Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar Preview and Predictions

Best Picture

An Education


The Blind Side

District 9

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds


A Serious Man


Up In The Air

Who Will Win? Put simply, I don’t know. Not only is this the first time in years that nobody has any idea what movie will walk away with the Best Picture Oscar, but the stakes and symbolism in the race are fascinating. Most everyone knows that the race is basically down to The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar, but that means it’s also effectively a race of art vs. commerce, the most expensive movie ever made vs. an indie film made on the cheap, a critical darling vs. a massive financial juggernaut, the way movies were made in the good old days vs. the way they’re about to be made, and, of course, James Cameron vs. Kathryn Bigelow, who, by the way, used to be married to each other. The fact that both movies were fantastic doesn’t make it any easier to try and predict, but I have a feeling The Hurt Locker will come out on top. However, there is an outside chance of an upset. Since going to ten nominees this year, voters no longer just pick one movie to vote for. Instead, the movies are ranked from 1-10, so if any movie manages to pick up an inordinate amount of second and third place votes, it could make a big difference.

Who Should Win? I picked The Hurt Locker as the year’s best, so I think it’s the one that deserves to walk away as the winner. But if Avatar wins, it won’t be a huge disappointment. Both movies will stand the test of time, and either one would be a well-regarded winner.

Who Got Screwed? Of the ten Best Picture nominees, eight of them also made my own top ten, so The Academy really did a pretty good job. While A Serious Man was #16 on my list, it was still a good movie made by some of the best filmmakers of the last few decades, so I really can’t moan too much about it’s inclusion. The Blind Side is the one that’s troubling. Every critic I like panned this movie to the extent that I couldn’t even justify spending the money on it, so I stayed away. But when critics are calling it things like “a Hallmark Card disguised as a movie,” and talking about how its message is abhorrent when juxtaposed with the message of Precious, I’m gonna guess it didn’t deserve a Best Picture nomination. If there were justice in the world, that slot would have gone to either (500) Days of Summer or A Single Man, two great and original movies by first time directors that I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from. But in nominating The Blind Side, the Academy achieved the goal it had in mind when it expanded the Best Picture race from five movies to ten—if major box office hits get nominated, the public has a much greater interest in watching the Oscars. For the first time ever, five Best Picture nominees surpassed 100 million at the box office (Avatar, Inglorious Basterds, Up, District 9, and The Blind Side).

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker

James Cameron – Avatar

Lee Daniels – Precious

Jason Reitman – Up In The Air

Quentin Tarantino – Inglorious Basterds

Who Will Win? In keeping with the number of ways the Avatar vs. Hurt Locker debate continues to fascinate, consider this: James Cameron, a past winner, is up against Kathryn Bigelow, who could become the first woman to ever take home a directing Oscar. Even if Avatar pulls out a Best Picture win, I suspect Bigelow will win this category no matter what. I just don’t think the Academy will pass on the chance at a first ever female victor, especially one so deserving.

Who Should Win? Bigelow; in a movie with not much dialogue, very little score, and infrequent action, it was her talent behind the camera that made everything so perfect.

Who Got Screwed? Well, the five directors nominated were responsible for what I picked as the five best movies of the year. So it’s hard to say anyone was undeserving of their nomination. That being said, I would have liked Lee Daniels’ spot to have gone to either Marc Webb for (500) Days of Summer or Tom Ford for A Single Man. While I picked Precious as the overall better film, the acting is what made it so great. I feel like Webb and Ford were more directly responsible for the quality of their films than Daniels was for his.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart

George Clooney – Up In The Air

Colin Firth – A Single Man

Morgan Freeman – Invictus

Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker

Who Will Win? Jeff Bridges has it in the bag.

Who Should Win? Oscars for lead acting often come down to the same debate: do you reward only the nominated performance, or do you consider the career as well? It’s really a tough call, because I think Colin Firth gave the year’s best lead acting performance, but can I really say he should have an Oscar over Jeff Bridges? No, I can’t. Honestly, all five of these performances were strong enough to be conceivable winners, but being of sound mind and body, how could anyone root against The Dude?

Who Got Screwed? Actually, no one. I really think the five most deserving performances received nominations. Sharlto Copley has the most right to wish there were six nominees, as his work in District 9 was outstanding, while Daniel Day Lewis (Nine), Sam Rockwell (Moon), and Viggo Mortensen (The Road) all turned in their usual great work, but none quite deserved to break into the top five.

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side

Helen Mirren – The Last Station

Carey Mulligan – An Education

Gabourey Sidibe – Precious

Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Who Will Win? The race seems to be either a third Oscar for Streep (who last won for 1982’s Sophie’s Choice) or a first Oscar for Bullock, who’s never been nominated before. All of the talking heads on the Internet seem to think Bullock will pull it out because she won the SAG award, but I don’t place any credence in that. Remember, Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Pamela Anderson all have SAG cards and can vote for the awards. For all we know, the four of them have a party every year where they get drunk, do a few lines of blow, and then fill out their SAG ballots. Fact #1: Meryl Streep has been nominated for sixteen acting Oscars, far more than anyone else, male or female. Fact #2: Streep is currently riding a 27-year/11-nomination losing streak. Sooner or later, she’s getting a third Oscar, and I think it’s going to be sooner. Like, Sunday night sooner.

Who Should Win? As previously stated, I haven’t seen The Blind Side, but I’ve always thought Bullock was a shitty actress, so I don’t suspect she deserves an Oscar all of the sudden just because she dyed her hair and played a rich WASP instead of someone’s ditzy love interest. And honestly, I don’t think Streep deserves to win either (unless we’re rewarding her career more than her performance); Julie & Julia was a perfectly fine movie, but I thought Streep’s acting was a bit too much of a straight up impersonation, without any real feeling of her own. The other three nominees, though, were all great. It’s a tough call who’s most deserving because Sidibe was so vulnerable in Precious and Mirren, always great, perfectly straddled being loving and caring with being plotting and hysterical as Leo Tolstoy’s wife, the Countess Sofya, in The Last Station. But my vote would go to Carey Mulligan for her star turn in An Education. For the audience to feel involved in her dilemma, we have to buy into her intelligence as a woman, while simultaneously understanding her naivetĂ© as a girl. It’s a hard combo to pull off, but Mulligan did it perfectly.

Who Got Screwed? Emily Blunt was wonderful as the titular character in The Young Victoria, and probably should have received the nomination that went to Bullock. And while I don’t necessarily think she should have been nominated, was I the only person who thought Amy Adams was just as good as Streep in Julie & Julia?

Best Supporting Actor

Matt Damon – Invictus

Woody Harrelson – The Messenger

Christopher Plummer – The Last Station

Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones

Christopher Waltz – Inglorious Basterds

Who Will Win? Anyone not named Christopher Waltz is just happy to be at the ceremony. And with Waltz’s victory, that will make three straight years that this award has gone to one of the greatest movie villains in memory. Javier Bardem won two years ago for his terrifying Anton Chigurgh in No Country For Old Men, while the late Heath Ledger posthumously earned the award last year for his psychotic Joker.

Who Should Win? Waltz. The quadri-lingual Hans Landa is a fine addition to the recent trend of this Award going to the year’s best villain. However, The Messenger never came to Indianapolis, so I haven’t seen Harrelson’s performance, which some people believe may have a shot at pulling off an upset.

Who Got Screwed? It seems that every year, this is the most difficult category to whittle down to five names. Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), Alfred Molina (An Education), and Jim Broadbent (The Young Victoria) were all in contention, and I didn’t even see Christian McKay’s well-regarded turn as the title character in Me & Orson Welles. But I can really only be upset about one performance not making the final cut: Brad Pitt, as Lt. Aldo Raine, leader of the Basterds, stole every scene, and indeed, every line, that he was given. No good actor gets less respect for his talents than Pitt, who has worked hard to rank among the best of his generation.

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz – Nine

Vera Farmiga – Up In The Air

Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart

Anna Kendrick – Up In The Air

Mo’Nique – Precious

Who Will Win? If Mo’Nique walks away empty handed, it would be the biggest shock of the night.

Who Should Win? Much as I loved Anna Kendrick as Up in the Air’s neurotic Natalie, and think that she could have won in most other years, nobody compares to Mo’Nique, whose performance is like watching molten lava erupt out of a volcano.

Who Got Screwed? I love me some Penelope Cruz, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her in Nine, but the ogling was less because of her performance, and more because her costume design looked like it came from Frederick’s of Hollywood’s spring catalogue. There was nothing wrong with her acting, but the sex appeal was what stood out, and, last I checked, Oscar nominations weren’t supposed to be doled out for sex appeal. I would have given her slot to Melanie Laurent’s performance as Shosanna, the revenge seeking French Jew who watched her family get slaughtered in Inglorious Basterds (the scene where she has strudel and a glass of milk with Col. Landa at the French cafĂ© was absolutely terrifying). I also felt like Maggie Gyllenhaal, though good, was slightly less deserving than Julianne Moore (A Single Man), or, much as it pains me to admit it, Mariah Carey’s turn as a Jewish social worker in Precious.

Best Original Screenplay

The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal

Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino

The Messenger – Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman

A Serious Man – Joel & Ethan Coen

Up – Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, & Tom McCarthy

Who Will Win? It’s firmly between Boal and Tarantino, but I just can’t imagine Tarantino losing this award. Boal did a fine job, but the Hurt Locker simply isn’t a movie where the dialogue stands out.

Who Should Win? Inglorious Basterds, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of movie where the dialogue stands out. Tarantino should be walking away with his second screenplay Oscar (Pulp Fiction was the first).

Who Got Screwed? It’s unfathomable to me that (500) Days of Summer wasn’t nominated. It was more deserving than anything other than Basterds, so take your pick what it should have knocked out—I would say A Serious Man.

Best Adapted Screenplay

An Education – Nick Hornby

District 9 – Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell

In The Loop – Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, & Tony


Precious – Geoffrey Fletcher

Up In The Air – Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner

Who Will Win? Up in the Air has won this category at every single awards ceremony this season, so don’t expect the Oscars to be any different.

Who Should Win? Air is probably most deserving, but it’s a shame that means Nick Hornby’s great treatment of An Education will go home empty handed. Its dialogue exchanges about the purpose and struggle for a great education were remarkably well handled.

Who Got Screwed? This is probably the right five, although A Single Man and Crazy Heart could have easily been included as well.

Best Animated Feature


Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Princess And The Frog

The Secret Of Kells


Of course Up is still the shoo-in, but it’s refreshing to see a Pixar film finally compete against some decent competition. Pixar’s dominance, though, is staggering. I recently saw a funny “fake poster” for Up in which the tagline read “Suck it Dreamworks! This shit comes to us in our sleep!” Sad but true: Pixar just makes it look too easy.

Best Foreign Language Film


The Milk Of Sorrow

Un Prophete

El Secreto De Sus Ojos

The White Ribbon

Sadly the only one of these that has found it’s way to Indianapolis so far is The White Ribbon, which was masterful, but also a bit trying to get through. Its French director, Michael Haneke, is surely this era’s Michelangelo Antonioni, a filmmaker who thrives on the systematic alienation of his viewers. Even though Ribbon was the big winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, I don’t suspect Oscar voters will think so highly of it. Instead, I expect the French prison drama Un Prophete to walk away the winner. Having garnered extraordinary early reviews, I’m looking forward to it’s opening here in a few weeks.

Best Documentary

Burma VJ

The Cove

Food, Inc.

The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg And The Pentagon


Which Way Home

I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen any of these, but I can tell you the winner will be either The Cove or Food, Inc. I suppose it just depends on what moves people more: being afraid of what they’re eating, or the slaughter of dolphins. Bet on the dolphins, and The Cove.

Best Art Direction


The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus


Sherlock Holmes

The Young Victoria

In most of the technical categories, I’m expecting an Avatar sweep, and art direction is no different. The deserved winner, though, is probably Imaginarium. Directed by Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Monty Python), the movie was only average, but the visuals were extraordinary. Plus, Tom Waits played the devil.

Best Cinematography


Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds

The White Ribbon

I’m so irate that A Single Man was snubbed that I can’t even rationally think about this category. I suppose The Hurt Locker will and probably should win, but I just can’t get myself enthused about a cinematography race in which one of the most beautifully filmed movies of the decade won’t be in competition. Just look at these images:

Best Costume Design

Bright Star

Coco Before Chanel

The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus


The Young Victoria

First off, the absence of Where the Wild Things Are from this category should warrant an FBI investigation. Both Nine’s Colleen Atwood and Victoria’s Sandy Powell have been nominated quite a few times and won twice, so I would expect their dominance to continue. This award usually goes to a period drama, so I’m picking Powell. But I’m a little disheartened that the velvet pimp suits and polyester shirts showcased in Black Dynamite didn’t get no love.

Best Editing


District 9

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds


In a category where pacing and the building of suspense mean the most, it should be down to The Hurt Locker’s Bob Murawski (The Spider-Man trilogy) vs. Basterds’ Sally Menke (veteran of every other Tarantino film). Neither has ever won, and both are deserving, but I’d give the slight edge to Murawski for The Hurt Locker. The big snubee was Alan Edward Bell, who, with (500) Days of Summer, helped piece together a chronology inspired by memory and emotion.

Best Makeup

Il Divo

Star Trek

The Young Victoria

Ummm… Star Trek, I guess? Pretty lame category this year if making Spock’s ears go all pointy is all it takes to win an Oscar.

Best Original Score


Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Hurt Locker

Sherlock Holmes


I’m shocked to see The Hurt Locker here because I actually thought the movie didn’t have a score. Not only can I not recall a single time music was playing, but I actually thought the lack of music was an inspired artistic decision. Needless to say, it shouldn’t be winning. And Avatar’s score distinguished itself to me only for being soooo similar to the Titanic score (both were by James Horner) that I was legitimately horrified at the thought of Celine Dion’s voice showing up at some point, which might have inspired me to gauge out my own eye. Of the remaining nominees, I suppose Up is the most deserving, and will probably win. But, I thought the year’s best score (in an admittedly weak year for the category) was for A Single Man. You can hear the gist of it in the previous link (under the cinematography section) to its trailer.

Best Original Song

“Almost There” – Randy Newman (The Princess And The Frog)

“Down In New Orleans” – Randy Newman (The Princess And The Frog)

“Loin De Paname” – Reinhardt Wagner & Frank Thomas (Paris 36)

“Take It All” – Maury Yeston (Nine)

“The Weary Kind” – Ryan Bingham & T Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart)

The only new song in Nine was completely unmemorable, and the two Randy Newman songs should cancel each other out (though “Down in New Orleans” is by far better). The Paris 36 number is a fun, Moulin Rouge style song, but it has no chance at beating out the phenomenal “The Weary Kind.” Really, the big surprise in this category is that songs from Crazy Heart didn’t take up all five nominations. The movie had enough great music, and its worst song was better than any of the other nominees. With only one nomination, though, it should dominate the vote. It’s unfortunate that the song nominees won’t be performed at this year’s ceremony, as Jeff Bridges sang and played the song himself, and could have just as easily done so at the Oscars. It’s a song so good that it deserves exposure to the wide audience that the Oscar telecast could have given it. Check it out at

Best Sound Editing & Best Sound Mixing


The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds

Star Trek

Up/Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

Two categories that I know nothing about, except that I expect Avatar to win them both.

Best Visual Effects


District 9

Star Trek

Again, it’s gotta be Avatar.

Best Animated Short

French Roast

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty

The Lady And The Reaper


A Matter Of Loaf And Death

I’ve actually seen all five of these, and I’m pleased to say that all five were really good. Some people think A Matter of Loaf and Death will win because it’s a “Wallace and Gromit” movie, and therefore has a built-in fan base. But I just don’t see how anything could beat Logorama, the year’s most original vision. Who knows how long this will last before it gets taken down due to copyright violation, but here’s part A:

And part B:

Best Live Action Short

The Door

Instead Of Abracadabra


Miracle Fish

The New Tenants

Again, I’ve seen all five of these! Kavi, about modern-day slavery in India, was like a Red Cross commercial with better production values. Abracadabra, about an awkward aspiring magician in Sweden, was funny but forgettable. Miracle Fish sucked. The Door, about the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, was moving, but for me, The New Tenants has to be the winner. Chronicling the bizarre first day a gay couple spends in their new NYC apartment, Tenants is funny, surprising, moving, and the only movie of the year in which someone mistakes a kilo of heroin for a bag of flour.

Best Documentary Short

China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears Of Sichuan Province

The Last Campaign Of Governor Booth Gardner

The Last Truck: Closing Of A GM Plant

Music By Prudence

Rabbit A La Berlin

Sorry, haven’t seen any of these and don’t know anything about them. But the one about the GM plant sounds interesting… I bet it’ll win.


  1. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading this! As usual, in general I agree with most everything you say. As long as the Hurt Locker and Avatar split the Picture/Director categories, I think both are worthy in either category. Avatar is amazing and you can't deny its revolutionary effect on filmmaking, but the Hurt Locker is by far the better film from a storytelling and humanity perspective.

    As for Meryl...FINALLY someone agrees with me that this would not be a worthy film for her third Oscar win. I love Meryl, truly, but her Julia is an impersonation. I re-watched the Hours the other day, and cannot believe that she didn't win for that. That is a true acting job...Julia and Julie is not.

    You should swallow some pepto-bismol and watch the Blind Side. Its not as bad as the critics say, especially in the category of emotional sports uplifting story. It fars into a long line of not-entirely-true-emotionally-manipulative films centered around sports, no better, no worse. I personally enjoyed it, as long as you don't get wrapped up in the liberties taken.

    My biggest travesty with regards to shut-outs is all things Where the Wild Things Are related. I can't believe it wasn't recognized anywhere. I truly loved that film.

    Lets be sure to keep in touch during the ceremony tomorrow night. I miss talking films with you.


  2. You have framed the event for us. Thanks, Daniel!

  3. wow - great entries! your writing is getting more precise and compelling. i like the references to elder statesmen like hitchcock, etc. the humor and pop culture innuendo also adds color.

    almost makes me want to watch the oscars....

    there was a really interesting explanation of sound editing and mixing on NPR (friday?) really made sense of the important (and sometimes) simple job of the technicians and artists - of course they compared avatar and the hurt locker but also looked at the star trek / star wars interpretations of space - the way sound leads our perception... check it out. your writing is at it's best when informed by technical background, historic reference, and a splash of populism (utube reference a nice touch).

    great job!