History Repeating: My Take On The Oscars


     With the Academy Awards telecast fast approaching, I figured I would chime in with a few thoughts on some of the categories.  This year’s version will highlight 10 competing films in the Best Picture category for the first time since 1939.  The two frontrunners in the Best Picture category couldn’t be any more different with the highest grossing film of all time going against the lowest grossing Best Picture nominee ever.  Again, another first.  Two of my favorite directors are nominated in numerous categories this year, which makes this one a must see for me.  So, let’s take a look at some of the categories and I’ll share my picks and I’ll also try to predict who will actually win.


Visual Effects


The Nominees:  Avatar, District 9, & Star Trek


     The role visual effects plays in movies today cannot be understated.  To narrow a list of nominations to just 3 films is certainly a tough task, but one which is done each year.  All three of these films dazzled in their own way.  Star Trek reenergized the aging franchise and created a new legion of fans from our current generation.  Winning in this category would certainly be appropriate recognition since Star Trek is only nominated in technical categories.  District 9 seamlessly integrates live action and CGI to create a life like world in which an alien species lives amongst humans in South Africa.  Unlike many previous films, you never really get the feeling you are watching something computer generated.  The best I have seen this done was with Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  I look at District 9 and I think they have effectively inserted hundreds of “Gollums” into the film.  Of course, then there is Avatar.  In any other year, the other two nominated films may have had a chance, but James Cameron and company have taken motion capture to a whole other level.  I swore the Na’vi were real and the interaction with the human characters and most importantly the environments they are acting in is just superb.  We won’t see another film gross over $700 million dollars for a very long time, just like we will not see a film raise the visual effects bar to this level again, unless James Cameron does it.


My Pick:  Avatar    The Winner Will Be:  Avatar


Film Editing


The Nominees:  Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious


     I love the editing process.  There is nothing better than when all the hard work in filming a project comes together during post production.  Obviously, performance and direction are important, but editing is where the tension and suspense in a film is created.  The editor must wait for that precise moment to hit the audience, but only give them what they need to see or what they thought they saw.  This is a category where the winner many times will go on to win Best Picture, so the stakes are always high.  For years, I’ve loved Sally Menke’s editing style as she has been the film editor for Quentin Tarantino and all of his best films.  I’d love to say the inside track would then go to Inglourious Basterds, but this race is between Avatar and The Hurt Locker.

My Pick:  Inglourious Basterds      The Winner Will Be:  The Hurt Locker



Writing - Original Screenplay


The Nominees:  The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The Messenger,

                          A Serious Man, Up


     A trend I’ve noticed in this category is the winner is usually getting somewhat of a consolation prize for its Best Picture nomination and loss.  Lets say The Hurt Locker is looked at as not necessarily dialogue driven and Up will get its prize in the Animated Film category, that leaves Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man.  Tarantino versus the Cohen brothers.  The Cohens again have created rich and memorable characters, but Tarantino’s mix of characters speaking in four different languages and his daring to literally rewrite World War 2’s history means he gets the edge in this category.


My Pick:  Inglourious Basterds    The Winner Will Be:  Inglourious Basterds


Writing - Adapted Screenplay


The Nominees:  District 9, An Education, In the Loop, Precious, Up in the Air


     District 9 certainly deserves kudos here.  The story and the dialogue are certainly unlike anything I have ever seen.  I mean, think about it.  This is an adapted screenplay.  The writers, Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell had to actually write a language for the aliens to speak and in doing so needed to come up with human dialogue to answer them.  The story certainly takes more of a “Hollywood Ending” approach, but what gets us there is truly remarkable.  On the other side, Up in the Air is just a great screenplay performed by great actors.  Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner have really outdone themselves.  Whereas I mentioned these writing categories tend to be consolation prizes for Best Picture losses, I see no exception here.  Up in the Air will not win Best Picture, but it will take home this Oscar.


My Pick:  Up in the Air    The Winner Will Be:  Up in the Air


Directing


The Nominees:  Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air


     Though this category doesn’t always predict which film wins Best Picture, it normally does and this years nominees present a level of competition I haven’t seen in years.  Starting at the top, James Cameron versus Katherine Bigelow.  I’ve admired both throughout their respective careers, though its no secret Cameron is my all time favorite director, so I’ll try to be objective here.  In one case, you have Bigelow who is the first director to make an effective war movie based on the Iraq War.  Since that war is still going on, previous films of this subject matter really didn’t get noticed.  It’s as if they turn people off.  Interestingly enough, The Hurt Locker is the lowest grossing film ever to be nominated for Best Picture, so maybe these films are still turning people off.  Certainly, The Hurt Locker hasn’t turned off critics and awards voters and Bigelow’s presence in this category makes her a sure fire contender.  She directed Jeremy Renner to a Best Actor nomination and has led the field in nearly all of the major awards shows leading up to the Oscars.  If my money were on one of these two front runners, it would be on Bigelow.  Conversely, it is now time for me to become subjective.  James Cameron has created a masterpiece with Avatar.  From scratch, he has created a completely new world, a new ecosystem, new life, new characters and had to invent the technology to do it.  Whereas war films are nothing new, Avatar is fresh and has literally captivated the entire world.  If Cameron wasn’t “king of the world” after Titanic, he certainly is now.  Yes, Cameron should be the winner here.  Who is the dark horse?  Well, there happens to be a previous nominee in this category by the name of Quentin Tarantino.  Heard of him?


My Pick:  James Cameron        The Winner Will Be: Kathryn Bigelow


Best Picture


The Nominees:  Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air


     Well that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?  Ten nominees in all.  I disagree with the Academy on this one.  Snubs are a part of life and choosing ten Best Picture nominees this year is just crazy.  As I figured when I heard this nonsense, it is not difficult to determine which five are the “happy to be here” nominations and which five are the “serious” contenders.  Therefore, I will give Honorable Mention to The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, A Serious Man, and Up.  The serious contenders match the Directing category, which is typically the case, and this year is no different.  Cutting to the chase, I will tell you this is a two film race similar to the directing category.  Avatar versus The Hurt Locker.  David versus Goliath.  Use whatever comparison you like, one of these two will be announced as Best Picture on Oscar night.  Though Inglourious Basterds and Up in the Air are “A+” type films, The Hurt Locker and Avatar are just a notch above.  So which will win?  I think this year, the Directing and Picture categories won’t match, if that’s a hint.


My Pick:  Avatar    The Winner Will Be:  Avatar


The Other Notable Catgories


Best Actor:  Jeff Bridges wins in a landslide.

Supporting Actor:  Christoph Waltz takes this one easily.

Best Actress:  Sandra Bullock seems to have the inside track.

Supporting Actress:  Mo’Nique is the industry favorite.

Animated Film:  “Up” gets a consolation prize here.

Art Direction:  “Avatar”

Cinematography:  “Avatar”

Music (Original Score):  “Avatar”

Sound Editing:  “Inglourious Basterds”

Sound Mixing:  “Avatar”