Sunday, March 07, 2010

If I were an AMPAS voter

I've been on a bit of a binge of DVD buying and DVD watching over the past few weeks, and have now seen nearly all of this year's Oscar-nominated films.

With the awards ceremony about to take place tonight (well, tomorrow morning here in Beijing - I wonder if I'll be able to watch it online?), there is, as always, a gathering sense of dread that the event will be marred by unjust omissions and some lame choices of winners by the American Academy's voters.

Here's who I think should win:

Best Original Screenplay
This clearly ought to go to Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds, and there is quite a history of using this category as a consolation prize for the sort of film that is too unusual or 'challenging' to get recognition as Best Picture; but if the Academy is really down on Quentin (and I suspect they are), they might just possibly give it to the Coen brothers instead, to try to prove that they are open to the quirky and the experimental (just not when Quentin's doing it). If they give it to Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker (and I'm betting that they will), that will be a travesty: the script is the least impressive element of a very, very overrated film.

Best Adapted Screenplay
For my money, it ought to be An Education; but I suspect it may go to Precious instead, because that has more harrowing and 'worthy' subject matter and - for American voters - a more familiar setting. I suppose I'd be happy enough to see it go to any of the other three nominees too - In The Loop, District 9, Up In The Air; it's a very strong category this year.

Best Supporting Actress
Well, I'd give it to Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart; but I suspect Mo'nique's more showy turn as the abusive mother in Precious may steal it. I haven't yet seen Penelope Cruz in Nine, but I expect that she is, as usual, stunning in it (though it may count against her that she won in this category just last year). I hear there's a lot of buzz around Vera Farmiga for Up In The Air: that wouldn't be a bad choice, either; although she may suffer from the 'split vote' phenomenon, since Anna Kendrick is nominated for the same film. [I thought Rosamund Pike's glamorous bimbo in An Education deserved a nomination; a very subtle, very funny performance.]

Best Supporting Actor
An exceptionally strong field this year, probably more so than any of the other acting categories (and they're all pretty strong this time around), but, if there's any justice, the award should go to Christoph Waltz for his superb performance as the Nazi colonel in Inglourious Basterds (although I contend that he should have been nominated for, and won the Best Actor category). Sentimental oafs that the Oscar voters are, though, there must be a danger that they'll give it instead to Christopher Plummer for The Last Station as a kind of 'lifetime achievement award'. [If Waltz had been properly recognised as an actor in a leading role, it would have left room in this category for Alfred Molina, whose performance as the blustering father in An Education certainly deserved at least a nomination.]

Best Actress
The Last Station is another of those I haven't seen yet, but Helen Mirren is overdue for an award and her performances are almost always deserving of one. However, Carey Mulligan is also quite brilliant in An Education. There seems to be an awful lot of buzz about Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side: OK, I haven't seen that one, but.... it's hard to imagine. It sounds suspiciously like another case of the Oscar voters getting inappropriately sentimental, wanting to reward someone for a long career of "America's sweetheart" roles rather than this film in particular (presumably Ms Bullock is being forced to graduate into more dramatic fare at last by the rise of Jennifer Aniston in the rom-com arena). Now, I like Sandra Bullock well enough, but I don't believe she has great range as an actress; and even if she proves me wrong on that in this role, I'm prepared to bet that the performance still isn't in the same class as Helen Mirren's or Carey Mulligan's. [I've now watched The Blind Side, and Sandra Bullock is pretty good in it. It's a meaty, well-written part, but a lot of it depends on the strong accent (which, to me, doesn't seem completely consistent, and doesn't sound like anyone I know from Tennessee); and I can't help thinking that people are just impressed to see her taking on a serious dramatic role for a change.]

Best Actor
This will almost certainly go to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, because a) he's long overdue for an Oscar (after inexplicably failing time and again even to get nominated for his great performances in films like The Fabulous Baker Boys, Tucker - The Man And His Dream, The Fisher King or The Big Lebowski), and b) roles as Country & Western singers always seem to win Oscars. So, it might be a case of the Academy making the right choice for the wrong reasons: Jeff would probably have won for this, even if he were terrible in it (he isn't, of course). Jeremy Renner is buoyed up by the tsunami of enthusiasm for The Hurt Locker, but I can't quite see him winning it: he gives a decent enough performance, but there's not a great deal of range in it; he doesn't have to do much except look quietly determined throughout, and much of the time he's doing that inside a bomb-proof helmet, so you can't really see him anyway. However, you have to figure that the mere concept of Morgan Freedman as Nelson Mandela (in Invictus) will get Academy voters' juices flowing. I have a sneaking fear that poor old Jeff might end up a bridesmaid again. [The conspicuous, shameful omission here was Sharlto Copley in District 9: a truly remarkable performance, streets better than Renner's, Firth's or Clooney's. Apparently, American audiences struggled with his South African accent!]

Best Director
This should go to Quentin Tarantino - who, even if you don't like him, you have to admit is doing things with more wit and flair and style, more of a personal vision than anyone else out there. However, it seems almost certain that Kathryn Bigelow will take the award for The Hurt Locker. Yes, it's high time a woman was honoured in this category. And yes, she's very good. But not for this film. And not over Tarantino.

Best Picture
This, of course, is going to go to The Hurt Locker (or Avatar). Almost any of the other nominated films (except Avatar) would be more deserving. Inglourious Basterds would be a bold, surprising choice - but the Academy is seldom bold, and almost never surprising in a good way: if they didn't give an Oscar to Pulp Fiction, they're not going to give one to Basterds (even the title works against it: no swearing for Middle America, please!). My vote would go to Lone Scherfig's An Education - a 'small' film, but beautifully executed and perfectly played: it has the vibrancy and charm of Roman Holiday, but with darker, more serious themes. It's very, very rare that I reach the end of a film and a) can't think of a single thing about it that could be improved; b) feel that I could watch it again tomorrow. Some time ago, I suggested that a ten-year delay in deciding on Best Picture awards would offer a more telling perspective and result in better choices. I think people will still be watching An Education in ten years' time, eagerly looking forward to it every time it comes around on TV. Cinema nerds will be enjoying Inglourious Basterds for years to come. Before long, I predict, The Hurt Locker (and, please god, Avatar) will be pretty much forgotten.

I haven't seen all of the films nominated for Best Animated Feature, but it seems overwhelmingly likely (since it also got a Best Picture nomination) that Up will win. My preference would have been for Fantastic Mr Fox or Coraline.

I could stand to see The Hurt Locker take the Best Cinematography Award for Barry Ackroyd, although I'd rather it went to Robert Richardson for Inglourious Basterds or Christian Berger for The White Ribbon.

I really, really hope that District 9 beats out Avatar for Best Visual Effects, though that is perhaps unlikely - Oscar voters will rally behind the hometown boy. To my mind, the aliens in District 9 are far more convincingly realised than those in Avatar (and the vaunted 'performance capture' technique used to animate the Na'vi's faces - well, it might have been done better than before, but it's not new).

Frankly, I hope Avatar leaves without a single award. It is a triumph of budget over intelligence, and a very bad marker for the future direction of the industry. A preposterous story, dismally badly written, and bombastically executed - "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". It fully deserves the kind of comprehensive spurning meted out to The Color Purple.


stuart said...

Great comments, Froog.

THL traded at 6/4 for best picture as the drama (a disappointing show I thought overall) unfolded!

Froog said...

Hmm, maybe I should have placed some bets. Don't have an online account, alas. (Wasn't able to find any way of watching it either. CCTV is wall-to-wall NPC and CCPCC coverage.)

It looks like I managed to call every single category - though maybe it wasn't that hard this year. But if the bookies were still offering odds....

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Avatar won a bunch of technical awards (including Cinematography... that's probably the most controversial one), including the one for Visual Effects which I felt would have been better deserved by District 9 (working on about a tenth of the budget!).

I was VERY disappointed, though again not surprised, that Quentin Tarantino missed out on his deserved award for the Inglourious Basterds script. (I saw one online poll that gave him over 70% of the votes in this category [though it also gave Avatar a big lead in almost everything else], so it appears that the Academy was particularly divorced from 'public opinion' on this one.)

I couldn't say that the female acting awards were undeserved. But I do still feel that Sandra Bullock was perhaps being rewarded for the part (an exceptionally strong and well-written role) as much as for her performance. And, perhaps, for the inspiring real-life personality on which it was based. And because it was in the right kind of film: a very well-crafted feelgood picture (that wasn't quite edgy enough to win consideration in any other category: there's an awful lot of trying to make sure that every worthwhile film wins something at the Oscars; hence the Academy voters thinking they'd done right by Inglourious Basterds with the Best Supporting statuette for Christoph Waltz). And it was a very pleasant surprise to discover that she can tackle such a substantial part. But I still feel that Carey Mulligan or Helen Mirren (or indeed Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose part in Crazy Heart is large enough to be considered a lead) would have been even worthier winners.

I was unsurprised - but a little relieved - to see the male acting awards deservedly go to Christoph Waltz and Jeff Bridges.

It is a disgrace that the marvellous An Education came away with nothing. But non-American films rarely make much of an impact. I don't suppose it did very good box office business in the States. And it probably didn't have much of a lobbying budget behind it in the run-up to the Oscar voting. Mark my words, though: in 5 or 10 (or 20) years' time, this will be one of the few 2009 releases that people still remember.

The British Cowboy said...

OK - I am a big Tarantino fan, and I will confess that I have not yet seen IB (still sitting in shrink wrap because of work)...

But, Tarantino in general may have a "personal vision" but he is also derivative as all hell. I don't know if you should give Oscars to people who spend their whole career doing homage to others.

Froog said...

I have no problem with homage if it's done that well. Cinema always has been a very referential medium, and after a hundred years or more, there isn't much that hasn't already been done.... many, many times before. And you still need the intelligence to incorporate it into your story and to make it work. I often find De Palma's Hitchcock pastiches to be a bit laboured or gratuitous; Tarantino's borrowings are always integral to the plot - to the point where you scarcely notice them (there's a lot of Sergio Leone in Basterds, but it's not distracting).

I don't think Basterds is Tarantino's best work, and I wouldn't have given it Best Picture. It's overlong, wildly self-indulgent, and uncomfortably uneven in tone (although I suppose he'd say this is just what he was aiming for: it's kind of like those WWII comic books we used to read as kids - extreme moral bleakness and ultra-violence set in a jokey fantasy milieu). But it's the only one of the major awards contenders that is just, well, dazzling in its direction and its script. I don't think there was any competition in those two categories.

Froog said...

You're not going to stand up to defend Avatar, are you, Cowboy?

I know you're a big fan of Star Wars, and Avatar fits into a similar niche: overblown (and plausibility-free) spectacle.

gary said...

Way to go, Froog - you really did call every award.

I didn't see An Education yet. I agree Avatar sucked and Hurt Locker's overrated. I thought The Blind Side, Up In The Air and Precious all had better claims to the Oscar.

The British Cowboy said...

Not going to defend Avatar at all. I haven't seen it, and have no real interest in it. From what I hear, I can rent Pochontas, smoke some weed, and get the same experience in 90 minutes rather than 180.

I too have no problem with well done homage. I'm just not sure you get an Oscar for it. I think Pulp Fiction was robbed of Best Picture, but then again so was Shawshank... Forrest Gump, really?

Star Wars is classic homage anyway. It's a really well done Western.

The British Cowboy said...

The only nominated films I have seen this year are Up, which was wonderful in a lot of ways, and District 9, which was staggering. I am looking forward to IB, which I have at home, and will watch the Hurt Locker.

Froog said...

You'll enjoy Basterds, I'm sure, Cowboy. And probably Crazy Heart too, since you're such a C&W fan (very slight story, but Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal are superb in it - and it has cameos from Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell!). I'll be interested to know what you make of The Hurt Locker.

Froog said...

Ha! My word verification was just menall. Sadly appropriate!

Time was when the majority of my followers on here were ladies, but they all seem to have deserted me, or at least to have lapsed from the commenting habit.

JES said...

Well-called, indeed.

I do worry a bit about you in one respect when it comes to movies: you do take them so seriously -- almost to the point where you cease absorption in them, even enjoyment of them, because that busy brain is caught up in evaluation. Surely (I think to myself) someone who curates a blog about the consumption of alcoholic beverages can relax and just enjoy pop culture -- let it wash over him, as it were. But movies really seem to call forth the passionate academic in you.

Is that true, do you think? Or, thinking back over the films you've seen in the last couple of years, are there any that you recall along the lines of: That was SUCH a goofy shot-full-of-holes mish-mash that I can't explain quite why, but ye GODS did I have a great time watching it -- I don't even care how messy it was!

I think the word-verif is pointing me towards Mr. Bridges next: crazi.

Froog said...

Oh, I think I surrender to the experience at the time, JES; the evaluation at the time is sub-conscious (and probably more emotional than intellectual) - unless the film is really obtrusively bad. Deeper analysis only comes with later reflection.

Tarantino's a good example: at the time, you just enjoy his films - somewhat guiltily - as a romp; it's only afterwards you start to really appreciate how clever they are.