman, for Up in the Air; he gets in mainly on the coattails of his film's success, but also for his integration of comedy and drama, which isn't easy to do successfully. Finally, Lee Daniels, for Precious: his direction has honestly received more negative reviews than positive (ie too showy for the material, trying to hard to be 'a director'), but Precious is poised to be the success story of the year, so he's in.

That leaves two spots. Assuming The Lovely Bones is as well-received as it's going to be, then Peter Jackson is in for sure. We'll run with that assumption for now. So who grabs the last spot? Rob Marshall for Nine is an obvious suspect. They loved him for Chicago, and Nine seems to be showy enough to grab their attention. Clint Eastwood could make it in for Invictus simply because he's Clint Eastwood, and Lone Scherfig's An Education has gotten great notices in this respect. It could be too small and understated, however. That leaves two big, loud, unlikely possibilities. The first: Quentin Tarantino for Inglorious Basterds. I doubt the film will be embraced to this degree, but if it is, they'll no doubt want to welcome Tarantino back to the club. The second...James Cameron, for Avatar. Yes, it could be bad. But Cameron is the preeminent action director working today, and it's going to be difficult to ignore his mastery of the medium, regardless of the quality of the drama portrayed.
My predicted 5, in order:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Lee Daniels, Precious
Rob Marshall, Nine
Alternates: James Cameron, Avatar, Clint Eastwood, Invictus

There's part 1. For your sake, I'll save the rest for later. What do you think? I know it's hard, since most of these movies remain unseen, especially if you aren't searching them out. If you were choosing, what would you nominate for best picture for the year so far?

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