I don’t have a whole lot to say about this year’s nominees that I haven’t already said in the current Kindlings Muse podcast or in the Academy Awards forum at the Arts & Faith discussion board (which will be hosting a live chat during the ceremony, incidentally, so feel free to join in).
But — to repeat something that I wrote in an e-mail to a couple of discussion lists over a month ago — I think Best Picture will probably go to either The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds (my review).
That’s right, I don’t think Avatar‘s chances are very good. And here’s why:
First, it wasn’t nominated for its screenplay or for any of its actors, and you have to go all the way back to the earliest days of the Academy Awards — all the way back to 1932’s Grand Hotel, in fact — to find a film that won Best Picture without having nominations in either of those departments.
Second, it’s science-fiction, a genre that the Academy is not particularly fond of. In fact, it is one of only five sci-fi movies that have ever been nominated for Best Picture — along with 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, 1977’s Star Wars, 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and this year’s District 9 — and none of the other films have won.
Third, it has too much money. In my lifetime, pretty much all of the films that conquered the all-time box-office chart have been nominated for Best Picture, but almost none of them have won — partly, I suspect, because they were perceived as mere genre fare, whether they were sci-fi flicks like Star Wars and E.T. or horror movies like 1975’s Jaws. The one major exception to this rule is 1997’s Titanic, which had just a whiff of “historical epic” about it, enough to win the Academy’s respect at any rate.
In contrast, the one major hurdle that The Hurt Locker has to face is that it might not have made enough money to feel like Best Picture material to the Academy. The film has been scooping up awards left, right and centre over the past few months, so it would seem to have all the momentum working in its favour — but if it does win Best Picture, then it will be the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in my lifetime, by far, and quite possibly the least-seen Best Picture winner in the history of the awards.
Of course, commercial considerations shouldn’t play any part at all when judging a movie’s artistic merit; but the Oscars are handed out by the industry, not by critics, so the film’s tepid performance at the box office is not an irrelevant factor. Hence, there are some people, such as myself, who think that Inglourious Basterds stands a chance of sneaking in there and taking the top prize when the envelopes are opened tonight.
But of course, anything is possible, even more so this year than in previous years. There are ten nominees for Best Picture, not five, and the voters are using a new “preferential voting” system that allows them to name a second, third, fourth, etc. choice if their first pick doesn’t win on the first ballot. So the winner this year will not necessarily be the film with the most passionate following, but the film that has the broadest support within the Academy. All the old rules of thumb may go out the window. Or not. We shall see.
One last thought, before I post my annual list of all the Oscar nominated films: As an animation buff, I am intrigued by the fact that only one of the five Best Animated Feature nominees this year — namely Pixar’s Up — is a completely computer-generated movie. Two of the remaining nominees are old-fashioned, hand-drawn exercises, and two are stop-motion. That’s pretty cool.
And now, without further ado, here are the films that have been nominated for this year’s Oscars, ranked from those with the most nominations to those with only one. The titles of those I have seen are in bold:
- Avatar — Picture, director (James Cameron), cinematography, film editing, art direction, original score, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects
- The Hurt Locker — Picture, director (Kathryn Bigelow), original screenplay, cinematography, film editing, actor (Jeremy Renner), original score, sound editing, sound mixing
- Inglourious Basterds — Picture, director (Quentin Tarantino), original screenplay, cinematography, film editing, supporting actor (Christoph Waltz), sound editing, sound mixing
- Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire — Picture, director (Lee Daniels), adapted screenplay, film editing, actress (Gabourey Sidibe), supporting actress (Mo’Nique)
6 nominations in 5 categories:
- Up in the Air — Picture, director (Jason Reitman), adapted screenplay, actor (George Clooney), supporting actress (Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick)
- Up — Picture, animated feature, original screenplay, original score, sound editing
- District 9 — Picture, adapted screenplay, film editing, visual effects
- Nine — Supporting actress (Penelope Cruz), art direction, costume design, original song
- Star Trek — Makeup, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects
- Crazy Heart — Actor (Jeff Bridges), supporting actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal), original song
- An Education — Picture, adapted screenplay, actress (Carey Mulligan)
- The Young Victoria — Art direction, costume design, makeup
3 nominations in 2 categories:
- The Princess and the Frog — Animated feature, original song (x2)
- The Blind Side — Picture, actress (Sandra Bullock)
- Fantastic Mr. Fox — Animated feature, original score
- The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus — Art direction, costume design
- Invictus — Actor (Morgan Freeman), supporting actor (Matt Damon)
- The Last Station — Actress (Helen Mirren), supporting actor (Christopher Plummer)
- The Messenger — Original screenplay, supporting actor (Woody Harrelson)
- A Serious Man — Picture, original screenplay
- Sherlock Holmes — Art direction, original score
- The White Ribbon — Foreign language film, cinematography
- Ajami — Foreign language film
- Bright Star — Costume design
- Burma VJ — Documentary feature
- China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province — Documentary short subject
- Coco before Chanel — Costume design
- Coraline — Animated feature
- The Cove — Documentary feature
- The Door — live action short film
- El Secreto de Sus Ojos — Foreign language film
- Food, Inc. — Documentary feature
- French Roast — Animated short film
- Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty — Animated short film
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — Cinematography
- Il Divo — Makeup
- In the Loop — Adapted screenplay
- Instead of Abracadabra — live action short film
- Julie & Julia — Actress (Meryl Streep)
- Kavi — live action short film
- The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte) — Animated short film
- The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner — Documentary short subject
- The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant — Documentary short subject
- Logorama — Animated short film
- The Lovely Bones — Supporting actor (Stanley Tucci)
- A Matter of Loaf and Death — Animated short film
- The Milk of Sorrow — Foreign language film
- Miracle Fish — live action short film
- The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers — Documentary feature
- Music by Prudence — Documentary short subject
- The New Tenants — live action short film
- Paris 36 — Original song
- Rabbit à la Berlin — Documentary short subject
- The Secret of Kells — Animated feature
- A Single Man — Actor (Colin Firth)
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen — Sound mixing
- Un Prophète — Foreign language film
- Which Way Home — Documentary feature