The Academy Awards Nominations
came out a few days ago with the usual fanfare marked with excessive hype, insider analysis (so-called), and posturing.
The Academy and critics fell over each other in self-congratulations for the wisdom of selecting not 5 but 10 Best Picture
nominees as they did in 1992 and the old days. And a lot of attention has carried over to the other nominations.
So how good were they?
I haven't seen them all, but based on the many I have, and those others that I've read
about, it was a very good year for movies. The expansion into 10 best pics, however well intentioned, is a sleight of
hand. The academy merely looked at the Golden Globes format - they nominate separately in drama as well as comedy &
musicals (5 for each) - combined the lists into one, and cherry picked the front runners here and elsewhere (People's
Choice, Critics Choice, and Screen Actors Guild). Also, they already nominate 5 each for best original and adapted
screenplays, which looks curiously like the top ten.
The list of nominations for other categories include movies released
at the last moment of eligibility (Crazy Heart, The Last Station); actors nominated for one of two great
performances in the year (Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Stanley Tucci); a human interest angle (between two directors in a
"battle of the exes" & "First Female Director," i.e., James Cameron & Kathryn Bigelow), early
frontrunners (Up in the Air); war - which also embraces sci-fi (The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious
Basterds, District 9, The Messenger), and searing real-life black dramas (Precious, Invictus). So let
me break it out for you.
In the Bubble: Crazy Heart and The Last Station. These two
came at the last moment front-loaded with accolades about the acting. But how can you separate acting from the picture,
both of which did nothing at the box office. (This reminds me of Jessica Lange's award for Blue Sky, a
so-so picture in the 1990s). If these movies were really good, you'd see them a month or two earlier, and your viewing
wouldn't start out an art house theater.
Multiple Performances Carry the Day: As much as I
admire Meryl for her acting abilities, Sandra really stretched herself in The Blind Side, and her other picture The
Proposal was a much better runner-up role than It's Complicated. Ms. Bullock is a darling of the younger
set and has paid her dues.
Battle of the Exes -- Call it a Draw: Avatar's production
is on a monumental scale (to match the director's ego); thousands of credits go streaming by at the end. Anyone
who could marshal that army of professionals through pre- and post-production, let alone the shooting, deserves the award
for best director, outright. If this award is given for popularity or gender, there's something wrong. The
Hurt Locker's direction is boot camp compared with the intergalactic war of logistical brilliance demonstrated
by Cameron. However, the screenplay's lame for Avatar; the characters are one-dimensional, and the movie,
though spectacular, is really all special effects. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, is more realistic, timely,
and powerful, and though it is something of a one-trick pony in its theme and outcome - it's fairly predictable in the
end - it will stay with you for a long, long time. Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is definitely the better
picture, and may be the best for the year.
Guns Over Roses: The academy's embrace of big box office
violence continues to trump a number of excellent indie gems, including The Hangover and 500 Days of Summer.
Up in the Air is entertaining and well-crafted, but way overrated, probably the 10th on any top ten
list, if it even belongs there. It came out at a time when there was no competition out there, and it's been spun
effectively ever since.
Precious (which I haven't yet seen) seems to be the critics'
darling for an upbeat black drama, but in my view, the most outstanding work in embracing the human spirit for black and/or
white audiences was Invictus. Why it was omitted from the best picture nominations is a mystery to me.
Nine despite the acting caliber was a BOMB. Penelope Cruz's performance was pretty good but really if
the backers are trying to recoup something for their investment, they should stick to insurance or the courts.
be seeing some of the other major works - Crazy Heart, Precious, An Education, The Last Station, and A
Serious Man - as soon as I can either dig out my driveway or get the DVD in my queue. And I'll update my very
opinionated take accordingly.
We get ourselves all worked up for Award-winning productions and performances
- sports championships as well - every year. Yet who can remember the winners from even 2009? Now that says
something about human nature. In case you think that year is something special - they'll definitely get it right -consider
some of the award winners of the past.
(c) John F. Glass February 6, 2010 All rights reserved