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.

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“Inglourious Basterds” tops SAG Awards (updated)

The win for “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture” for Quentin Tarantino‘s high-spirited war picture was the closest thing to a surprise for the Screen Actors Guild awards last night. Considering the genuinely outstanding performances “Inglourious Basterds” contains from such non-multiple award winners or nominees as Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Brühl, and Brad Pitt among others, this gives me a happy.

inglourious-basterds_pic2_m1

Otherwise, however, these awards getting almost as repetitious as our May and June weather forecasts in Southern California. (Say it with me, L.A. residents: “Late night and early morning low clouds followed by hazy sunshine in the afternoon.”)

So, guess what…The Best Supporting Actor trophy went to basterd par excellance Christoph Waltz, who at this point pretty much owns the category with his uber-first class bad-guy performance as the “Jew hunter” Colonel Hans Landa. Similarly Mo’Nique from “Precious” once again took the Best Supporting Actress for her work as the abusive mother of the title character in the lauded but controversial drama. The only thing likely to be more dramatic than her Oscar acceptance award would be the howls of disappointment if she somehow doesn’t win.

Jeff Bridges, too, is looking like a lock for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a down at heel country musician in “Crazy Heart,” as he picked up another trophy tonight. Apparently, everyone just decided this was Jeff Bridges’ year. It’s about time.

One award SAG has that the Oscars don’t, and probably should, is for stunt ensembles and that went to “Star Trek.” Well, that’s a refreshing change of pace.

A complete list of the SAG awards, which also covers television (three cheers for “Mad Men” and the great Betty White!), is viewable courtesy of the New York Times.

UPDATE: Oh by gosh by golly! I forgot to mention the one acting award where there will be some suspense at this year’s Oscars, and that’s Best Actress, which is shaping up to be a real battle between Meryl Streep’s interpretation of Julia Child in “Julie and Julia” and Sandra Bullock‘s red state Samaritan in “The Blind Side.”  Chalk the SAG awards as one up for Team Sandra.

  

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Golden Globe movie wrap-up: It’s an “Avatar,” “The Hangover” kind of a crazy, mixed-up night

First of all, I would like to thank my DVR for allowing me to watch a three hour telecast in less than 115 minutes. Also, Will Harris, you crazy Golden Globes Premium Hollywood TV live blogger, put down the Maker’s Mark and go to bed!

But, before I get carried away with paraphrasing Sandra Bullock‘s Best Actress in a Drama acceptance speech tonight, first of all let me make clear that I’m not going to attempt to one-up Mr. Harris’s live-blog extravaganza. No, I’ll simply start by linking to a complete list of tonight’s results and some (I’m thinking relatively brief) thoughts on the cinematic goings on tonight.

Okay, so here’s that link to the results courtesy of /Film and now on to the bloggy/thinky portion of tonight’s festivities.

Big deals: Clearly, the film headlines tonight are the awards that went to James Cameron’s ultimate-big-deal of a movie called “Avatar” and this year’s ultimate mega-successful modestly budget comedy, “The Hangover“. It’s the kind of comedy that never gets nominated for, much less wins, awards no matter how well constructed, and this was one incredibly well-constructed comedy. I’m delighted to see it get this kind of recognition. I truly couldn’t imagine a better movie with that premise and its success shows that you can make a male-oriented farce that respects its viewers’ intelligence and better natures. As for “Avatar,” does anyone even care what I think? It is what it is. Ask me again in a couple of months.

Biggest non-surprises of the night: The supporting actor twosome Mo’Nique from “Precious” and Christoph Waltz from “Inglourious Basterds” won, yet again, and seem about as big a lock for Oscars as you ever get. Both are sure getting a lot of practice at the art of acceptance speeches. Mo’Nique’s speech was both king of moving and way over-the-top in that actory way some folks (like Drew Barrymore, who praised it one of her typically overwhelmed acceptance speeches) just eat up with a fork. Waltz, who really does seem to be a pretty humble guy, was a bit more low key with a nice riff on the international nature of the Hollywood Foreign Press’s awards. I think we’ve got a buddy-cop movie, possibly directed by Michael Bay, with Waltz and Mo’Nique in our collective futures. “Bad Goys”?

Jeff Bridges Best Actor award is starting to edge into the same kind of category and he’s starting to look like a gigantic Oscar shoe-in. It’s as if everyone suddenly remembered how great he’s been in countless movies all at the same time. “You’re really screwing up my under appreciated status here,” he said. As well they should.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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“The Hurt Locker” sweeps the National Society of Film Critics Awards

The National Society of Film Critics has bestowed another big awards win on the Iraq war thriller, “The Hurt Locker,” which won’t hurt its Oscar possibilities.  As with the two other most prestigious critics groups — the Los Angeles and New York film critics — the highly praised tale about a bomb disposal unit during the chaotic early days of the U.S. invasion won the group’s best picture award scroll.

The Hurt Locker

Ironically, according to Peter Knegt of Indiewire, the last time a single film swept the best picture prize from all three groups was when Curtis Hanson’s outstanding “L.A. Confidential” managed the coup in 1997. It lost the Oscar to James Cameron‘s sentimental and spectacular romantic melodrama, “Titanic” — one of the most widely disagreed with Best Picture winners in recent history. With “Avatar” becoming a wide popular favorite and a gigantic hit, a repeat of this scenario is not outside the realm of possibility.

“The Hurt Locker” also won major prizes for director Kathryn Bigelow and star Jeremy Renner, who edged out Jeff Bridges, currently a favorite the win the Best Actor Oscar for “Crazy Heart,” as well as Nicolas Cage for “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.” For Best Supporting Actor, once again “Inglourious Basterds” break out bad guy Christoph Waltz took the top prize, with another former unknown, Christian McKay, getting the second largest number of votes from critics for “Me and Orson Welles.”  The best screenplay nod went to the Coen Brothers’ ultra-dark black comedy, “A Serious Man.”

Mo'Nique in In something of an upset that, I’m guessing, might not be repeated at the Oscars, Yolande Moreau, of the French language biopic “Seraphine,” beat Meryl Streep in “Julie and Julia” by one vote for Best Actress. Once again, however, talk show host and comedian Mo’Nique added to a truly impressive number of wins with her work in “Precious,” taking yet another Best Supporting Actress prize.

You can see the complete list of winners at bottom of the Indiewire article I linked to above.

  

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New York and L.A. Film Critics make their choices

The two most noted critics groups both gave their awards today and the results are pretty interesting. Just released, we have the winners from New York. Somewhat to my surprise, even though it’s received very positive reviews so far, “Avatar” won for best picture.  Last year’s winner was not “The Dark Knight,” which however did make it into the top 10, but the politically-themed biopic, “Milk.” Genre movies and blockbusters rarely win critics awards.

Avatar

Also, the suddenly more geek-friendly critics group actually gave the most awards to “Inglourious Basterds” which picked up a cinematography award for the always superb Robert Richardson, a best screenplay nod for Quentin Tarantino and, of course, a Best Supporting Actor award and also a Best Breakthrough Performance award for Christoph Waltz’s movie-stealing work as the evil but magnetic “Jew hunter,” Colonel Hans Landa. Another unusual war film, “The Hurt Locker,” picked up the Best Director award for Kathryn Bigelow and, not at all surprising, “Up” won the award for best animation.

Meryl Streep won for Best Actress for “Julie and Julia” and Jeff Bridges won for the not yet released country music drama, “Crazy Heart.” Mo’Nique from “Precious” picked up the Best Supporting Actress award. “The Cove” won Best documentary. ComingSoon.net has the complete list of winners. It’s a pretty interesting group.

The Hurt Locker

Just a bit earlier, the Los Angeles Film Critics, on the other hand, gave the top prize to “The Hurt Locker” (“Up in the Air” was the runner up) and Kathryn Bigelow took another Best Director prize for the thriller. Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique once again got the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress prizes respectively. The L.A. crickets took a different path entirely, however, on the Best Actress category and gave it to Yolande Moreau for the French-language biopic, “Séraphine.” (The runner up was Carey Mulligan, whose work in “An Education” has been generating a great deal of buzz.)

They also, interestingly, diverted from the New Yorkers in the area of animation, giving the top prize to “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” another succès d’estime for Wes Anderson. However, they followed the NYC reviewers in giving the nod to “The Cove” for Best Documentary. In a nod to genre, “District 9” got a “New Generation” award for writer-director Neill Blomkamp as well as a production design award. Eugene Hernandez of Indiewire has the complete list.

Oscar-buzz fans take note, critics’ awards are not super-reliable indicators of Academy Awards, which tend to be less genre-friendly but also more prone to award big commercial hits. On the other hand, I think it’s safe to say that Kathryn Bigelow, Jeff Bridges, Mo’Nique, Christoph Waltz, as well as “The Hurt Locker”, “Inglourious Basterds,” and perhaps “The Cove” got a big boost today. (The documentary category is notoriously fraught.) Also, I haven’t mentioned its awards, but the little seen black political comedy and festival hit, “In the Loop,” picked up awards from both groups and could, I imagine, get a very helpful nomination or two in possibly the writing and the newly expanded “Best Picture” category.

  

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