Donovan's 2010 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2010-03-06 19:45:16 EST
Rating: 1.25 on 38 ratings (38 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S OSCAR PROGNOSTICATION 2010
Why do I even bother with this Oscar nonsense? Even under the best of circumstances, the Academy votes won’t come close to matching my preferences. And until I win an Oscar myself, I don’t get an official ballot, so my opinion is essentially worthless.
On the other hand… this is America, dammit, and by simply being born, I have earned the right to complain. And there is almost nothing I do better than complaining (the exceptions being identifying celebrity voices in commercials and pouring liquid from one receptacle into another without spilling a drop – two very random and completely useless talents). So complain I will, damning the man and saluting the little guy. If you’re not with me, realize this truth: Transformers 2 was nominated for more Oscars (one, for Sound Mixing) than (500) Days Of Summer (zero). Ready to complain yet?
But don’t just listen to me because I’m bitching, listen to me because I’m right. Last year, I predicted all eight major categories correctly (go back and look for yourself). And this year, I predicted 32 of the 35 Picture/Director/Acting nominees (two better than Entertainment Weekly, the gold standard of Academy Prognostication). I firmly believe that I will sweep the winners again this year.
Then again, I also believe that Robert Altman’s greatest film was Popeye.
SHOULD WIN: Up
WILL WIN: The Hurt Locker
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Star Trek, Twilight: New Moon
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: (500) Days Of Summer, Where The Wild Things Are
This really is a two dog race. I’m torn between them, because the films are so different and so profound in such different ways. One seems entrenched in gritty reality, while the other transports us to a land far away where things we’ve never imagined come to life. I’m talking about The Hurt Locker versus Up.
Avatar, you say? Oh, I realize the rest of the population considers this race to be between Locker and Avatar. Idiots. Avatar is spectacular, no doubt, but when compared to Locker or Up, it’s easily dismissed.
I go back and forth between Up and Locker, but ultimately, Up stayed with me longer. It is anchored inside my brain more vividly (and that’s not just because of the bright CGI and 3-D effects). Part of it might be my interpretation of the story, which is darker than the literal one: I believe that when the old man goes inside his house to unleash the balloons and float away, he actually goes inside and dies. And his adventure is really just his trip into the afterlife to join his wife. To me that seems a lot more plausible than him using a million balloons to fly his house to South America. It also seems sweeter. For me, all the things and people he encounters on the trip are his way of coming to terms with things that have haunted him throughout his life (missing out on opportunities for “adventure”, not being able to keep promises, being let down by heroes that don’t live up to expectations, and not being able to have children). I can’t exactly explain the talking dogs, though. I am apparently the only person that subscribes to this theory, however, because I have been called everything from “macabre” to “demented”, from “depressing” to “insulting”, from “over-analyzing” to simply “dumb” (and most recently: “not the man I thought I married”). Admittedly, the flash-forward photos during the end credits blow my case completely out of the water, but I’m sticking to it.
Of course, Up doesn’t have a prayer of winning Best Picture. For being the biggest award, this race is intriguingly the least certain, between Locker and Avatar. And while Picture often lines up with Director, both races are so close this year that I could see any combination of winners. If voters ask themselves, What movie will have the biggest impact on the future of film, the answer will likely be Avatar. However, I don’t think that’s the appropriate question to ask; I don’t think that’s what this award measures (then again, the Academy offers no “definition” of this award, and each voter probably defines it somewhat differently). It’s supposed to be the film that is the best one this year, as of right now. It’s impossible to look 10 years into the future and guess which will hold up better, or will have a bigger influence (that’s what retrospective magazine and web columns are for). I am probably putting too much faith in the Academy members (which burns me every damn time), but I’ll say that, on average, their individual definitions will be closer to mine. And so they will choose The Hurt Locker.
Where Avatar gives us very clear views of right and wrong, Locker doesn’t give us anything easy. Nor does it give us anything definitive. That challenge is what, in part, makes it a better film. What decisions do you make when literally every person you see may (or just as importantly, may not) be trying to kill you? And what kind of person does it take to endure that kind of hell? What justifications do you have to make to survive, and what justifications can you live with? Are those justifications the same? And if they’re not, should they be? Locker poses more questions than it answers. And the answers it does (subtly) provide are not universal; it simply presents the story of a few select people. The fact that those people happen to comprise an elite bomb squad in the Middle East is ferociously compelling.
Avatar is incredible, no doubt. It is certainly amazing visually. And while the blue people are cartoony, they are real enough to make me care about them. Story-wise, however, it falters, and to make it worse, Cameron trots out just about every movie cliché ever. Plus he is not shy about beating us over the head with metaphors, like the name of the planet (Pandora! Like the Box!) and the name of the coveted material (Unobtainium! Because it’s so hard to obtain!). But I was extremely satisfied overall, and it was immediately clear that the IMAX 3-D experience was a cinematic game-changer. (Random side note: I have learned that “unobtainium” is also an aerospace term that is used for a non-existent/unobtainable/physics-defying/magical substance required to make a design work, as in: “Your crappy plane design might actually fly if we had some unobtainium to fuel it.”)
As for some of the other nominees… Give Quentin Tarartino credit for catching me completely off-guard with the ending of Inglourious Basterds. After watching the climactic scene, I was stunned and confused. “Wait, what? Did he really just do that?” An Education is a superb movie, much better than I had been expecting. (Is it just me, does Education’s Dominic Cooper look like the girl in Just One Of The Guys, when she was disguised as a boy?) The Blind Side was very much a surprise in this category. When I first started watching the trailer, I assumed it was another Sandy Bullock romantic comedy. And while she’s made some turkeys, I thought, “This looks like the worst romantic comedy ever.” And now in retrospect… I think the film would have been much better as a romantic comedy.
With the expanded list of nominees, it was possible that Star Trek or Twilight: New Moon could have been included based on popularity. By awarding 10 nominations, the Academy is essentially admitting the most popular movies, not the best movies (if you don’t know the difference, tell me if Shrek 2 is one of the “best” movies ever; if you still don’t know the difference, stop reading this article). Twilight is like crack for angsty teenagers (in other words, crack). I think we dodged a bullet this year; they’d better change this category back to five nominees, or I fear we might see Breaking Dawn here in a couple years. Star Trek is at least a fun movie, but it is by no means great. I could fly the Enterprise through the gaping plot holes. The acting is also poor. The only people who think Chris Pine is good in the film are stupid straight women and stupid gay men. If you're objecting that you are not one of those two… I'm suggesting that you are.
SHOULD WIN: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
WILL WIN: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Sharlto Copley (District 9)
This has been a pretty interesting race, with the favorite changing multiple times. As they cross the wire, it appears that Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) has the lead. But it’s far from a shoo-in. Besides the strength of the performance, he has all the other little things in his favor, that will ultimately put him over the top: sentimental favorite (it’s his fifth nomination), never won (George Clooney and Morgan Freeman have), and peaking at the right time (his film was moved from Spring 2010 to December 2009, launching him into this race at the last moment). While it will be nice to watch Clooney lose, the real fun will be wagering on how many times Bridges says any of the following in his speech: “man”, “dude”, “heavy”, or “I just smoked a huge joint”.
Clooney (Up In The Air) and Freeman (Invictus) still have a chance, though, with Clooney the likelier of the two. Before the Golden Globes, I think everyone assumed he would win. He took many of the early critics’ awards, but he has been losing steam fast. I was frankly surprised he was getting all the early attention to begin with. To me, he’s just the same George being George. His character has a nice arc, but it doesn’t require him to play anything other than himself. I’m not the only one who thinks he’s the same in all his movies, take it from the man himself (as quoted in Entertainment Weekly): “Sometimes you get way too much credit when everything else is so well choreographed that your job is not to bump into the furniture.” I’m afraid it’s a little hard for me to give someone an Oscar for not bumping into the furniture.
Even while there was early buzz about Clooney, I assumed Freeman had this race locked up. He seemed to have the ideal formula: Acting Royalty + Nelson Mandela + True Story + Clint Eastwood = Oscar. Unfortunately, there was one component missing: Great Movie. While everybody agrees Freeman is strong, the weakness of the film itself destroyed his chances (even with 10 slots, it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination). In a better film, or if he had never won, Freeman would be a lock. But alas, no.
Colin Firth and Jeremy Renner, thanks for playing.
SHOULD WIN: Carey Mulligan (An Education)
WILL WIN: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Sandra Bullock (The Proposal)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Penelope Cruz (Broken Embraces)
I am a little torn over whether to give my endorsement to Carey Mulligan (An Education) or Gabourey Sidibe (Precious). While impressive, the initial reservation with both of them is the same: when an unfamiliar face makes such a big impact, it’s a little hard to know whether the person is truly acting, or if he/she is just being himself/herself (and the role of “himself/herself” happens to serve the film well). This is particularly true of young women in the Best Actress category (think: Ellen Page in Juno, Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose, Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full Of Grace, Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider, etc.). Obviously, the casting of both Mulligan and Sidibe is perfect. And after seeing Sidibe in interviews and such, it’s clear that she is NOTHING like her character, and it’s all acting (it’s actually hard to believe she’s the same person). I would be completely happy if she won. But I have to tilt toward Mulligan. Acting or not, her work in the film elevate it from good to exceptional. I can’t imagine the movie being nearly as enthralling with someone else playing her role. That’s a pretty unscientific measure, but then again, there’s no such thing as a scientific measure when it comes to these awards.
I have finally come to realize that Sandra Bullock is going to win the damned Oscar. It’s like learning that Santa Claus isn’t real or that your parents are still having sex. It just doesn’t seem plausible, but yet it is reality. A mere three months ago, I didn’t think it was possible that she’d even earn a nomination. Sure, she was getting good notices for The Blind Side, but I assumed reviewers were being polite (in addition to being shocked) more than anything else. I didn’t even have her on my Oscar shortlist when the other nominations started rolling in (Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Critics Choice, etc.). I didn’t believe she would eke out a nomination, when there were other strong performances out there (Penelope Cruz in Broken Embraces , Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria, Abbie Cornish in Bright Star, etc.). It wasn’t until I watched with astonishment as she accepted the Globe and SAG awards that I thought, “Lordy, she is actually going to be nominated for an Oscar.” As much as it pained me to do it, I figured I might have to put her on my list of nomination predictions if I wanted to beat Entertainment Weekly. (So I did, and I did.) I guess I don’t really know what I have against her, other than a loathing for the sappy crap that makes up the majority of her oeuvre. Honestly, she was fine in a couple of films this year, and she seems to be a likeable and genuinely nice person (as far as we can tell in interviews). But people have gotten a little carried away with all the accolades they’ve showered on her recently. I frankly don’t think they intended for the love-swell to reach these proportions. Sure, they thought it might be nice to throw her a few bones, maybe even an Oscar nomination. But an Oscar victory? Not so fast – I don’t think they meant to be THAT nice to her. Hopefully they will recognize their overzealousness and try to right the ship when punching their ballots. But I fear the tide is too strong.
Don’t count out Meryl Streep’s performance in Julie & Julia, however. I think Bullock’s gonna win it, but it will be close. One of these years, Streep is in fact going to win another Oscar, and it probably won’t be for one of her all-time greatest performances. This year is as good any for it to happen. (You CAN count out Helen Mirren for The Last Station – nobody has even heard of the film, let alone seen it.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
WILL WIN: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Peter Sarsgaard (An Education), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Alfred Molina (An Education)
An interesting dimension to this race is the fact that four of the nominees did strong work in other non-nominated roles this year, which may garner some additional votes from the Academy if they consider both performances: Matt Damon (The Informant!, in addition to Invictus), Stanley Tucci (Julie & Julia, in addition to The Lovely Bones), Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, in addition to The Messenger), and Christopher Plummer (Up, in addition to The Last Station). In fact, the only one who won’t benefit from this kind of feel-good voting is the one person who is going to win anyway: Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds.
Congrats to Waltz, a native German speaker and relative unknown (to American audiences anyway), for marvelously playing such a compelling Nazi. Best of luck with the rest of your career playing… less compelling Nazis. “There’s a chance he might get typecast,” says Seann William Scott, who insists he’s up for a role that’s not a smart-ass moron. While I think Waltz is good, and deserves the victory, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if someone else won. Not likely, however.
If there are any sympathy votes to be had, they’ll go to Plummer (then again, they may get revoked if they learn he’s Canadian). I was shocked to realize that he had never been nominated before. Frankly, I was also shocked to learn he is still alive.
Tucci fell into the role of a lifetime, the child molester/killer in The Lovely Bones, quite by accident. At his casting, the producers were amazed by how easily he slipped into character; in truth, he didn’t realize it was an audition. He just thought he was having lunch with some people who shared a common interest. The fact that conversation revolved around his favorite hobby was a happy accident. (Had the meeting not gone as well, Pete Townshend of The Who was next on the casting list.) When later asked if he was Method acting for the role, Tucci said, “If by ‘Method’ you mean ‘not’, then yes.”
With all the strong supporting male performances this year, they could have expanded this category to 10 nominees as well without stretching for quality. At the top of my list is Peter Sarsgaard for An Education. I am baffled why all the supporting nom talk for this movie had been around Alfred Molina (who thankfully did NOT get a nomination – he’s just too obviously thick to be believable, and his apology scene at the end doesn’t do enough to make up for it), and not for Sarsgaard. Sarsgaard walks a fine line throughout the performance, with enough charm to be disarming, yet with a glimmer in his eye that hints at something not quite right. We feel in our gut that he is leading the protagonist into a bad situation, but we are intrigued enough to watch her follow him with great interest. He plays the character as clearly more of an adult than Carey Mulligan’s character in some ways, but quite immature in others, prompting the question, Who’s truly the child here? Most importantly, he does it without the character choices feeling forced.
Another worthy performances is Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker. He is the perfect yang to Jeremy Renner’s yin. Renner’s character would not pack the same oomph without Mackie, especially in Mackie’s final scene, which answers the question, What makes one man perfect for the job, and another one not, when both seem to have to the same set of impeccable skills? In other words, what makes a man be successful at war? Without Mackie, Renner’s character would feel thin, overwrought, and over the top.
Also a nod to Jim Broadbent: Of all the top-notch British actors that have been trotted out in the Harry Potter films, his role in Half-Blood Prince is, in my mind, the most refreshing and engaging.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Mo’Nique (Precious)
WILL WIN: Mo’Nique (Precious)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Mariah Carey (Precious), Jaime Pressly (I Love You, Man)
Mo’Nique is probably the surest thing in any category this year, and deservedly so. While she is utterly amazing throughout her performance in Precious, it’s the final scene that seals her victory. If there were questions about her range in the film (i.e., that she is simply acting “angry”), those questions are answered by her pathetic speech in that scene. Plus, she is so hot in the movie – armpit stubble is probably the sexiest thing imaginable on a woman. She is so convincing, it begs the question: Which is closer to the real Monique Imes, the comedienne or the abusive mother? I think we’re better off not knowing. And as long as she keeps those pits unshaven, I don’t care.
Just having won in this category last year, Penelope Cruz won’t win again for Nine, especially because she is a questionable nomination to begin with, and this performance is not nearly as good as Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I think it’s clear: the less English speaking she does, the better off she is.
I’m glad to see Vera Farmiga get a nomination. All the female buzz on Up In The Air has been for Anna Kendrick, but I think Farmiga blew Kendrick out of the water. It’s a subtle performance, but it’s pretty much perfect (although her Ass Double costs her the prize, in my book – I guarantee you Mo’Nique didn’t have an armpit double). She essentially gives two performances – and the first performance completely changes after you see the second one. A repeat viewing of the film is like seeing a completely different character. I don’t think Farmiga’s gotten enough credit for that.
For my snubbed choices… You might think I’m kidding about Mariah Carey in Precious. In a film packed with astonishing performances, she proves herself versatile and surprisingly talented. For someone who I assumed was one of the most vain celebrities in the world, she is boldly unselfish. Watching her on-screen, it is hard to believe she is the same crazy bitch whose antics we’ve suffered the last 20 years.
Jaime Pressly (along with Jon Favreau) gives arguably the year’s best comedic supporting performance in I Love You, Man. The duo completely steal that movie. Their clip reel on the DVD extras is easily better than the film itself.
SHOULD WIN: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
WILL WIN: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Rob Marshall (Nine)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Pete Docter (Up), Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are)
With Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and James Cameron (Avatar) splitting many of the pre-Oscar accolades (and especially with Cameron winning the Golden Globe), it may seem like the Best Director race is neck-and-neck. But consider this: in 61 years, the Director’s Guild winner has gone on to win the Oscar all but six times. That puts Bigelow squarely in the driver’s seat. Even though people shouldn’t let gender factor in, voters won’t be able to help but realize the historical context: Bigelow is the first woman with a legitimate chance of winning this award, and they are either actively causing it, or actively preventing it. And if she wins, are people going to want to remember this as the year they voted against the first female Best Director? That alone may be enough of a boost for Bigelow. (It doesn’t hurt her chances that Cameron has previously won this award, and is generally regarded as an egotistical asshole.) The fact that the two used to be married makes this race nothing short of spectacular (unfortunately, they are on good terms, so the duel has been disappointingly civil). While I think Bigelow is more than deserving, it’s humorous that all of the sudden, her canon of work has somehow acquired a patina of prestige: Point Break has always been an undeniably shitty movie, but now it has taken on the status of a “nostalgic classic”; Blue Steel is suddenly “a grand showcase for tour-de-force Jamie Lee Curtis”; and K-19: The Widowmaker is now “not the worst movie Harrison Ford has ever made”.
In a different year, Lee Daniels might have good shot at the award for Precious. But it’s not every year that a revolutionary, all-time box office conqueror AND arguably the greatest film ever directed by a female come along. Daniels gives Precious a distinctive voice that only he could, takes audiences to a place they didn’t even know they’d want to visit, and shines a bright light on a place that most people didn’t even know existed.
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) doesn’t really factor into the race, as he was probably the last one in. I think voters were more relieved than anything that they had the opportunity to nominate him, as if he had finally delivered on the promise of his first nomination 16 years ago (for Pulp Fiction).
After marveling at the auspicious beginning of Jason Reitman’s career two years ago, I have no choice but to do it again with the addition of Up In The Air. While it doesn’t impress me quite as much as Thank You For Smoking or Juno (and I seem to be in the minority there), it’s impossible to deny that Reitman’s first three films give him one of the most astonishing career launches in recent memory. Looking at gifted directors who have debuted in the last 20 years, it’s hard to find someone whose first three feature films stand up to his. Debate the following, which include some of my personal heroes: Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums); Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are); Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette); Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt); Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Jarhead); Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel); Christopher Nolan (Following, Memento, Insomnia); Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy); David Fincher (Alien 3, Se7en, The Game); even follow nominee Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown). The only clear exception is Stephen Daldry, whose three Oscar nominations (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader) put him in a class by himself; however, while Daldry has found unprecedented critical acclaim, his box office tallies are nowhere close to Reitman’s (he’s also 16 years older). Though Reitman won’t win the Oscar this year, there’s no question that he will someday, and probably sooner than later. The only real question is: Why isn’t he taking over the reins from his father Ivan and directing Ghostbusters 3?
Why Rob Marshall’s Nine for Gloriously Omitted? Because it’s a damn musical.
There are numerous other directors who could have booked a nomination in my opinion: Lone Scherfig (An Education), Neill Blomkamp (District 9), Marc Webb ((500) Days Of Summer), Steven Soderbergh (The Informant!). But the two glaring snubs in my book are Pete Docter (Up) and Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are). Just a year after I railed against the Best Picture category for slighting animated films and relegating them to their own category (and I wrongly predicted it would be a long time before animation would make it back into the big race), the Best Picture category was expanded and Up was thankfully included. So now on to the next cause: Best Director. It seems the assumption is that the director has less to do with the finished product in animation; I’m guessing any of the Pixar wizards that spend several years directing a film would argue the contrary. Do we have to wait for this category to be expanded to 10 nominees as well? Just as deserving is Jonze. He “adapted” a book that takes 30 seconds to read and turned it into a low-tech fantasy that children and adults could appreciate. When the Best Picture category was increased to 10 nominations, I thought this film was a slam dunk. Maybe it debuted too early in the awards season, getting overwhelmed by later releases. Regardless, Jonze belongs in the same conversation as Reitman when talking about gifted young directors, and a nomination here simply would have reinforced that.
I was secretly hoping Werner Herzog would be nominated for Best Director for Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans. Forget the Dos Equis guy, Herzog is the most interesting man in the world. Sure, he’s an acclaimed film director, Oscar-winning documentarian, writer, actor, producer, editor, cinematographer, sound technician, and opera director. But also: he narrowly survived World War II bombings in his native Germany as a child; in an act of defiance against a teacher that tried to embarrass him by getting him to sing in front of his class, he refused to listen to music of any kind – for six years; he jump-started his film career by stealing a camera (defending his action as his “natural right”); he was of course on the forefront of German New Wave cinema; and in the weirdest week ever, in January 2006, he saved Joaquin Phoenix’s life after the actor’s car crashed and overturned (Herzog lived nearby and pulled him out of the wreck), and a few days later, while giving an interview, he was accidentally shot by an unknown man – and continued the interview (saying, “it is not a significant bullet”). Get this guy an imported beer commercial.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy (Up)
WILL WIN: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: James Cameron (Avatar)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber ((500) Days Of Summer)
Often you can use the Screenplay categories to get a sense for which films are getting the important votes, and therefore may be on their way to winning Best Picture. Not this year. For one, Avatar isn’t even nominated for Screenplay. And two, if The Hurt Locker wins the big prize, it won’t be primarily for its script. In both Screenplay races this year, voters may (or may not) choose to reward strong films that they did not vote for in the Best Picture race. The point is this: the winner of this award will not necessarily give us a better sense of who will win Best Picture (which is unusual).
So when Inglourious Basterds wins Best Original Screenplay in a tight race, it doesn’t mean that The Hurt Locker will lose Best Picture (on the other hand, if The Hurt Locker wins this award, it doesn’t mean that it will also win Best Picture). Honestly, it’s almost a toss-up, but I think slightly more people will end up voting for Basterds than Locker because Basterds seems like a writer’s showcase, while Locker seems more like a documentary (which, ironically, is why some would argue that Locker is a better script – because the transition from screenplay to movie is seamless; words don’t get in the way). I was tempted to go with the winner of the Writers Guild Award (usually a pretty solid predictor), which was Locker. But ultimately, I think when the voting is opened up to people other than writers, the “showier” script will get the attention. And if nothing else, there will be a few lazy Academy members that just look at the names on the ballot: Quentin Tarantino or Mark Boal?
And despite all that logic, I think neither Basterds nor Locker should win. I’m voting for Up. Based on my rationale for Best Picture, that should come as no surprise.
I thought for sure (500) Days Of Summer would have scored a nomination. It’s a movie for anyone who’s ever… well, simply for everyone. It’s a little over-stylized, but that takes nothing away from the script. People keep marveling over the creative method of telling the protagonist’s relationship story out of order, flipping through the 500 days as one might sift through their own memory. And while I agree that it works, I think it’s unnecessary. I think the story would function just as sharply if told simply in chronological order (so cheers to the writers for crafting a storyline that works in any order). (By the way, if you’ve never seen Manic, the first movie that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel did together – and chances are, you haven’t – I highly recommend it. But be warned, it’s a drama with absolutely no romance, so don’t go in thinking that it’s anything like Summer.)
It’s nice to see that the nominations recognize Avatar for what it is: a feat in moviemaking, not storytelling. While James Cameron’s alien world is completely genius, his story limps along on crutches. I give him credit for cutting out most of the unnecessary backstory and jumping right into the plot, but otherwise… oh, brother. All studio films follow a fairly universal structure (i.e., three acts), so I’m not faulting him for that. But when people say a Hollywood movie is “formulaic”, they usually mean that the key scenes that outline the structure are obvious, and as I mentioned earlier, clichéd. Cameron is not bashful about the “formula”, going so far as to hang blinking lights and blaring sirens on each signpost in the structure. The Main Character’s declaration of Objective, the point of no return at exactly the midpoint, the end of Act II when all appears to be lost (accompanied by – shocker! – the loss of an older, wiser mentor), the plants, the payoffs, the ticking clock, etc. These things are all necessary, but Cameron ensures we don’t miss them by inserting silly dialogue to yell at us. “Man, if the marines destroy the Tree Of Souls, the Na'vi will be wiped out!” (So you mean they have to stop the marines, and quickly? Thanks Jim.) And when things aren’t obvious enough, and you’re too lazy to make the story better – just add voice-over (in the contrived form of a video log)!
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious)
WILL WIN: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner (Up In The Air)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Nora Ephron (Julie & Julia)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Scott Z. Burns (The Informant!), Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers (Where The Wild Things Are)
I really think Precious should win this award, even though its chances are relatively slim. The story strikes an exceedingly tricky balance between horrifying and inspiring. There are a hundred different ways in which the script could have spiraled into something not worth watching (too terrifying, too schmaltzy, too stereotyped, to easy, too myopic, too over-the-top, too clichéd). But it brings audiences to a place rarely seen onscreen, and does it without fear. Remarkable work.
Voters will likely go for Up In The Air instead, which I think it sort of an easy way out. While the story isn’t all roses, it’s set up to be likeable in a lot of ways (the casting of George Clooney was no accident). I think people find more to relate to in this story than they do in Precious, which is understandable. Frankly, for me, it was extremely relatable: I was a business traveler for nine years, so I liked a lot of the realistic touches (slip-on shoes, suitcase indentation on the bed, bare walls in the apartment, profiling when choosing a security line). It gets a lot of aspects right, while at the same time, in an effort to make the lifestyle quickly digestible to the average viewer, it exaggerates others. I’m not overly in love with the film, but I think the final act improves it dramatically. This is probably more of a complaint to the direction than the writing, but I am a bit disappointed with the final scene (the shot of the clouds with Clooney’s voiceover). I think the story would be better served by ending on George’s face in the previous scene, and leaving the coda more open to audience interpretation.
I think there should have been room for The Informant! in this category. I initially didn’t feel particularly compelled to see it, as the trailers simply didn’t grab me. But I happened to see it on a plane, and it really took me by surprise. The trailers and reviews don’t do it justice in terms of the wit, sensibility, or complexity. It’s a film you need to watch twice to figure out exactly what the hell happened – and I mean that in a good way, not in a Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 & 3 kind of way.