As a person who has watched every major awards ceremony for the past two years thanks to an entertainment journalism day job, by the time the Oscars get here, the season has me a little burnt out. Awards shows are like year-end lists, but worse: mass-voted celebrations of terminally unhip, or at least un-artful, dreck. The Oscars are usually a step above the rest, though, and I suppose I care enough about the movies themselves (if not who takes home a trophy tonight) to share some thoughts on this year’s ceremony.
Best Picture: The movies I loved the most in 2009 (Star Trek, the curiously categorically snubbed (500) Days of Summer) aren’t nominated, but the one that impressed me most, the Coen brothers’ fearsome A Serious Man, is. I’d love to see Up, a really moving effort from Pixar, take this one and float the studio out of the Animated Feature ghetto once and for all, but those politics run second to the narrative trio of Avatar’s blockbuster success and industry-pushing innovation, The Hurt Locker’s violent timeliness and underdog status and Inglourious Basterds‘ overdue Quentin Tarantino. I think Avatar will win; The Hurt Locker was a visceral, edge-of-seat piece of filmmaking about the horrors of war, but it could’ve done with a sharper plot and a closing scene not soundtracked with a heavy metal anthem. That final moment seemed ot me to tacitly endorse SSG William James’ rock star antics rather than grind in the film’s real underlying message: war makes people fucking crazy!
Best Director: Qualms with Hurt Locker’s thematic elements aside, in every other respect, it’s two hours of eyeball glue. Kathryn Bigelow deserves to win for that alone – that she would be the first woman to take home the award is a painfully overdue addendum. Tarantino’s the odd man out here, but his work on Basterds was thrilling, sharp and wildly creative.
Best Actor: Colin Firth is really staggering in A Single Man, a movie that should’ve been up for Best Picture in the 10-film category, but I don’t think anybody will begrudge The Dude taking home this one. Clooney showed some fine, nuanced moments in Up in the Air but it’s not his year.
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock’s numerous cinematic sins aside, she’s one of our best comic actresses and I’ll take a win for her however I can get it, even in a movie about Jesus, football and blonde hair dye. That said: how does Sandy probably win for The Blind Side and Jim Carrey not cross over for The Truman Show all those years ago? Criminal. But my favorite performance from this category was the pitch-perfect Carey Mulligan as the wide-eyed, inevitably heartbroken ingénue of An Education – a role whose emotional range she plays with the smoothness of a bank robber turning a safe dial.
Best Supporting Actor: For the third year running, a comic book-style (or actual comic book) villain will take home the supporting actor award. This is a great thing. Christoph Waltz was the best part of many great things in Inglourious Basterds and he deserves the win.
Best Supporting Actress: Didn’t see Precious. Won’t be seeing Precious. (Basterds aside, I don’t see Holocaust movies either. Too fucking depressing.) But I’m sure Mo’Nique has earned this one. Vera Farmiga was fantastic in Up in the Air in a role requiring both empathy and clever cool; how co-star Anna Kendrick wound up running against her with that throwaway role is beyond me. Penelope Cruz was the best part of the largely toxic Nine, but she’s already got enough awards on her shelf for movies that were worthy of her presence (see: the otherwise underrated Vicky Cristina Barcelona).
Further notes: I really, really wish (500) Days of Summer had been nominated for Best Original Screenplay (because that’s what it is) but will settle for a Tarantino win; Up in the Air will win the Adapted category, which will be kind of a bummer, given that it spends its whole running time trying to decide if it wants the love story to be the A-story or not and collapses into total thematic confusion in the final scenes. In the Animated Feature category, both Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline were as artful and fascinating as anything in the “proper” Best Picture category, though Up really was the best. Bright Star should’ve been nominated for Best Cinematography (those white balances! Swoon!) but it may yet win Costume Design; I hope Star Trek wins as many of its technical awards as possible, The Matrix-style.
In conclusion: Live long and prosper, pals, whatever your film loyalties.
More: My reviews of many of these films are linked above; click here for all my Deeper Into Movies entries; my 2008 Oscar look.