Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Academy Award populism pays off, sort of

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2010 at 3:03 PM

click to enlarge 'Hurt Locker' blows up at Oscars
  • 'Hurt Locker' blows up at Oscars

The unusual thing about the 82nd Academy Award nominees is that for the first time since 1943, there are 10 nominees for Best Picture: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up and Up in the Air. When AMPAS President Sid Ganis made the announcement last summer, he said, "Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize." The decision seems to reflect both flagging ratings for the annual Oscar broadcast and annoyance that such popular films as The Dark Knight and WALL-E were shut-out in favor of less familiar fare.

Ironically, they needn't have bothered expanding the category, since 2009's most financially successful film,the $2 billion-grossing Avatar, is one of the front-runners and would certainly have cracked the top five this year. Avatar ties with The Hurt Locker for the most nominations, with nine apiece, setting up a David-vs.-Goliath - or maybe Kramer vs. Kramer - competition between divorced directors James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner received an unexpected Best Actor nomination, and The Hurt Locker beat Avatar for the Producer's Guild Association Best Picture award, suggesting that it'll be competitive in its categories. Seeing as its grossed about 1/100th what Avatar has, it may be a long shot to win.

If the Academy Award wanted its Best Pictures to look more like the People's Choice Awards, the end results are mixed. Popular pics like Star Trek and The Hangover were considered contenders, having picked up screenplay and best picture nominations in awards from earlier in the season, but were shut out. I swear I totally saw The Blind Side's nomination coming -- it's earned $237 million, and Best Actress-to-be Sandra Bullock seems to be America's sweetheart again. Up is one of Pixar's most successful films, and now the studio's first to be nominated in the Best Picture category, rather than being relegated to Best Animated Feature.

I'm most pleased to see the nominations of An Education and The Coen Brothers' A Serious Man, two admirable films that barely made blips on the public consciousness, yet are exactly the kind of films that awards should single out. Of the 2009's two major films with South African settings, I'm  flabbergasted that Clint Eastwood's Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, was ignored in favor of District 9, an action-packed allegory for apartheid filled with alien "prawns" and weaponized "mech suits" like something out of, well, a James Cameron movie. Invictus, like other, more conventional Oscar-bait movies like Nine and The Lovely Bones, only received consolation prizes in various supporting actor categories.

P.S.: My snap-predictions for the winners in the six so-called major categories are: Avatar, Kathryn Bigelow, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique.

The 82nd Oscars, hosted by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, will be presented March 7 in a ceremony airing on ABC from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

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