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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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News flash from Hollywood — it’s raining!

We Southern Californian’s are easily freaked out by this occasional phenomenon where water inexplicably falls from the skies. It’s a good thing so many of us like to ski or snowboard up at Big Bear or Tahoe, or there’d be a vast wave of weather-related depression unsettling the entire area. Of course, those of us who live on hillsides have something to worry about, but since L.A.-area seasons are basically labeled as “fire” and “flood,” it’s not like this is a surprise. Still, a good chunk of the town is going off to Park City, Utah for Sundance and its sisters festivals, where you actually need boots and overcoats and stuff like that.

20061021180826-singin-rain-3

And now, here’s the big movie news, assuming this half of the state doesn’t simply slide into the ocean or anything overnight.

* Jolly Carl DiOrio writes on THR’s Heat Vision blog that Warner Brothers is trying to decide whether or not to do a 3-D retrofit on Louis Leterrier’s upcoming version of “Clash of the Titans.” This 3-D madness for genre films has been spreading. Some months back, “The Cabin in the Woods,” a collaboration between TV cult king Joss Whedon and his one-time staff writer, Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield“), was delayed from February 2010 to January 2011 to three dimensionalize the meta-horror film — and perhaps help stabilize Universal’s depleted coffers by delaying the marketing costs for eleven months.

* Despite some of the setbacks the Weinstein Company has been suffering lately with a number of commercial disappointments and too few hits and some layoffs, they’re still bringing in new people for acquisitions prior to tomorrow’s Sundance kick-off, writes La Finke.

* Meanwhile, over at CinemaBlend, Josh Tyler contemplates the possible 3-D status of “Ghostbusters 3.”

Johnny Depp
* In case you haven’t heard it already, no, Johnny Depp will not be starring in Terry Gilliam’s upcoming second attempt at filming his “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”

* The Oscar’s announced their nine film short list for the foreign language film category today. It’s basically a bunch of movies you have almost no chance of having seen, or even heard all that much about, if you’re not a pretty serious film festival goer — and Michael Haneke’s Golden Globe winning dark period drama, “The White Ribbon.” Even the folks at The Playlist had only seen “Ribbon” and were only familiar with a total of three of the films.

If an outstanding foreign film you’ve seen recently is not on the list and you’re wondering why, you can likely blame the extremely byzantine and highly politicized rules in this category, which involves countries selecting official entries, which often exclude seemingly obvious choices. Romania’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” was an extraordinary work that recently made it to the top of many Best Of lists for the entire past decade. It was not nominated last year, — along with two other widely acclaimed non-English-speaking movies of 2007, “Volver” and “Persepolis.” At least the latter film was nominated in the animation category.

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s a slow day; your reward: “The Making of the Avatar Bootleg”

It really is embarrassingly slow in the movie blogosphere this week. I mean, I could link up to some stuff being generated out in the movie news blogosphere, but it’s just pretty much marking time, especially now that the deadline for movies to be eligible for 2009 Oscar consideration is almost here. Cinephile bloggers are generally just posting holiday greetings. It’s time to watch movies more and write about them less.

In fact, according to Box Office Mojo, there is only one Wednesday release slipping in under the 2009 wire for Oscar consideration tomorrow — and it’s Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.” Since the acclaimed dark drama from noted feel-bad director Haneke is Germany’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar anyhow, I’m not sure it even matters. (Some foreign film nominees are often not released in the U.S. until well after the Oscars.)

Also, it appears that the studios aren’t even bothering to release anything new on Friday/New Year’s Day.  A good weekend for catching up, which I certainly hope to be doing.

So, let’s make jokes poking fun at James Cameron and self-promoting DVD extras. Via Devin at CHUD.

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More awards news

Yesterday’s critics’ awards were (relatively) big news, but the statue and plaque beat goes on.

Brad Pitt and Eli Roth in

*  The nominees are in for the Broadcast Film Critics Awards, which also includes some online writers as well, I understand. The event is better known as the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which airs annually on VH-1. The most nominations went to “Inglourious Basterds” and “Nine,” with few other surprises. “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Up in the Air” all got their share. Anne Thompson has the complete list and some good context.

* The Best Foreign Film Oscar is usually fairly unpredictable, and also has a somewhat screwed up eligibility process that I’m still figuring out after I don’t know how many years. (Individual nations get to submit exactly one film, a process that, as you might guess, is often highly politicized and sometimes eliminates highly charged films from consideration.) Nevertheless, Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” is really starting to look like an early favorite. However, Haneke isn’t exactly the most audience friendly director.

Ed Helms and friend in
* The American Film Institute (AFI) has put out their top 10 film and TV show list. It’s a bit different from some of the others. The most un-awardy inclusion is “The Hangover.” It might not be the most beautifully made example of the cinematic art I’ve ever seen, but it certainly provides exactly the movie you (or I, anyway) want to see when you/I want to see a movie about a bachelor party gone awry, so why not?

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Weekend at the Multiplex, Pt. II: The Power of Family Defeats Robot Rehash + the Palm Goes to…. (Updated)

The long holiday weekend is barely halfway through here on the west coast, but the numbers gurus have already spoken. Both Variety and megablogger Nikki Finke report that “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” outgrossed “Terminator Salavation” by 53.5 to 43 million smackers, proving once again the power of family films and that I am, at best, a very mediocre prognosticator. It also indicates that McG’s name and talents may not be pure box office gold.

In other news, in what turned out to be a battle of movie bad boys of various types, the coveted Palme D’Or (that’s Golden Palm to you and moi), has been awarded at Cannes after a week of some very divided audience and critical responses. Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” elicited reactions ranging from reasonably positive to angrily disappointed. “Antichrist,” the new horror film/domestic drama from the personally disliked but often genius-level brilliant Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark”) crossed some deep psychological lines in terms of graphic violence and human genitals, leading to a raucous screening and deeply appalling many while eliciting some truly unusual, often more positive, reactions from writers. (Roger Ebert’s take, for one, is certainly worth a look.)

Not too surprisingly, the winner was another overage enfant terrible entirely. Ironically enough, he himself has been simultaneously applauded and despised for the first version of “Funny Games.” The second, English-language, version was mostly just despised for its manipulations and made Bullz-Eyer David Medskar talk of punching its maker in the face, which I’m sure he intended as a metaphor.

That winner would be Austria’s 67 year-old Michael Haneke — often regarded as the world class director most in need of a hug, as well as a punch. He picked up the Palm for “The White Ribbon” a dark (of course!) black and white pre-World War I drama. Haneke has had some out-and-out success apart from “Funny Games” with 2005′s genuinely compelling and thoughtfully upsetting “Caché,” which Ron Howard once considered remaking but, perhaps fearing David’s reaction, choose to make the movie version of “Arrested Development” instead. Probably a wise move, in any case.


UPDATE: Brandon Grey of Box Office Mojo has the final figures “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithinsonian” raked in $70 million on 7,000 screens and “Terminator Salvation” earned $53.8 million on about six-hundred fewer screens. Also, NPR’s hourly newscast this morning suggested that some of T4′s weakness, especially here in Southern Cal, might be related to the ongoing NBA play-offs. Could be, I suppose. That’s what I get for being a guy who writes for an online men’s mag who’s also a complete ignoramus about sports.

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