Tuesday, 2 February 2010

And then there was Avatar

The Oscar nominations came out today and I can already feel myself thinking about what might have been. With Avatar steamrolling over the other nominees like the film’s own private army blasting away at HomeTree, what could have been a contest between a strong group of smaller-scale films is now a race to seee who gets the scraps.

Not that winning an Oscar in any category is second-rate, but with Avatar now in the mix, I think everyone connected to the other nominated films have had to seriously readjust their expectations and bookmakers their odds.

But if there’s an upside to all this bigness, suddenly the smaller awards just got a lot more interesting. Each entry in this year’s expanded field of nominees boasts something special. Now, suddenly, the sound editor’s choices in scene 45 will no doubt come under much more scrutiny. Did it evoke the right mood, or could it have attempted more? Was that the right word to use?

So. Given that Avatar is a lock for best picture (more on that below), here are my predictions for the other big categories. Keep in mind, I haven’t seen all of the films, so take these with as much salt you deem necessary, though not so much as to make you feel queasy.

Best Actor: Any claims that an Oscar is for a specific performance as opposed to a career should talk to Jeremy Irons, whose win for Reversal of Fortune was pretty much a proxy for his dual role in the challenging and unspeakably icky Dead Ringers. Hell, he even thanked David Cronenberg in his acceptance speech. So my vote is for Jeff Bridges, who’s been excellent in a string of lousy films and hasn’t won yet.

I suspect Morgan Freeman brought the right amount of dignity and gravitas to playing Nelson Mandela, the very embodiment of dignity and gravitas. But I suspect it was more impersonation than interpretation. Jeremy Renner was excellent in The Hurt Locker, too, but the real stars of that fim were the cinematography and the editing, and I don’t think the role has a broad enough appeal to win big. Then again, Adrian Brody won for the Pianist, so I could be wrong.

Best Actress: All signs point to Sandra Bullock taking this one in a landslide. I’m not going to argue, even though I’m not really a fan. Instead, I will restate my standing perpetual vote for Helen Mirren in anything, so I don’t have to see The Last Station to hope she wins.

Above: Go ahead. Tell me thinking isn't sexy. 

Supporting Actor: Maaaaaaaaaaaaaat Damon!

Ha. But no. So much about Invictus seemed to me the cinematic equivalent of a paint by numbers, with Clint comfortable to stay well within the lines. No, not Stanley Tucci, whose bug-eyed frenzy annoys the hell out of me in everything he does and no, not Woody Harrleson. Not because I don’t thnk he was good, but I’m still buzzing about what he did in Zombieland. I haven’t cried that much since Titanic. I haven’t laughed that hard since The Big Lebowski.

Seriously - does this look like best supporting actor material to you?

No. Basterds' Christolph Waltz wrapped this up in the first 20 minutes. Here are 45 seconds of those 20 minutes. The rest are hiding under a Frenchman's floorboards.

Supporting Actress: I dunno. But as soon as I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal’s name up there I couldn’t help thinking about that Family Guy scene with Maggie and her brother Jake arguing about who was more unappealing. Here it is in Spanish:

Best Director: I’ve been a Kathryn Bigelow fan since Near Dark and I’m sure there are some out there who’d love to see her win over her ex-husband, who’s dissed her on more than one occasion. But I can’t see her taking this. The Hurt Locker lost a lot of energy in the “home front” scenes and not only because we had gone from Baghdad to Vancouver standing in for somewhere in Oregon. Avatar would be an unwieldy mess – think Heaven’s Gate for a new generation - were it not for Cameron’s reputed on-set iron-hand approach to filmmaking. For that alone I think he’ll get the nod. Forget king of the world. James Cameron is now master of the universe, the fanboy dictator reigns supreme in all three dimensions. Of course, everyone expected Saving Private Ryan to win Best Picture and it lost to Shakespeare in Love, so these kinds of disconnects do happen.

Best Foreign Language Film: The White Ribbon. It’s not playing here yet, but if director Michael Haneke brings only a fraction of that Hitchcock cool and control to this film as he did to Caché (Hidden) and Funny Games he’ll be a lock. If you’ve seen Caché you know how a single motion can suck the air right out of the room.

Adapted Screenplay: I'm never sure if Nick Hornby is a serious writer who makes lightweight sound easy, or a lightweight who’s happy with his limitations. And I can’t remember a single line from District 9. So as good as An Education reputedly is, my pick is “In The Loop,” a movie based entirely on the uses and abuses of langauge. Fuckity-bye, Fetus Boy.

Best Original Screenplay: The Hurt Locker could win here, but I’m going to give it to Tarantino, whose line “I am the face of Jewish vengeance” stayed with me weeks longer than the hour-long showdown in the German pub. That it was spoken by Melanie Laurent is of no particular importance here whatsoever.

Above: Don't piss her off. She has flammable celluloid and knows how to use it.

Best Animated Feature Film: Finally, Pixar gets some serious competition. Coraline left me cold and yes, you could say all of Wes Anderson’s live-action flims are animated, the way he moves his characters around the screen like tiny figurines. But even if Up in the Air comes crashing down to earth George Clooney can still come away with another golden dude. Watch for Mr. Fox to take this one.

Best Art Direction: I’m going to vote for The Young Victoria, because having Emily Blunt on screen is all the art decoration you need.

Above: Disagree at your own risk, Fetus Boys.

Best Cinematography: Basterds might be the sentimental favorite, what with its unhinged baroqueness (is that a word?) but I think if The Hurt Locker gets on a roll it should win this one.

Best Sound Mixing/Sound Editing: Can someone please explain the difference? Not that it matters, though. The same films are nominated for each apart from one, so let’s say Basterds wins this one, just for shits & giggles.

Best Film Editing: Now, if The Hurt Locker doesn’t win this one I’ll eat my hat. Hands down. A master class on how to portray three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional screen and never lose track of where anyone is in relation to each other. And when the film you’re editing derives its energy and tension by showing soldiers at risk of being picked off by sinpers at any given time and who need to know where everyone is, you gotta get this shit right.

Now, about that Avatar thing. In any other year I think the Best Picture would come down to a thumb war between The Hurt Locker and An Education, with Up in the Air sneaking up the middle. That was before. Yes, Avatar’s dialogue was clunky and the performances adequate. None of that matters. Avatar was simply too big, to obvious, too unambiguous a phenomenon to be denied.. Avatar points to too many profitable new directions for hollywood and awarding it the big prizes will be an incentive for more films like it.

Then again, Braveheart won as well, so I could be wrong.

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