Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar's first impressions

Alright, I'm officially backpedaling on my declaration that "Up in the Air" would be the juggernaut at this year's Academy Awards.

It's looking more and more like "Avatar" is the movie to beat. "Up in the Air" and "The Hurt Locker" are the two stalking horses.

Complete list of nominees here.

Here's my other early reactions:

SURPRISES: Good showings by small movies few people have seen: "An Education," "A Serious Man," "The Secret of Kells," "The Last Station," "The Messenger," "In the Loop." Always nice to see the Academy look beyond box office grosses and popularity. Can you imagine the Golden Globes recognizing any of these films in a major category?

On the other hand, some of these films haven't opened yet or even been screened to local critics. I confess I was not even aware of the existence of "Kells."

WINNERS: "Avatar," "The Blind Side," "District 9" all got more recognition than expected. Best picture nomination for Blind Side was a real shock -- the movie's got mojo with old-school Hollywood types.

LOSERS: "Up in the Air" got a solid six nominations, but three of those were for acting. Nominations in the "minor" categories like editing, costumes, sound mixing, etc. are indications of a wellspring of support for a film. Don't see much here.

Despite great reviews, "The Damned United" got shut out. No Best Pic nomination for "Star Trek," proving there is a God, though it got four nods in the technical categories. Smaller films like "The Road," "Adventureland," "(500) Days of Summer" and "9" got stiffed.

Still can't believe "Where the Wild Things Are" got shut out. It was a difficult, personal film to be sure ... but no nods even for costumes, visual effects, sets? Crazy.

BEST DIRECTOR: No surprises at all here. Seems to be a toss-up between James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. My heart's with Bigelow, though I loved both films.

BEST PICTURE: The move to 10 nominees was not a total disaster. It allowed an animated film to be recognized in the top category (although the wrong movie -- "Fantastic Mr. Fox" was better.)

An interesting quirk, though: Since "Up" was the only animated film to also receive a Best Pic nod, doesn't that mean a win in the animated category is all but automatic?

I think I'm going to go with my friend Roger Moore's take that only the five films that also got Best Director nominations are in the serious running. That means "Avatar," "Hurt Locker," "Precious," "Up in the Air" and "Inglourious Basterds" (ugh).

I really liked seeing "District 9" in there, even though it didn't make my Top 10. It's a bold, original film, the exact sort of thing the Academy should be honoring with these "second tier" Best Picture nominations.

There is some fat: I don't think "A Serious Man" or "The Blind Side" deserve nominations. "Basterds," either, but I recognize I'm probably in the minority on that.

BEST ACTRESS: Astonishingly, this looks like Sandra Bullock's to lose. She scored SAG and Golden Globe wins, and the fact that "Blind Side" got a Best Picture nod means Tinseltown nobility is ready to crown a new queen.

BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges is pretty much a certainty. They're saying, "He's been around for 50 years, he's been consistently great, been nominated five times: It's his time." George Clooney is the runner-up-in-waiting. Morgan Freeman was a slight surprise, since many were underwhelmed by "Invictus." Viggo Mortensen from "The Road" would've been my choice.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: The big surprise was Penelope Cruz scoring a nod for "Nine." It got three other nominations for costumes, art direction and best song. But clearly the "Chicago" magic fizzled.

Really happy to see Maggie Gyllenhaal recognized for her great work in "Crazy Heart." Jeff Bridges was amazing in it, so much so that I worried the hype surrounding his achievement would overshadow Gyllenhaal's own career-capping performance.

But Mo'Nique is a mortal lock to win.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger" and Christopher Plummer for "The Last Station" were slight surprises, but only in the sense that they were among several contenders for the last couple of spots. Christoph Waltz can already clear a spot on his mantle.

Astonishingly, this is Stanley Tucci's first Oscar nod.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Very disappointed not to see nominations for "Adventureland" and "(500) Days of Summer." Neither "Basterds" or "Serious Man" deserves to be here.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Big surprise was "In the Loop." I haven't seen it, so I can't say if it belongs or not.

Interesting to note that "Avatar" did not get a screenplay nod. Perhaps an indication that "Hurt Locker" has the edge for Best Picture? It's very rare for a front runner for the top prize to not even be nominated in the screenwriting and/or directing categories.

A few other notes:

How could "A Single Man" not be nominated for art direction and costumes? Strange. Although "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" scored nods in both categories, which is something good.

I would just like to point out that "Sherlock Holmes," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "Star Trek" and "Bright Star" all received nominations, and "The Road" and "Where the Wild Things Are" got bupkes. The only constant is inequity.

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