Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Race

I'm a little disappointed at how pat this Oscar race has become.

Not the Best Picture category, mind you: the 10 nominees might become one of the best ideas the Academy has ever come up with not because it will give us 10 worthy contenders, but because the top 5 (The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and Up in the Air) include some movies that might not have made it into the big race normally, but are each truly incredible films on their own merits.

I'm not even really referring to the Best Actress race, despite my distaste for Sandra Bullock's now-rallying performance in The Blind Side, simply because there's enough tension there that we could see a strange suprise win. But all the other races just feel a little snoozy.

However, I keep forgetting that we haven't even heard the nominations yet, so this post is focused solely on that. In case you've forgotten, picks are ordered in likelihood of nomination.

Best Picture
The Hurt Locker
Avatar
Inglourious Basterds
Up in the Air
Precious
An Education
Up
District 9
Invictus
Nine

Surprised to see Nine back again? So am I. Trust me, it's not a prediction that's easy to make, but I do know this: Chicago swept the Oscars with Harvey Weinstein running the campaign, and while Chicago was actually a good movie, in a year that's so hard to find ten nominees for, I think Nine could just be default enough to sneak on.

You might be wondering, then, why I removed A Serious Man instead of Invictus. While buzz for neither movie is burning brightly, I've never quite bought Man as an awards contender, and so far, it has proven itself to be anything but an awards contender. So I removed it, because inspiring Eastwood trumps silly Coens.

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

This list is set. I don't see any other real possibilites.

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Mirren still feels vulnerable to me. If she hadn't shown such default status throughout the precursors, I would think there was a solid fifth option, but to me, this list seems pretty clear-cut. One possible spoiler? Marion Cotillard's category fraud is blatant, but the Academy has bought worse. She's the best part of a bad movie, and the Academy does love Rob Marshall's work, so maybe she makes it in. I don't think so, though.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Matt Damon, Invictus
Alfred Molina, An Education

I know it's crazy to remove Christopher Plummer for Molina. I know this, and yet I do it anyway. In fact, other than Woody Harrelson and Christoph Waltz, I'd say none of these performances are sure things. But I do know that Molina had the early momentum, and the Academy seemingly doesn't like Plummer, so I'm going with my gut. Which will especially hurt Tuesday morning when they nominate Plummer.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Penelope Cruz, Nine

I'm tempted to remove Penelope Cruz, since her movie has fallen by the wayside, but in all honesty, she hasn't missed one list, except for BAFTA, but then again, only the top three on this list made the BAFTA list. Moore feels vulnerable, too. I guess Diane Kruger or Melanie Laurent could sneak on this list for Inglourious Basterds, but Laurent's category confusion is killer, and Kruger honestly didn't do much for me as Bridget Von Hammersmark. I think this list is about as close as I'll get.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Lee Daniels, Precious

I still can't help but feel that someone is gonna fall to Clint Eastwood. Daniels, maybe? Or Reitman? Probably not Reitman; they love him. Tarantino's pretty controversial, but his movie was really astounding. I feel he's safe. Maybe they all make it in. I'm just not sure: this race seems so unsettled while still being set.

Best Original Screenplay
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Bob Peterson, Up
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

I've hemmed and hawwed over these scripts for a while now, and no more deliberation is going to change how poorly I'll fare on nomination morning. One note, though: Tarantino should be very worried about getting snubbed by the Writers Guild of America, because that award comes on February 20, right in the middle of Oscar voting. He could easily lose this to Boal because of that slip.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Damien Paul, Precious
Nick Hornby, An Education
Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia
Tom Ford, A Single Man

Reitman and Turner are nominated for, but should be very worried they won't win, the WGA. There's been a whole storm of controversy about the script and if Reitman doesn't deserve the credit he's getting, meaning Paul could sneak in there and win this one, which would give the win to Precious on Oscar night. The WGA is going to be incredibly influential this year, and no one yet realizes it.

I'm already confident in who will win this year, so that only makes the nominations that more infuriating to discuss. I feel fairly safe with these 45 nominees, but I feel like my score could be as high as 45 and as low as 35. What do you guys think? Any particular weaknesses you can see? Care to try to beat my predictions? Try it in the comments!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Bob SAGet!"

Okay, now you can panic.

If this post sounds more than a little vent-y, my sincere apologies, but the fact that the SAG Awards last night really indicated that Sandra "Miss Congeniality" Bullock is a better actress than Meryl "Soon-to-Be 16 Oscar Nominations" Streep is mind-numbing to me. What movies were voters watching? Yes, I understand that it's hard to accept Streep is doing her best work because she's done so much great work, but that's hardly a reason to snub her; rather, it's a reason to celebrate her!

I'll give you that I found Sandra Bullock charming in The Blind Side, and I love that she had such an incredible year, but this is not an Oscar-worthy performance. Not over the likes of Precious' mind-blowingly good Gabourey Sidibe, or the charming, absolutely worthy Carey Mulligan from An Education, and certainly not over Meryl Streep.

So what's the state of the Best Actress race? Will Bullock really walk away with Hollywood's highest honor over the above-mentioned ladies? Have voters become so obsessed with the Oscars being commercial again that they're willing to give Avatar Best Picture and award the former romcom queen? Read on... (Since there were no director or screenplay awards given out this week, I'm just focusing on the acting races and, of course, Best Picture, for this post.)

Best Picture
Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
An Education
Up in the Air
District 9
Up
A Serious Man
Invictus

Personal Pick? An Education, which isn't getting nearly the love it should. It was a fun, entertaining movie that still managed to be deep and raise serious issues. If it were to be nominated, A Single Man would definitely be among my top picks, along with Inglourious Basterds, Precious, The Hurt Locker, and Up in the Air.

I know it's surprising that Up in the Air has been knocked down more than a few notches, but Inglourious Basterds really raised its game with the SAG Best Ensemble win, Precious' campaign has apparently really been making an impact and is by far the more emotionally-driven piece, and An Education got a big boost from the BAFTA nominations. Yes, it is more inclined to get those nominations since it's a British film, but seriously, it tied with Avatar and The Hurt Locker for the most nominations, and those two are the front-runners. Up in the Air has fallen victim to an absolutely vicious backlash, the likes of which I just don't understand, but let me just say this: from the bomb action in The Hurt Locker to the visual treats in Avatar, this is not an acting- or writing-focused movie's year. Which sucks.

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Personal Pick? Firth was instantly memorable and mesmerizingly devastating in this role that went beyond gay or straight and was instead a look at what loss of love does to a man's world.

Bridges is locked and loaded. He'll win easily on Oscar night. Everyone else is, as I've said before, just here to party.

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Personal Pick? I liked so many of these performances, but Streep is an absolute chameleon in all her performances, and this time was no different. She's truly the Best Actress not only of this year, but of any year. The fact that she doesn't have ten of these things by now is a crime.

Mirren replaces Emily Blunt for one reason: neither of them got a BAFTA nomination. That may sound like poor logic, but in reality, Blunt needed that nomination (for a VERY British movie) to stay alive, and Mirren has a lot of the momentum that Blunt doesn't. I still say Streep is the favorite for this one, but we could be surprised on Oscar night. The only truly interesting thing is the timing of the SAG Awards: usually held during voting time for Oscar winners, the awards were held in the awkward period between nomination ballots being turned in and nominations being announced. So it's entirely possible that tonight had no effect on the awards whatsoever. Wouldn't that be ironic?

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Matt Damon, Invictus

Personal Pick? This one isn't even a debate. Waltz made like his name and danced around his competitors at the Globes, as he will at every awards show. His Colonel Hans Landa is insanely good, whereas the rest of these performances were, uh, not.

I feel strongly tempted to replace Damon with either Christian McKay or Alfred Molina, but I'm going to resist for the moment, if only because their lack of SAG support indicates that the momentum is not with them, and their BAFTA nominations came too late to have any impact on Oscar nominations. It should probably still go to Damon. Oh, and in case you weren't aware, Waltz is gonna win this thing.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Penelope Cruz, Nine

Personal Pick? Is that a question? Mo'Nique is not only my pick in this category, not only in this year, but is the single best film performance in years.

...*cough* Um, well, I'm, uh, sure there are many different, er, twists and turns that, uh, this race could take... Ah, hell. It's Mo'Nique's.

Three of four acting races are locked up. The fourth is a question mark. The Best Picture race is still uneasy. The year that should have been the most outrageously hard to predict just became like all the others: a couple of still-confused races, but everything else is known before nominations even come out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Putting the Globes in Perspective, Part Deux

Nobody panic now. Sandra Bullock isn't a better actress than Meryl Streep. The Golden Globes didn't totally destroy everything we know.

I've gotten more than a few people asking me today what the effects of the Globes are. I've read more than a few reports saying they don't mean jack. That's not really true, but they aren't super-important, either. In reality, they're a bit of a middle ground: they help somewhat, but unless you're at a real make-it-or-break-it point in your Oscar campaign, they're not vital, either.

Avatar didn't find itself eliminated from the race as I might have hoped, but things are hardly settled in the Best Picture race. Friday's Critics' Choice Awards for The Hurt Locker and its director, Kathryn Bigelow, set the stage for a brutal, drawn-out battle the likes of which America hasn't seen since Barack and Hillary.

In the other races, some things became settled, other races got jostled a bit, and some former frontrunners saw their campaigns go up in smoke. (*sob* Colin Firth! Damn you, precursors!)

Starting from this update, the Hit or Miss! options are gone (for the moment), and Personal Pick? is introduced, which is about as obvious a title as Snakes on a Plane.

Best Picture
The Hurt Locker
Avatar
Up in the Air
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
An Education
Up
District 9
A Serious Man
Invictus

Personal Pick? An Education, which isn't getting nearly the love it should. It was a fun, entertaining movie that still managed to be deep and raise serious issues. If it were nominated, A Single Man would definitely be among my top picks, along with Inglourious Basterds, Precious, The Hurt Locker, and Up in the Air.

So much for (500) Days of Summer. You can't lose the Golden Globe to The Hangover and expect to keep your candidacy alive. This is really a two-film race now, and it should be an interesting battle between David and Goliath, between ex-husband and ex-wife, between blue monkeys and bomb diffusers. The rest are here for the party. (They best not be tardy, though.)

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Personal Pick? Firth was instantly memorable and mesmerizingly devastating in this role that went beyond gay or straight and was instead a look at what loss of love does to a man's world.

Renner and Freeman aren't even in the race, but they should easily get nominated, Freeman more easily than Renner. Bridges has got this locked up, though a few spoiler wins from Clooney or Firth could change things. I don't think that's possible, though. This one has the smell of a career achievement win.

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

Personal Pick? I liked so many of these performances, but Streep is an absolute chameleon in her acting, and this time was no different. She's truly the Best Actress.

Yes, Bullock is probably Streep's greatest competition now, but that isn't saying a whole lot. Sidibe and Mulligan were victims of early buzz, then fizzled out in favor of this intriguing new battle. I still don't think Helen Mirren will get the nod, though maybe I'm placing too much faith in Blunt. Mulligan needed a win to stay viable, and the Globes were her best shot. This is probably the most competitive acting race, but again, that's not saying a whole lot either. The Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday could shed some light, and maybe even shake things up with a win for Sidibe, but I have a feeling Streep's time has come again.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Matt Damon, Invictus

Personal Pick? This one isn't even a debate. Waltz made like his name and danced around his competitors at the Globes, as he will at every awards show. His Colonel Hans Landa is insanely good, whereas the rest of these performances were, uh, not.

If the voters get a tad lazy and start throwing votes around to less deserving competitors (it's happened), things could swing away from Waltz, but that would be a tremendous disappointment and controversy. It's not likely to happen, and by the grace of God it won't.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Penelope Cruz, Nine

Personal Pick? Is that a question? Mo'Nique is not only my pick in this category, not only in this year, but is the single best film performance in years.

This is a lock, but then again, you already knew that. Who would've thought when she was hosting Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School that Mo'Nique would be an Oscar winner, and a highly deserving one at that? Life's really funny (and fun, to be honest) like that.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Lee Daniels, Precious
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Personal Pick? Girls can be just as bamf (thank you Will Klein, for that word choice) as boys can! Bigelow for the win.

Bigelow still has the buzz and the novelty factor ("Hey, women can direct, too!"), but Cameron is the King of the World, after all. He said so himself. Could he steal this away from his incredibly attractive ex-wife? Meanwhile, I don't think the awards voters are taking Tarantino's candidacy here very seriously. I foresee a loss for him, and possibly missing a nomination altogether. Love for Clint Eastwood still runs very deeply in the Academy, after all.

Best Original Screenplay
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Bob Peterson, Up
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

Personal Pick? Basterds was loud and obnoxious at times, but Boal's script for The Hurt Locker spoke volumes through its silence.

Tarantino's win at the Critics' Choice Awards helps, but Boal has way more momentum for the long haul and, best of all, plays by WGA rules, important when making the Oscar shortlist. As always, this thing could go a zillion different directions.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Damien Paul, Precious
Nick Hornby, An Education
Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia
Tom Ford, A Single Man

Personal Pick? Paul's script was incredible, but Precious isn't really a feat of writing. Hornby and Ford wrote impressively, and I did enjoy Up in the Air's script, but to me, blending two stories into one is really difficult work, and so Ephron gets my vote, even if her script wasn't technically the best here.

For the first time, I'm feeling less than confident about this list. Invictus' failure to impress screwed me up. The precursors aren't backing me up on this one, so I've gotta go with my gut. And likely flop on my face.

Any more questions about how things at the Globes affected the Oscar nominations? Feeling like I'm supremely underrating Sandra Bullock? Comments!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Corporate Chipmunk

While checking The Film Experience, a personal favorite blog/Oscar prediction site updated daily, I read about StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Blogathon, which is a listing of different blog's tributes to different supporting actresses. That's actually really cool, considering most of the great work is done in the Supporting Actress category (the Leads are usually small in number, while the Supporting nominees could number a thousand most years; the inverse is true in the Actor categories).

However, while I was thrilled to see an entry about Mo'Nique's role in Precious (a true marvel), I was saddened to see that no one had written about Anna Kendrick, absolutely brilliant as corporate chipmunk Natalie Keener in Up in the Air and, in my opinion, an Oscar winner this year, had Mo'Nique not flattened all competition, that is.

Looking back on Air, the acting really wasn't that special (George Clooney was turning in a George Clooney role where he smiled and mugged his way to an Oscar nomination, Vera Farmiga was distractingly "mysterious," and not in a good way). The movie was far more a tribute to Jason Reitman's expert hand at making every element of a movie come together (Juno, anyone?), but there was one performance that was note-perfect, and that was easily Anna Kendrick's neurotic corporate ladder-climber.


"I'm a better actor than you. Deal with it, Fantastic Mr. Fox."

The third quarter of Air was decidedly less than impressive, and I would say that is because Kendrick's imprint had disappeared. From her first moment on-screen, you know that this is someone to watch. Natalie Keener is made to be an irritating drag on Clooney's charming Ryan Bingham, but I see them as equals, battling between the modern and the classic, much like Rachel McAdams and Russell Crowe should have been in State of Play.

Kendrick has an ease with which she bats words back and forth with both Clooney and Farmiga, and is easily the most quotable character in the film ("I type with purpose;" "I appreciate everything your generation did for me"), but what is most impressive is her ability to command the screen in an extremely subtle way the likes of which I haven't seen since Emily Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada sniped her way into our hearts.

Unlike Blunt, however, it is never difficult for us to like Keener, and to like Kendrick, as she mercilessly teases Ryan Bingham and deals with her own personal struggles. It takes a gifted actress to play the hotel breakdown scene as charmingly as she did, and though we didn't cry with her, she made it easy to laugh at her. In fact, Keener was a lot like Gilmore Girls' similarly ambitious Paris Gellar, yet by toning the ferocity down a bit, Kendrick allowed the audience to truly pull for her.

The fact that Kendrick has to face Mo'Nique head-to-head and will most certainly lose is as devastating to me as when Meryl Streep had to face Helen Mirren three years ago: like Kendrick, Streep was faced with a certain loss. However, when I rewatch Up in the Air again ten years from now, I will double over with laughter at her drunken rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" just as hard as I did the first time.

To me, that she gets to inspire that joy is as good as any Oscar.

Putting the Globes in Perspective

Hee. That title almost sounds dirty.

As I've said before, I have no business predicting the Golden Globe winners. Not only do they have screwy curveballs (Kate Winslet, give back one of two your Globes from last year!), but they also have TV categories, and while that's all well-and-good come Emmy time, I don't have the patience to predict the same categories mid-year and get a ridiculously different result than I get in the fall.

So no, I won't be predicting any of the Golden Globe categories for tonight. You shouldn't try, either. But what I will do is provide you a little perspective on what tonight might mean for the Oscar race.

But first: a rant. It's become known that Taylor Lautner, believed to be hunky Native American werewolf from that series about vampires, will be seated with the stars and crew of The Hurt Locker at the Golden Globes in order to, more or less, sexy up the table. Here's why I find this to be logically flawed:


Hi. How're you doing, Kathryn? If every woman at 58 looked this good, cougars would be... well, they already are a phenomenon. Hey, James Cameron! You left this to be with your crinkly old wife? Good life choices, buddy!

And for the ladies...

Jeremy would kick Wolfie's ass, if you ask me.

I think it's pretty insulting to The Hurt Locker's team to consider them so hideous they have to camoflauge them with sexy werewolves. Frankly, I'd take these guys and gals over the hideously pale and angsty cast of that one vampire movie saga any day of the week.

All right. Rant over. Time for the effects of tonight on the Oscar race.

Best Picture, Drama could go to either Avatar, The Hurt Locker, or Up in the Air. The Iraq War drama probably isn't starry enough for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, though the Critics' Choice win on Friday could signal a swing in voting patterns. Make no mistake, folks: This race isn't over, not by a long shot. In fact, heavily favored frontrunner Avatar needs to win tonight to continue its viability as a Best Picture winner at the Oscars. Losing the first two awards out of the gate would be poisonous for the blue monkey version of Pocahontas. Up in the Air will probably win tonight, and that would help its campaign resurge and make this more of a two-film race, edging out the silly Avatar.

Best Picture, Comedy/Musical can only really benefit one movie: (500) Days of Summer. If it wins, it becomes a probable Oscar nominee. This is also Nine's last chance to prove how viable it is as a nominee, though I'd say that ship has sailed long ago. The two Meryl Streep vehicles will cancel each other out, and The Hangover will NEVER be an Oscar nominee. Sorry to burst your bubble, rabid fans of The Hangover.

The Best Lead Actor races aren't going to tell us much about their Oscar equivalents, unless a win in Drama from A Single Man's brilliant Colin Firth throws him into the heat of the race again instead of languishing in third place behind Jeff Bridges and George Clooney. Bridges' performance was a little too American for Globe voters, so Clooney will probably dash away with the prize, but it won't have much impact at the Oscars, where Bridges is looking more likely with every passing day.

The Best Lead Actress races, however, could turn the whole Oscar race on its head. If Emily Blunt wins the Drama race, which, due to the foreign quality to her performance as well as the Globes' obvious love for her (she's was a winner for a television miniseries performance in Empire Falls and a nominee for The Devil Wears Prada in the same year), is looking entirely possible, Helen Mirren's Oscar candidacy is done. If Gabourey Sidibe wins, Carey Mulligan loses all hope of winning. If Sandra Bullock wins, Meryl Streep wins the Oscar. For this particular performance (The Blind Side's Leigh Anne Tuhoy), Bullock will never win an Oscar, so if she keeps racking up the early awards, blocking Sidibe or Mulligan from winning, Streep, an obvious winner tonight for Julie & Julia in the Comedy/Musical category, will easily win her third Oscar. Mulligan needs to win this one to stay viable as an opponent to Streep.

Since we're talking in hypotheticals, however, here's one that would really send things reeling: a double win for Sandra Bullock. If that were to happen, which it won't, she would suddenly become the frontrunner for the Oscar, and that would be scary. But it won't, so no one get all crazy.

The Supporting categories are locked, so don't worry about those. Mo'Nique and Christoph Waltz could probably kill somebody and still win. As long as they don't get all crazy and interrupt Taylor Swift's acceptance speech somewhere ("I am going to allow you to finish, young fraĆ¼lein, but Beyonce had one of the best bingos in all of history!"), they're set.

That's all that really matters for tonight. Keep all that in mind as you watch on NBC at 7, with red carpet coverage starting as early as 4 on E! Feel free to use the comments section to post your thoughts as the winners come in tonight!

Monday, January 11, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

We'll get back to the Oscar pandemonium momentarily. For a moment, I want to vent on some breaking news today that, to me, is far better news than anyone understands.

Before that, though, just a reminder of some big events happening over the next few weeks. First, the premiere of American Idol (ironically, the subject of this post) is tomorrow at 7, then Wednesday at the same time. I probably won't be blogging much on Idol this season; last season's hack job made me realize the talent competition is a guilty pleasure best indulged without thinking too hard.

Thursday brings the premiere of Project Runway back to New York City (thank God) and my blogging back, but don't expect the updates to be very timely this time around, what with Oscar season and all other goings-on. Suffice it to say that this season seems MUCH better than the last at first glance.

Friday is the first big awards show of the season: the Critics' Choice Awards. They're usually the ones to reward real crowd favorites, so if Avatar is gonna keep up its momentum, look for a win here.

Sunday brings the Golden Globes at 7, with red carpet coverage on E! and the TV Guide Channel at 5-ish-or-so (come for the strange interviews by Ryan Seacrest, stay for the weird, Isaac-Mizrahi-just-grabbed-Scarlett-Johannsen's-melons moments). These are the closest things to precursors for the Oscars, plus television categories, plus booze. (The now-infamous Isaiah Washington incident? The Golden Globes.)

After that comes the Screen Actors Guild Awards on the 23rd. ("I'm Will Arnett, and I'm an alco-er, ACTOR.") Not everyone's cup of tea, the SAGs are usually very self-congratulatory, but Sandra Bullock's presenting a Career Achievement Award to Betty White. You can't beat that.

The 25th marks the premiere of Damages, by far the most entertaining show on television (save Glee, of course). I'm going to take a moment to pretend you care and will watch on the 25th on FX at 9. Thank you.

The 2nd of February is the big one: the Oscar nominations! It's like Christmas morning for someone like me!

Everyone got all those dates? Good, because now I'm gonna rant.

Let me be clear: Simon Cowell leaving American Idol is the single best thing to happen to that show in years. Last season's errors in judgment and overall irritation factor can be almost wholly attributed to Cowell. He's grown bored with this show, ignoring one of Allison Iraheta's performances last season to draw on former judge Paula Abdul's face. Attentive, huh?

Is him leaving going to alter the face of America's biggest reality show permanently? Absolutely. But there's no reason it can't be for the better. My suggestion for his replacement? Get ready: Ben Folds.

Hear me out. The hipster/indie artist judged this season's The Sing-Off on NBC, which was, like most things on NBC these days (hi, Conan! How's being edged out by Jay Leno AGAIN treating you?), a travesty. However, Folds was intelligent, kind, on-point, and almost the perfect reality show judge. He'd be the perfect choice to fill Cowell's shoes.

This doesn't have to be a singularly beneficial relationship, either. With Folds in the fold (sorry), Idol could spotlight more indie-focused artists, as well as featuring music from out-of-the-norm artists. Plus, Folds would gain an entirely new fanbase. (Which, by the way, would likely draw his current supporters nuts, making me giggle in the process.)

What do you guys think? Bad move? Or an interesting way to turn the biggest show in America on its head? Take it to the comments, folks!

The Big Picture on Best Picture

Okay, I know I said I would focus on the niche categories this week, but I'll be honest: the niche categories drive me up a wall. I have no love for them. Therefore, I'm moving onto Best Picture. Sue me. It's my blog, and I'll cry if I want to.

Best Picture

This one's more complicated than just a list and a Hit or Miss! pick. This is a conversation that is veering in a whole host of different directions, so I'm going to just analyze ALL of them.

This will take a while.

The Frontrunners: Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and Avatar.

See, if there were only five Best Picture nominees this year, it would be so easy to put together a list. All five movies have a shot at the gold due to the new weighted-vote system, and it benefits no other movie more than Inglourious Basterds, which may not receive as many #1 votes as a movie such as, oh, let's say, the ridiculously bad Avatar (not picking on any one movie, cough-cough), but a significant amount of #2 and #3 votes could be even better. Up in the Air is, unfortunately, suffering from a fatal backlash, and Precious never really recovered from its own backlash, but both movies have ardent fans and could pull an upset. This race, however, is probably down to the aforementioned Avatar and Basterds, as well as critical darling The Hurt Locker, and I have more faith in the Iraq War drama than any other. It should strike a balance that neither Basterds nor Avatar can hit: a mixture of #1 votes and lower preference (but still critically important) votes. If it does that, then it's won.

The Middle-of-the-Road: An Education, Invictus, and A Serious Man.

Since those five spots are filled, and any other movie stands little to no chance of ousting them, the race becomes not to win, but to be nominated, and there are five more spots with which to accomplish that goal. The three movies here have, for one reason or another, made themselves seem like obvious options. An Education had a tidal wave of buzz going early on, but fizzled as more flashy movies (Up in the Air, Avatar) made their impressions. Invictus, despite solid reviews, never had the sort of gangbuster support that most of the big movies have, but because it's a Clint Eastwood flick, should still squeak into the race. Finally, A Serious Man has some ardent supporters, though not enough, which should be good enough for a nomination, not a win. I'd say the latter two films will have more problems than An Education will.

The Indie Spoilers: A Single Man, (500) Days of Summer, The Messenger, and Crazy Heart.

Ask Brokeback Mountain: there's nothing more likely to unseat an obvious frontrunner than a good old indie. (Hi, Crash!) Any of the movies listed here could make it into the big race, though I have a lot of faith in (500) Days of Summer and The Messenger, despite my distaste for the former. I don't think A Single Man has the buzz to make it in, nor do I think Crazy Heart has the visibility beyond Jeff Bridges' starring performance (see also: The Wrestler, again). There are probably four spots in contention, with two wide open, so the two movies with the buzz and critical adoration have a very good shot.

The Commercial Favorites: Star Trek, The Hangover, The Blind Side, and Up.

These were the movies that were supposed to make it into the big race with the ten nominee shift, but I only have confidence in one of the four making it in. The Blind Side is really just a Sandra Bullock vehicle, so discount that one. Ditto The Hangover; I'm still not sure why there was a wave of support for this movie, but it's never been a real contender. It's an incredibly funny comedy, but not a very well-executed one, and that's what matters to the Academy. (Juno, if you please.) Star Trek could benefit from its late-game buzz shift, but so many ballots were already filled out by the time all this came to pass, it's not as likely as The Summer Flick With Momentum below. Up was heavily favored earlier, but things have really turned against it, including a good tide for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Look for that to possibly derail its chances, though I still believe that it has a chance of making it in.

The Meryl Streep Vehicles: It's Complicated and Julie & Julia.

Either one of these movies could spoil the race by making it in, but I don't really have that much faith in either simply because I think they'll split votes. Color me surprised if one of them does, but if one of them does, it'll be Julie & Julia.

The Summer Flick With Momentum: District 9.

I have a lot of faith in District 9 suddenly. With major nominations coming through, as well as hype before those nominations (which Star Trek didn't have), it has a great shot at one of those leftover spots. And that is very bad for Avatar, which probably can't win if there's another sci-fi picture in the race (let alone two!). See Dave Karger's OscarWatch blog on EW.com for more on that.

The Fallen From Grace: Nine and The Lovely Bones.

Yikes. What happened here, folks? These were supposed to be the Oscar movies this year, and neither one is likely to get a nomination. Bones is done; I've honestly never seen a greater flop from grace--(*suddenly remembers Australia)--oh, wait, scratch that. Nine could still scrape a nod, considering the Academy usually loves him more than critics or audiences do, but I don't think those critics and audiences have hated on him quite as much as they are now. So it's a toss-up. The ultimate Hit or Miss, if you will.

If I had to put together a list right now, it might look a little something like this:

Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Avatar
Precious
An Education
A Serious Man
Up
(500) Days of Summer
District 9

Man and Summer are the most vulnerable due to cross-competition (respectively, Invictus and The Messenger, but I think the buzz/critical adoration will help put them over the top.

One thing's for sure, though: this is the hardest race to call in years, and it really shouldn't have been.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What Did I Think?

Oscarologists are supposed to remain impartial when it comes to Oscar films so as to evaluate simply on merits, buzz, and hype, not personal opinion. That said, sometimes we forget what it's like to actually talk about what movies we absolutely loved the past year, what performances had us floored, and what we would vote for if we had ballots.

A "top" list is a little tired, in my opinion. Instead, I'll just discuss what would have been my top entries in each category (there's only six, don't stress), followed by a winner.

If you haven't seen any of the films mentioned here, do yourself a favor and go. They're all extraordinary and actually the best films of the year, which is a shock, because they're all Oscar favorites. That doesn't happen that often.

Best Picture
This one comes down to a five-way race in my mind. To me, there were no better movies this year than The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air, and An Education, and all five were movies that I really, truly loved. Last year, I had to struggle to come up with five movies that I generally liked, and only one was nominated for Best Picture (Slumdog Millionaire; the other three were Doubt, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, WALL-E, and Rachel Getting Married. While Locker and Basterds are both triumphs, their directors, marvelous as they are, each have at least one scene that seems completely unnecessary and overindulgent (the bar scene in Basterds is especially egregious; that could have advanced the plot in about four minutes, but Quentin Tarantino decided to make it a half-hour doldrum in an otherwise fast-moving film). Plus, their overall strong ensembles are brought down by one weak performance each from characters that don't even matter to the main plot. Precious is an incredible film, and the central performances from Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique are monstrously good, but it lacks a strong ending, rather petering out, so it doesn't seem like a plausible winner. That leaves it up to Up in the Air and An Education, both modern movies in their own right with performances from female ingenues that drive the movies. While I did love Air, despite any depressing aspects to its story, there was something special about Education that I loved, though I can't seem to find anyone else that did as well. There's something magical about Carey Mulligan's performance, and the movie relies on acting and writing, not some ridiculous other element (blue monkeys, anyone?). For what it's worth, to me, An Education was the year's Best Picture.

Best Director
I have to admire someone like Lee Daniels who can use innovative casting and pull incredible performances out of his actors. It's something really special that is often overlooked in races like these. Quentin Tarantino really made an odd-duck movie like Inglourious Basterds work, a feat in and of itself, and he made it work brilliantly. Take it from someone who is not a Tarantino fan: he did good on this one. But truly, the best director of the year is unquestionably Kathryn Bigelow, who crafted one of the most interesting, intriguing, challenging war movies of all time, and removed politics from the equation to create something great. The fact that she's a woman only makes that better.

Best Actor
I didn't like many lead male performances this year. Most of them just felt a little too effortless to me, none moreso than George Clooney in Up in the Air. I think the Best Actor branch probably has the most performances that really don't deserve their nominations. I like to see actors work for their reward, as Brad Pitt did in Inglourious Basterds. I always forget that the megastar is actually a great comic actor, as proven by his instantly iconic Lieutenant Aldo Raine. Dramatic performances? Ehh... But comedically, Pitt's a stronger force than you (or I) realize. However, the truly incredible performance this year came from 32-year old Jeremy Renner, whose tour-de-force performance in The Hurt Locker truly elevated the work, and the work was pretty damn good to begin with. A movie like this doesn't really work unless the acting is naturalistic and effortless. Renner was.

Best Actress
This is truly the toughest category of them all. Gabourey Sidibe was a total knockout in Precious, creating such an intricate character with so few words. Performances like these wherein the actor has never had any experience but just goes for it are really fantastic. Still, the Ingenue of the Year award goes to Carey Mulligan, who made the precocious schoolgirl of An Education a deep and highly entertaining character. However, neither of the ingenues can beat the legend, as Meryl Streep had (once again) an incredible year filled with box office success, awards buzz, and love from almost every major media outlet. Her performance as Julia Child in Julie & Julia is a treat the likes of the pastries Julia creates, as she imbues the chef with a goose-honk laugh and a love for life that cannot be quashed. The movie may have faltered at points, but this performance was top-shelf.

Best Supporting Actor
Not big on this category this year, either. There was some good supporting acting done, but the Academy is likely to nominate the wrong performances. To wit: I hate when a great actor gets nominated for the wrong performance, as so happened with Leonardo DiCaprio two years ago for Blood Diamond over The Departed, and as will happen this year for Stanley Tucci, as he gets nominated for The Lovely Bones over Julie & Julia. That error can be chalked up to the Academy's tendency to love over-the-top performances more than their subtle counterparts, but as Julia Child's ever-devoted husband, Tucci was truly sublime. Alfred Molina had a lot of awards buzz early for his priceless role as An Education's fussy father, full of comic relief and dramatic exposition, but the buzz simply didn't pan out. Thank goodness, then, that Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds' evil genius Colonel Hans Landa, is locked to win this year's Oscar, because his performance was indelible and incredible. He was the one, along with Tarantino, who made the crazy concept and execution work.

Best Supporting Actress
Unlike the male counterpart category, the Oscars are actually going to get this category right. Anna Kendrick is brilliant as corporate chipmunk Natalie Keener in Up in the Air. Her breakdown scene is sure to be an instant classic, and she is as quotable ("I type with purpose;" "I don't want to sound anti-feminist; I mean, I really respect everything your generation did for me") as any soundbite-spewing star of a fratboy comedy. (Side note: anyone heard from Seth Rogen lately? Jonah Hill? No? Oh, I guess everyone's okay with Zach Galifinakis for now. For now.) Emily Blunt won't be recognized for her strong work in the quirky Sunshine Cleaning, but it is a little off-brand for them: she's not abusing her child or breaking down in tears randomly, after all. Still, the performance of the year, in ANY category, belongs to the absolutely incredible Mo'Nique. Never again should anyone consider this comedienne a lightweight: her performance in Precious is dynamic, intriguing, challenging, difficult to watch, but incredibly rewarding. I'm trying to remember a performance I liked more in the past decade, and I'm pretty sure there isn't one.

So those were my choices. What were yours? Think I'm a little too high on Mo'Nique? Anyone I should have acknowledged in the sparse Best Actor category? Leave your comments below!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Basterds Who Matter

Acting's for lightweights, anyway. The real creative process happens behind the scenes. These are the people that make the movie. These are the writers and directors.

Incidentally, these three categories are the most maddening of any (save the technical categories). Sometimes they take ugly turns: Jason Reitman's Best Director nomination for Juno despite the fact that he actually did very little for that movie, for example. Worse even is how glorified the directors' race has become compared to the undervalued, unappreciated screenplay races. (Yes, I'm biased, but I'd like to think my humanistic side would be offended at the uneven appreciation of work even if I was a director instead of a writer. Probably not.)

At any rate, the Best Director race is usually a strong indicator of the Best Picture race. Usually. With ten nominees, there's little chance that a Best Picture candidate's director won't also be nominated for Best Picture, so go ahead and throw that theory out the window. Also throw out all your predispositions that the Best Director field is only for stodgy old white men: this year is changing that (thank God). As I've mentioned, the Best Original Screenplay category is my Achilles' Heel, while I can usually get the Best Adapted Screenplay category right-on. All that said, let's take a look at the guys and gals vying for Academy voters' hearts from behind the scenes.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Lee Daniels, Precious

Hit or Miss! Lone Scherfig, An Education

This is the newly-announced Directors' Guild of America lineup, and it looks like our lineup for the Oscars as well.

Bigelow is poised to become the fourth woman nominated for this honor and the first to win, and if there's any justice in this world, that's exactly what will happen. Her direction is what made The Hurt Locker the awards contender it is. Yes, the ensemble was impressive, and yes, the script was strong, but make no mistake: Bigelow's eagle eye for making less than fifty days on a bomb squad during the Iraq War a story for the ages is what really put it over the top.

Cameron, a former winner here for Titanic (and, ironically, ex-husband of Bigelow), is his former wife's greatest competition. He's surely an innovative and impressive filmmaker, and he has a talent for turning the idea of film on its head, but I have a serious problem with his directorial effort this time around: it's good, but not at the caliber it should have been. The writing was an absolute catastrophe, and there wasn't much plot actually needed. The whole thing reeked of "Hey, look, strange blue monkeys!"-style distraction. Don't you dare criticize the paper-thin plot, because his technological advances and directorial eye were incredible. Yes, indeed they were. But this film has been the product of 12 years worth of labor. He couldn't have gotten together better than a ramshackles for a script? This category may not directly be about writing, but he should've done better in that respect. If he had, who knows what all this movie could have won?

Boys and girls, I worry about Tarantino's health. Yes, he's an incredible director, but what kind of mind could come up with Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds? A sick one, that's what. He should ably score his second nomination in this category this year, but the man's so controversial a win would be even more upsetting than a loss.

I probably undervalue Reitman's shot at a nod: the Academy clearly loves him, after all (see: the aforementioned, arguably undeserved Juno nod). I just can't shake the feeling that Reitman just isn't a good guy (there IS a stack of evidence mounting against him), and being a jerk can really cost not only you but your film in this race. (Hi, David Fincher! How's life been since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tanked against Slumdog Millionaire?) He'll probably still scrape the nod, though he's probably as vulnerable as Daniels is to Clint Eastwood.

I've moved Daniels back onto the shortlist, but that's not saying much for how his chances have gotten better rather than how the others have as a group suffered, no more than Clint Eastwood. For some reason, his film Invictus just isn't setting the world on fire quite as it should have (seriously, could this thing have screamed "INSPIRATION" any louder if it tried?), and as a result, he's suffered. So Daniels is the beneficiary...for now. I still don't feel good about his chances.

What to make of Scherfig? Since Jane Campion's Bright Star fell out of favor with the precursors despite solid reviews, the former Best Director nominee (one of only three women ever) isn't likely to make it back into the big race, so Scherfig is really the only shot at another female in this race. I said long ago that there would be no more than two minority candidates in this race, so if Scherfig makes it in, it's bye-bye, Daniels. Still, he's got no worry from her. This is as hit-or-miss as Hit or Miss! gets, emphasis on the Miss!

Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Bob Peterson, Up
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

Hit or Miss! Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated

Boal is set. His nomination is as guaranteed as some of the most secure wins. Probably Tarantino, too, but like I said up at director, the man worries me. Neustader and Weber have a very small movie, which could spell trouble, but critical sentiment is with them. If they lose out to anybody, it'll be to Hit and Miss! Meyers, because their movies are both romantic comedies. Peterson and the brothers Coen probably are safe here, but I have some serious concerns with both of their films being a little too niche for this branch. Then again, Pixar has never had problems getting nods in this category, and the Coens were basically born for this category (though their snub for Burn After Reading last year still stings), so we'll see if I'm right to have stayed with this lineup for so long. (Spoiler? District 9's intriguing script.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Damien Paul, Precious
Nick Hornby, An Education
Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia
Anthony Peckham, Invictus

Hit or Miss! Various Authors, In the Loop

The Hit or Miss! pick in this category was a ridiculously small movie (OUT ON DVD, HINT HINT) that had a great script, but I'm afraid the buzz is a little shallow. Otherwise, I feel really good about each of these picks. Reitman and Turner, Paul, Hornby, and Ephron shouldn't really have much trouble, but Peckham might be a victim of Invictus' recent downturn in popular support. We'll see how it turns out, and if I was right to be so confident. Maybe this year, Adapted will be my folly and Original will be my out-of-the-park home run. Anything could happen in these screwball categories.

So there's the new picks. Sorry about the brevity in the screenplay categories: nothing's really changed, and I don't know a lot about the writers, so I didn't have a lot of new perspective. What do you guys think? Any script I overlooked? Will we really see two minority directors in one year? Head to the comments!