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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(500) days of Spidey news?; all together now in the uncanny valley…and a whole lot more

Yes, we ‘ve got movie news…

Peter Parker/Spiderman
* Nikki Finke’s new best friend, Mike Fleming (or someone, it’s written in the third person), writes tonight that director Marc Webb of the very popular indie relationship comedy, “(500) Days of Summer” is right now the most likely director for the just announced “Spiderman” reboot.  Fleming, or whomever, writes that  Webb has “no superhero experience,” which is not really the issue. The issue is that, while he’s quite capable of making an okay indie comedy (I’m not the movie’s biggest fan), he has no action experience and Sam Raimi had obviously quite a bit before attempting “Spiderman.” Still, the choice of Webb wouldn’t be half so strange as another one mentioned by Fleming (or whomever) apparently in all seriousness: Wes Anderson.

I wish we lived in a universe where studio executives would be so weirdly brave. And, hey, if Anderson’s not available, they could try David Lynch. I don’t know about the masses, but I’d definitely pay to see either movie.

Fleming (or whomever), however, is absolutely correct that, if he were just a bit younger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt would be the guy to play the new Peter Parker. Oh, well.

* Fleming also has it that Daniel Craig is “in talks” to replace a vacating Robert Downey, Jr. on the comic book adaptation, “Cowboys and Aliens.” Interesting transition. Downey seems more alien than cowboy; Craig is definitely more cowboy than alien.

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Raimi & Spidey part company; Hanks to direct again with Roberts in tow; history repeats on “Thor”; an auteur departs; ASC, WGA, and ACE noms; Nikki Finke makes a friend

Spiderman

My highly esteemed colleague Will Harris has been right on top of  the huge small screen stories that seem to be breaking right and left at the TCA conference this week. Still, it’s not like there hasn’t been any news in movieland. It’s almost hard to know where to start.

* The Hollywood Reporter as well as Nikki Finke and new stablemate Mike Fleming (more on that below) are carrying the news that, in the wake of ongoing script problems, the kibosh has been put on Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman IV” with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and a 2012 reboot, written by James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac“) announced. The new film will feature a once-again teenage Peter Parker, so Taylor Lautner is no doubt already in touch with his agent.

THR says the script problems had something to do with a disagreement over supervillains between Raimi and Sony and/or Marvel Studios. Finke also notes that the fourth installment would probably not have been in 3-D and it seems reasonable that that might have been a factor, given the current mania for the process.

* In another apparent scoop for new Deadline team member Mike Fleming, Tom Hanks is returning as a writer-director for the second time since making his 1996 charmer, “That Thing You Do!” A comedy, “Larry Crowne” will reteam him with his “Charlie Wilson’s War” co-star, Julia Roberts. Like “Up in the Air,” according to Fleming it’s somewhat topical in that’s it’s about a middle-aged guy forced to reinvent his career at a time when past generations where just starting to settle down.

tom-hanks-and-julia-rober-002

While he’s at it, Fleming also has the word on Shia LaBeouf not going agentless after all and signing with CAA. Agents around the world can all breathe easier now.

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Okay, I think we can agree that “Avatar” is a success now

If anyone out there is still hoping for a publicly humbler James Cameron, maybe it’s time to set your sites elsewhere. Despite what you might have read on geek comment threads a few months back, the box office for “Avatar” is only going to bolster the filmmaker’s not entirely unearned overconfidence. Indeed, Cameron’s boot is likely to be mighty wet for a might long time with the pug-like slobber of worshipful suits. Nikki Finke, quoted a Fox executive, thusly:

“Mr. Cameron was king of the world but now has dominion over the universe. And he will own the top two slots on the worldwide all-time box office list!

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, enhanced, in

In its third weekend, “Avatar” raised an estimated $68.3 million, with an outlandishly small 9.7% drop from its take of $75.6 million last week, as calculated by Box Office Mojo. The cumulative domestic box office take for the ecological/human rights themed action fable is now roughly $352.1 million, which I suppose might be a complete recoup of the film’s budget and at least some of the marketing expenses.

That also means it’s already the 15th top grossing domestic film of all time, with an awful lot of commercial life left in it, as the film will almost certainly linger in theaters through Oscar time and beyond. It seems that there is every chance it will overtake the $533.3 million of “The Dark Knight” and I certainly wouldn’t rule out it taking the #1 spot from Cameron’s $600.78 million grossing “Titanic.”

Remember, that mega-melodrama was released in 1997, when the most anyone paid to see a movie was, if memory serves, maybe $7 or $8. I saw “Avatar” over the weekend at Hollywood’s top-of-the-line Arclight complex, where the ticket price on Friday night was $18.50. That’s unusually expensive, but only a few bucks more than a lot of folks are paying nationwide, particularly on Imax screens. Adjusted for inflation, no movie has yet to sell more tickets than the periodically re-released “Gone With the Wind, which was shrewdly withheld from TV screens until the mid-seventies.

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Movie news for a dying decade

It’s the very last day of the aughts, the noughties, or the 2000s, whichever term you prefer, and there’s some movie news to pass along.

* It’s a funny day to have a stockholders meeting, but that’s appears to be what Marvel Entertainment did and, yes, they approved the widely heralded Disney merger. Russ Fischer at /film has the details.

* With, as far as I can see, no major wide releases or, as I far as I can tell, even large expansions to talk about and not much other information available, I’m dispensing with this week’s box office preview. However, Jolly Carl DiOrio is here to tell us that this weekend is going to look a little something like last weekend.

That’s not to say there aren’t some new movies out that you can see this week — though you’ll possibly have to live in New York or L.A. to see them. Since I dig Tennessee Williams, I’m sorry to see the bad reviews for “Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. South Korea’s “The Chaser” was a hit at home for director Na Hong-Jin and looks intriguing to me. It has also been optioned for a high profile American remake, possibly involving Leonardo DiCaprio and screenwriter William Monahan of “The Departed.”

the-chaser-movie-3

* Speaking of box office, I’m not sure this is exactly news, but, get this, “Avatar” is doing really well — it just passed the $800 million mark worldwide — and looks likely to continue to do extremely well for quite a long time. Even the busiest man in the world apparently couldn’t wait to see it in the White House movie theater (I wonder if it can show digital 3-D?) Also note that eight year-old Sacha and 11 year-old Malia were allowed to see it even though it has a PG-13 rating . Expect this to be discussed at length on the Sunday shows.

* I had to update yesterday’s post to correct this. Apparently, The Weinstein Company is going to leave “Nine” in the roughly 1,400 theaters it’s in, despite last week’s poor showing.

* It’s now “Sir Captain Picard” to you. Alongside Patrick Stewart, film and theater director Nicolas Hytner (“The Madness of King George”) just got an excuse to be extra snooty.

* Neil Blomkamp of “District 9” wants to make original films that aren’t based on older franchises and, so, has said he’ll stay away from large budgets. He’s not dumb.

  

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