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Yes, my friends, the action starts right here, right now, right after the jump.

New comments will go above older remarks, so if you’re reading this later and want to start at the beginning, you’ll scroll down to the end. Got that? Good. Let’s hope for an interesting night and don’t forget to keep refreshing — the page and yourself with the commestibles of your choice.

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Traditional Oscar bait takes a back seat at 2010 Academy Award nominations

Or at least that’s how I read the nominations that were announced this morning at the unholy hour of 5:38 by Anne Hathaway and some guy you never heard of — actually Academy president Tom Sherak. The short version of what happened was that there no huge surprises. “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” both got nine nominations, with “Inglourious Basterds” netting eight, and “Precious” and “Up in the Air” getting six apiece. You can see a complete list of the nominations courtesy of Indiewire/Eugene Hernandez, but Nikki Finke was kind enough to perform a handy count-up of the nominations.

“Avatar” 9, “The Hurt Locker” 9, “Inglourious Basterds” 8, “Precious” 6, “Up in the Air” 6, “Up” 5, “District 9” 4, “Nine” 4, “Star Trek” 4, “Crazy Heart” 3, “An Education” 3, “The Princess and the Frog” 3, “The Young Victoria” 3, “The Blind Side” 2, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” 2, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” 2, “Invictus” 2, “The Last Station” 2, “The Messenger” 2, “A Serious Man” 2, “Sherlock Holmes” 2, “The White Ribbon” 2.

Without going into a lengthy dissertation on what makes for high quality Oscar bait, let’s just say that in many prior Oscar races the fact that “Avatar” is an effects driven space opera and “The Hurt Locker” a rather grim, eye-level, and uncompromising look at men doing an unpleasant job, would have all but eliminated both films. Admittedly, both films, however, benefit from certain features which have helped numerous other films: a certain degree of social consciousness never hurts with Oscar. Of course, really strong political statements are more problematic, but “The Hurt Locker” is simply honest about the psychological effects of war and hard to argue with from any political position, I hope — it could have been made about any war and been equally valid. “Avatar” is considerably more pointed and arguably even partisan, as our conservative friends love to point out, but the protective coloration of science fiction makes it all go down a bit easier.

OscarsOnRedCarpet

As for “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino‘s entire body of work is a poke in the eye to the earnest, highly digestible “socially positive” values and traditionalist presentation preferred by Oscar. The fact that he even gets nominated as much as he does is testament to his unquestionable talent and appeal. “Up in the Air,” which beat “Basterds” in the screenplay category at the Golden Globes, seems like much more like the kind of film that Oscar traditionally favors. It’s non-polarizing nature might also help it with this year’s odd voting system for Best Picture. (Voters rate the films by preference, rather than simply voting for one film.) Still, with ten nominations breaking up the usual demographic voting blocks — with younger voters and older voters sometimes having very different views of the award-worthy nature of genre films, for example — I really think that about half of the films in this category have a pretty serious shot at winning the award.

Now, let’s take a look at the this year’s expanded list of ten Best Picture nominees as provided by Indiewire, doubled to ten this year from the usual five:

“Avatar”, James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
“The Blind Side”, Nominees to be determined
“District 9”, Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
“An Education”, Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
“The Hurt Locker”, Nominees to be determined
“Inglourious Basterds”, Lawrence Bender, Producer
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
“A Serious Man”, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
“Up”, Jonas Rivera, Producer
“Up in the Air”, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Among the dark horses — the films I would be truly surprised to see win best picture — we have the very non-Oscar-baity “A Serious Man” which apparently beat out Tom Ford’s highly acclaimed “A Single Man” in the divisive sub-sub-sub category of minority-group driven movies whose title is “A (S-word) Man.” The Coen Brothers film is a scabrous comedy and also grim in a not obviously socially redeeming way. Disney/Pixar’s “Up”  and Neil Blomkamp’s science-fiction “District 9” are similar to “Avatar” in that they would be more Oscar friendly for certain of their elements (poignant comedy/smart political parable) if they were in non-animated and/or non-sci-fi but, unlike “Avatar,” they haven’t been sweeping up awards anyway.

Oddly enough, the two most traditionally Oscar-friendly films on the list, “The Blind Side” and “An Education,” are both fairly large dark horses in most categories simply because they haven’t won that many awards up to now, the exception being best actress where Sandra Bullock seems to be running neck and neck for Best Actress with Meryl Streep in “Julie and Julia.” “An Education” and “A Serious Man” have the further downside in what I see as fairly ridiculous charges of antisemitism against both films (covered really nicely in this piece from The Jewish Journal). As a person of Jewish ethnicity myself, I think people who feel this way are really missing the point. Still, some of them may be Academy voters.

<a href=”http://cuzoogle.com/2009/02/20/bet-on-the-oscars-and-prove-to-all-you-have-a-problem/”><img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-19855″ title=”OscarsOnRedCarpet” src=”http://www.premiumhollywood.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/OscarsOnRedCarpet.jpg” alt=”OscarsOnRedCarpet” width=”477″ height=”318″ /></a>
  

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Wes Anderson needs a shave; goodbye, Art Clokey

This video acceptance speech for a special achievement award for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” from the National Board of Review Awards has been making the rounds at a bunch of sites, so why not here, too?

Via Inside Searchlight, and thanks to Nathaniel R. for linking to this on his Facebook page. I understand an entirely human Anderson actually did show up to pick up the award as well.

By the way, we’re very late on this, but it’s probably as good a place as any to mention the passing of stop-motion animation great Art Clokey of “Gumby” fame, who died last week. As Eddie Murphy might say, RIP damnit.

  

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Celluloid Heroes: Jason Zingale’s Best (and Worst) Films of 2009

For film critics, the end of the year means only one thing: “best of” lists. It’s probably one of my favorite parts about the job, so when Bullz-Eye decided to do a decade-end feature in place of our annual retrospective, I didn’t let that deter me from putting one together anyway. This year’s crop of films was just as uneven as in past years, but while you might have had to dig a little deeper to find some real gems, there’s no denying that 2009 still delivered some truly great movies. Here’s a look at my ten favorite films, along with a few honorable mentions and a list of the year’s worst.

THE BEST FILMS of 2009:

1. “Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s WWII revenge fantasy is every fan’s dream movie. Not only does it feature the director’s trademark dialogue (and plenty of it), but it also boasts a stellar ensemble cast, award-worthy performances from Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender, and some of the most thrilling sequences of the year. The German bar scene may feature QT at his nostalgic best, but the opening chapter is his magnum opus. That “Inglourious Basterds” can run for an additional 120 minutes and still be just as engaging is a testament to the film’s supreme quality.

2. “The Hurt Locker

This Iraq war thriller is one of the most suspenseful movies I’ve ever seen, piling on the tension so high that you’ll literally spend the entire film on the edge of your seat. Jeremy Renner is a marvel to watch as the bomb squad thrill junkie at the center of the story, but the real star is director Kathryn Bigelow, who takes an otherwise barebones script and transforms it into a series of memorable set pieces that continually upstage the one before it. But best of all, “The Hurt Locker” proves that female directors don’t have to make movies for women to be taken seriously in Hollywood.

3. “Up in the Air

There’s a pretty good chance that “Up in the Air” would have moved up a spot on my list had I found the time to see it a second time, but as it stands, the Jason Reitman-directed seriocomedy is still one of the year’s best movies. Reitman may not get a lot of credit as a director, but between his funny and timely adaptation of the Walter Kirn novel and keen use of his actors, it’s pretty clear that he has a promising future in the business. George Clooney continues to charm the hell out of moviegoers in a role tailor-made for the veteran actor, while Anna Kendrick steals the show yet again in a performance that deserves to be rewarded come awards time.

4. “Fantastic Mr. Fox

I’m surely in the minority on this one, but “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is the best animated movie of the year. I love Pixar just as much as the next person, but while “Up” proved to be yet another excellent addition to the studio’s still-flawless portfolio, director Wes Anderson’s adaptation of the popular Roald Dahl children’s story is even better. From the spot-on voice cast and witty script to the incredible sets and wonderful costume design, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has so many layers that you have to watch it several times just to soak up all of the rich detail that went into making the movie.

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Celluloid Heroes: David Medsker’s Top Movies of 2009

Let’s not mince words, because our very lives depend only upon truth: 2009 was not a great year for movies. It was the most profitable, but how much of that was driven by quality versus 3D and IMAX surcharges? And at the risk of sounding like one of those cranky critics who’s never satisfied, let me state that I did indeed find several movies that I enjoyed at the theater this year; I’m just not sure how many of them will stand the test of time.

This was very much a disposable entertainment kind of year, where movies were built to serve like a meal (consumed once), rather than a piece of furniture (stays with you for decades). Having said that, there were some damn good meals served up this year. Here are my ten favorites.

zombieland
10. Zombieland
The single best time I’ve ever had at the movies. It was at a theater that served beer, and the crowd was eager to have some fun. Needless to say, we did. I still think the death of the actor who turned in a brilliant cameo performance was cheap and illogical, but based on the woooooot! that it received when it happened, I am clearly in the minority.

avatar
9. Avatar
It’s not great storytelling – we’d actually pony up the dough for someone to punch up James Cameron’s dialogue if he’d allow it – but “Avatar” is extraordinary filmmaking. The landscapes of Pandora are so rich and unique that it’s easy to forget that none of it is real. To put in perspective just how huge “Avatar” is, the RoboCop-type battle weapon was the big showstopper in “District 9.” Here, there are dozens of them, and they’re just part of the scenery. People dog Cameron for his admittedly monstrous ego, but for God’s sake, look at this movie. Who else could make this? Nobody, that’s who. Love him or hate him, James Cameron makes sure every one of his movies gives you something you’ve never seen before, and holy cow, does he do that here.

district 9
8. District 9
That slapping sound you heard is Paul Verhoeven hitting his forehead for not thinking of this first. Neill Blomkamp’s aliens-as-Apartheid-victims story is the kind of art-imitates-life metaphor that makes Verhoeven involuntarily drool (and, sometimes, demand that an all-nude shower scene be written in somewhere), and Blomkamp works CGI miracles on a relatively miniscule $30 million budget.

basterds
7. Inglourious Basterds
It is such a treat watching Quentin Tarantino grow up. His stories are infinitely simpler, but they’re better because of it. “Basterds” is his simplest one yet, and while the movie is mostly dialogue, it’s not overly chatty. The scene in the sub-level German bar is worth the price of admission below, but Tarantino goes one better by delivering an over-the-top finale that is revisionist history at its most sublime.

coraline
6. Coraline
We love “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as much as the next Goth kid, but “Coraline” is Henry Selick’s best stop-motion feature yet, by a country mile. It has all of the spooky/funny elements of “Nightmare,” but the story, courtesy of Neil Gaiman, is ten times better. Most importantly, this movie is actually scary, as in ‘pay attention to that PG rating before deciding whether to show it to your kids’ scary. Unless you want to be awaken by your six-year-old’s night terrors for the next nine months, in which case we say go nuts.

hurt locker
5. The Hurt Locker
This has to be the front runner for Best Picture at this point, and it’s a most worthy candidate. Kathryn Bigelow’s been playing with the big boys for a while now, but even when she had big names (Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze) or big budgets (“Strange Days”) behind her, she never had a story as gripping as “The Hurt Locker” at her disposal.

fantastic fox
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
So delightfully odd that it’s almost impossible to describe. The animals, while incredibly well spoken, are still animals at heart – stay away from Mr. Fox when he’s eating – but Wes Anderson makes sure they’re also as human as can be. Bonus points for recruiting Jarvis Cocker to write the movie’s campfire song.

up 2
3. Up
It took repeat plays with my son to see just how bold and nontraditional this movie was. If the directors at Pixar are parts of the body, Pete Docter is unquestionably the heart, and his tale of a lonely widower and the little boy unfortunate enough to be on his porch when he sails his house for South America tugs the heartstrings like no other movie in Pixar’s catalog. When I interviewed Docter earlier this year, I told him that the “Married Life” montage brought me to tears…but not before I called him a bastard for making me cry. (He thought that was hilarious.) I’ve now seen the movie another five or six times, and damned if I don’t cry at that scene every single time. Fuck you, Pete Docter. You’re awesome, but fuck you.

500 days
2. (500) Days of Summer
The story of a guy who’s prone to fugue states, likes sad British pop music and singing karaoke, and spends years in the work force doing a job he has no business doing, and then he falls for the girl that is both the end-all-be-all and bane of his existence? Let’s just say that this movie spoke to me. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are too cute for words as Tom and Summer, and director Marc Webb stages one of the simplest but most brilliant scenes of the year with Tom’s expectations of Summer’s party playing out side by side with the reality. Also had the best musical number of the year.

up in the air
1. Up in the Air
Director Jason Reitman taps into into George Clooney’s effortless, endless reservoir of cool and uses it to make his protagonist, the terminally single, travel-happy hatchet man Ryan Bingham, a likable guy. Clooney has never been better, and Anna Kendrick (props to EW’s Owen Gleiberman for his pitch-perfect description of her character as a ‘bottom-line chipmunk’) goes toe to toe with Clooney from start to finish. Just when I thought I knew where Reitman would go next, he veers off in a different, much better direction. He’s only made three full-length movies, and he’s already a better director than his father.

Honorable Mentions
Moon
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Star Trek
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  

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