Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Oscar Picks

I got a little sick, so I'm getting this out at the last second.

Given I haven't seen any of the shorts, I'll go ahead and skip those.

Best foreign language film:

Ajami (Israel)
El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Argentina)
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)
Un Prophète (France)
The White Ribbon (Germany)

I have yet to see any of these nominees either, but it seems like the run-up towards the Oscars have narrowed it down to two, Un Prophète and The White Ribbon. Haneke's German-language entry won the Golden Globe and he's the only filmmaker of the group with any large international recognition. However, I believe France's Un Prophète will pull the minor upset.

Best documentary feature:

Burma VJ - Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller
The Cove - Nominees to be determined
Food, Inc. - Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein
The Most Dangerous Man in America - Judith Ehrlich and Rich Goldsmith
Which Way Home - Rebecca Cammisa

I've only seen The Cove and I loved it. It would be interesting, given that the list from which I am copying this has "nominees to be determined", if the film would win, so who will walk up to accept? It seems to be the front runner, so I'll make that my choice, but I think Food, Inc. has a strong shot.

Achievement in makeup:

Il Divo - Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano
Star Trek - Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, and Joel Harlow
The Young Victoria - Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore

I've only seen Star Trek, but from what I know about the other films, I think it will win.

Achievement in costume design:

Bright Star - Janet Patterson
Coco Before Chanel Catherine Leterrier
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - Monique Prudhomme
Nine - Colleen Atwood
The Young Victoria - Sandy Powell

My guess here is The Young Victoria, which is the only one on this list I haven't seen. My personal choice would be Catherine Leterrier's work in Coco.

Achievement in sound editing:

Avatar - Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
The Hurt Locker - Paul N.J. Ottosson
Inglourious Basterds - Wylie Stateman
Star Trek - Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin
Up - Michael Silvers and Tom Myers

Achievement in sound mixing:

Avatar - Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, and Tony Johnson
The Hurt Locker - Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
Inglourious Basterds - Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, and Mark Ulano
Star Trek - Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson, and Peter J. Devlin
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, and Geoffrey Patterson

The sound categories are just one of groups of awards that will pit the two juggernauts of the night, The Hurt Locker and Avatar, against each other.

I think The Hurt Locker will win both and it should.

Achievement in visual effects:

Avatar - Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, and Andrew R. Jones
District 9 - Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros, and Matt Aitken
Star Trek - Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh, and Burt Dalton

Really? Avatar will and should win.

Achievement in art direction:

Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg
Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro
Set Decoration: Caroline Smith

Art Direction: John Myhre
Set Decoration: Gordon Sim

Sherlock Holmes
Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood
Set Decoration: Katie Spencer

The Young Victoria
Art Direction: Patrice Vermette
Set Decoration: Maggie Gray

Avatar will probably rack up a series of awards during the middle of the ceremony and this will likely be on of them.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score):

Avatar - James Horner
Fantastic Mr. Fox - Alexandre Desplat
The Hurt Locker - Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
Sherlock Holmes - Hans Zimmer
Up - Michael Giacchino

I'm leaning toward Horner and Avatar here, but my preference is Desplat and Fox.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song):

"Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog
Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

"Down in New Orleans" from The Princess and the Frog
Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

"Loin de Paname" from Paris 36
Music by Reinhardt Wagner
Lyric by Frank Thomas

"Take It All" from Nine
Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston

"The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from Crazy Heart
Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

"The Weary Kind" is probably not even the best song from Crazy Heart, but it will and should win this category.

Achievement in film editing:

Avatar - Stehen Rivkin, John Refoua, and James Cameron
District 9 - Julian Clarke
The Hurt Locker - Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
Inglourious Basterds - Sally Menke
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire - Joe Klotz

I think the scope of Avatar will win it this category, but I would vote for The Hurt Locker.

Achievement in cinematography:

Avatar - Mauro Fiore
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Bruno Delbonnel
The Hurt Locker - Barry Ackroyd
Inglourious Basterds - Robert Richardson
The White Ribbon - Christian Berger

I've only seen previews of The White Ribbon, but it looks like something the Academy would vote for. Outside of that, again I would go for The Hurt Locker.

Best animated feature film:

Coraline - Henry Selick
Fantastic Mr. Fox - Wes Anderson
The Princess and the Frog - John Musker and Ron Clements
The Secret of Kells - Tomm Moore
Up - Pete Docter

Pixar, with Up, will continue its domination in this award (it's even nominated for best picture this year!), my vote goes to Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Adapted screenplay:

District 9 - Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
An Education - Nick Hornby
In the Loop - Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire - Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air - Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Reitman and Turner for Up in the Air will win and should win. Fletcher's adaptation is likely the only competition.

Original screenplay:

The Hurt Locker - Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino
The Messenger - Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
A Serious Man - Joel and Ethan Coen
Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Tarantino will win and he should.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role:

Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

Waltz will and should win this award.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role:

Penélope Cruz - Nine
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Mo'Nique - Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

No question Mo'Nique will win this. She probably should, but my personal preference is Kendrick.

Performance by an actor in a leading role:

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

If I were a voter, this would be the hardest selection, as they're all pretty even in my eyes. I would probably vote for Firth, but I have no qualms with Bridges, who I'm predicting will win for Crazy Heart.

Performance by an actress in a leading role:

Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia

Maybe the tightest race tonight will be between Bullock and Streep. By a nose, I think Bullock has the momentum and will win her first oscar. My preference would go to Mulligan or Sidibe (and I'm still wondering why Abbie Cornish didn't get a nomination for Bright Star).

Achievement in directing:

James Cameron - Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels - Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Jason Reitman - Up in the Air

Kathryn Bigelow has to win, will win, and without question should win. And in doing so, the Academy will only marginally begin making amends for nearly 90 years of neglecting to give any woman the statue in this category.

Best motion picture:

The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Avatar looked to be the early favorite, but The Hurt Locker found a second wave of momentum. Then came Lockergate. I think The Hurt Locker still has the edge. I'd love Up in the Air to win, but it won't, so I'll be happy to see my second favorite movie of the year win.

Let me write down a line of glorious tone

No introduction, other than to say, "here you go":

10. Two Lovers

Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) lives with his parents in their New York apartment when he meets and becomes obsessed with the upstairs neighbor, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). In the meantime he begins a relationship with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of his father's potential business partner. James Gray's writing and three absolutely pitch-perfect performances by the three leads (as well as extremely well-cast supporting roles from Moni Moshonov, Isabella Rossellini, and Elias Koteas) override some of the traditional aspects of this love triangle story and turn it into the most emotionally present American drama of 2009.

9. Summer Hours

Olivier Assayas's French drama is the first of two foreign family dramas on this list--both of which center around family reunions. In short, the main thrust of the film revolves around the death of the family's matriarch and the question of what to do with both her large collection of expensive antiques/art and their old country house. But it's also a film about national identity and how our lives revolve around ceremony and the possession (and accumulation) of inanimate objects.

Greg Mottola's follow-up to 2007's Superbad may lack what that earlier film had in sheer belly laughs. But it makes up for it by being a more honest and realistic portrayal of post-grad languor than Superbad's farcical (albeit incredibly funny and entertaining) look at high school senioritis. Also, any movie that kind of makes me like Ryan Reynolds has accomplished what many have failed to do.

7. Inglourious Basterds

One part spaghetti western, one part The Dirty Dozen, one part revenge thriller, one part revisionist history. All parts Quentin Tarantino. The Basterds of the title actually figure little into the overall arc of the story (though the film ends with them). Instead it's the story of Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent), whose family was executed by Col. Hans Landa, "The Jew Hunter," (a great Christoph Waltz) in the brilliant--and unsettling--opening scene that serves as the driving force behind the film. What sometimes gets lost in all of the trademark pyrotechnics of Tarantino's mix of dialogue and violence is how strongly and precisely he writes for women. From Pulp Fiction to Jackie Brown, Kill Bill to Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds certainly continues in that mode.

Like Adventureland, Lone Scherfig's An Education is its own type of coming-of-age story, in that it's protagonist seems smarter than the world that immediately surrounds her (and knows it), yet there seems to be no way out. Jenny's emergence as a character matches Carey Mulligan's here as an actress. This is her coming out party.

5. Medicine for Melancholy

A lot has been made in recent years about the independent movement called Mumblecore. (The name itself has even been a point of contention.) What separates this particular entry into the movement from the others is that it gives you the view from the young black experience. What sometimes comes off as young twenty-somethings lamenting (or even reveling in) their own ennui in these films is, if not ignored, then pushed slightly to the margins as Jo and Micah (Tracey Heggins and Wyatt Cenac) spend the day together after a one-night stand. Instead it becomes an exploration of class, interracial and sexual politics, and even local (San Franciscan) culture and economics.

4. Bright Star

When John Keats teaches poetry to Fanny Brawne, he describes it as "an experience beyond thought." Director Jane Campion's visual approach seems to subscribe to that same philosophy. The beauty of the cinematography, set design, and art direction is sumptuous and perfectly accompanies the words of Keats, which we often hear either through his letters to Brawne when they are separated or in someone reciting his poetry. Like the brilliant Joe Wright adaptation of Pride & Prejudice a few years back, Bright Star is a period romance that doesn't feel at all like it came out of some distant past, but a living, breathing, fully alive story of two people working out what it means to fall in love.

3. Still Walking

Still Walking, where adult children and their families visit their elderly parents on the fifteenth anniversary of their eldest brother's death, exists as a sort of new millennium companion to Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu's 1953 masterpiece). And like Hirokazu Kore-eda's previous and devastating Nobody Knows (which made my 2005 top ten), it's quiet and soulful. It's spare and empty in the ways many of its characters feel. But it's more than simply a family drama. It deals with issues of unfulfilled promises and personal repression. It tackles issues of aging and masculinity. It fits in a lot of humanity within the confines of the parents' tiny box of a home.

My top two exist in a virtual tie, so I rank them according to personal preference, the one to which I had a more purely emotional response. For that is the only way I can make the distinction between what I feel are the two best films of 2009:

2. The Hurt Locker

At its core--and this might be particularly reductive--cinema is a visceral experience. And no movie immerses you in its world so fully than Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war drama, The Hurt Locker. From the moment Staff Sergeant Will James (Jeremy Renner) takes over the Bravo Company's Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit, it is clear that he is won't handle things predictably (to the dismay of Sgt. J.T. Sanborn--played by a great Anthony Mackie). And it is that tense unpredictability of war, of being out in the field, that Bigelow unfolds her craft masterfully. What is also distinguishable about the film and Mark Boal's terrific screenplay is how it completely eschews all of the divisive politics that have dominated not only the rhetoric of the war itself, but of the sub-genre of these recent Iraq war films. It is a pinhole, a focused look at simply the soldiers and the physical and psychological bludgeoning they take at battle.

1. Up in the Air

I've already written about this movie at length (too much length probably), so I won't expound too much here. Yesterday, I had a discussion with a close friend about, among other things, love and relationships. I won't go into my deliriously fucked-up point-of-view on the subject--my sometimes alternating, pendulum-like philosophy. But what I will say is that it's rare for a film to take a serious and honest (and without condescension) look at a character whose own philosophy on the subject doesn't necessarily conform to ideas of what they should be. If I'm being frustratingly vague here, I don't want to spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it. Nor do I want to engage in a bit of self-indulgent narcissism. So as I said above--and shoving complete objectivity aside--this is a purely emotional response. 2009 was, in my opinion, a great year for movies, but Jason Reitman's film is the one that will live with me the longest.