Mar 03 2010

Madison’s Picks for the Oscars: 2010 Edition

Published by at 12:00 pm under Columns,Editorials,Movies

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Sunday night marks the 82nd annual Academy Awards ceremony, and the description of the Oscars as a self-congratulatory circle-jerk amongst the Hollywood elite has never been more appropriate.  Unlike last year – which I’d argue was a very strong year for film – the nominees for all the major categories are underwhelming, and adding five more nominees to the category of Best Picture has further watered-down the ceremony.  It was a simple ploy to increase ratings, as the inclusion of normally neglected blockbusters in the category is a sure way to generate interest.  It still doesn’t make up for The Dark Knight snub of last year, though.

But since we cover movies here at Unreality, I give you my obligatory picks for the winners in each of the major categories.  Just like last year, I’ll be writing about I think should win, not necessarily my prediction of who or what is going to win. 

Best Supporting Actor – Christoph Waltz

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There hasn’t been this strong of a lock for Best Supporting Actor since…well, since last year when Heath Ledger won.  But still, Christoph Waltz was the best thing about a great movie, and his performance in Inglorious Basterds is unrivaled.  As Hans Landa, Waltz was simultaneously charismatic and repugnant, the type of Nazi you wanted to strangle but for some strange reason couldn’t help but admire.  I’m glad to see that Woody Harrelson has received acclaim for his role in The Messenger, but Waltz acts circles around him as well as everyone else nominated in this category.  Waltz is a lock, and deservedly so.

Best Supporting Actress – Mo’Nique

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Mo’Nique is best known for appearing in mindless comedies like Beerfest, Soul Plane, and on horrible WB and UPN shows, so her incredible performance in Precious is, suffice to say, pretty unexpected.  Usually type-cast as a gregarious, jolly, over-sized woman, Mo’Nique’s role as Mary Jones in Precious showed everyone that she can play as dark and nasty as anyone else.  You can argue that Precious is Oscar-bait – and I won’t disagree – but there’s no gimmick to Mo’Nique’s performance.

Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga were both solid in Up in the Air, but neither performance stuck with me quite like Mo’Nique’s.  I’m always a fan of Penelope Cruz, but Nine?  If anything, she should have been nominated for her role in Broken Embraces.

Mo’Nique deserves this Oscar, and I’d bet that she wins, too.

Best Actor – Jeff Bridges

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This was a tough one to call, in part because I haven’t seen A Single Man.  That being said, Morgan Freeman played a dignified leader in Invictus, while George Clooney played a charming, single man in Up in the Air - both roles hardly stretches for these two actors.  Not that there’s anything wrong with their performances, but isn’t this just a case – especially with regard to Clooney – of actors playing themselves?

Jeremy Renner was one of the few aspects of The Hurt Locker that I enjoyed (he has real talent at acting without speaking), but Jeff Bridges carried an otherwise bland movie with his performance as country singer Otis Blake in Crazy Heart.  Plus, Bridges actually played the guitar and sang for his role, which is a lot more impressive than George Clooney being handsome and charming.  He’s not as much of a lock as Waltz, but I’d be very surprised if Bridges didn’t win.

Best Actress – Carey Mulligan

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In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not really in a position to write who deserves this award since I’ve only seen two of the five performances nominated (I did read “The Blind Side,” though – does that count for anything?).  I’ll be pulling for Carey Mulligan, though, based on her very impressive portrayal of Jenny in An Education.  Under most circumstances, a coming-of-age story about a young woman is about the last type of movie I’d want to see, but Mulligan helped make An Education worth watching.  She’s utterly convincing as a girl just entering womanhood, as she conveys a sense of wonder with the buffered sort of immaturity that makes her character so believable.  Mulligan made me believe that her character was truly struggling with the choices she faced.

You can never really bet against Meryl Streep, but my pick is Carey Mulligan.

Best Director – James Cameron

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I imagine this is going to be the category that people feel most strongly about, and there’s going to be a lot of debate over who deserves to win.  I’ll try to be as clear as I can: you can say what you want about Avatar, but James Cameron deserves this award far more than anyone else nominated for Best Director.

The sheer scale of Avatar, taking into account the world-building, unprecedented visual effects, and coaxing performances out of actors who have 30 cameras strapped to their faces, is absolutely overwhelming.  Cameron has created something in film that no one has ever even approached before, let alone conceived.  There are dozens of movies that I think are better than Avatar – including some this year and some of Cameron’s own – but to organize and piece together what he did, regardless of his budget, is something I am fairly certain only a handful of filmmakers are capable of doing, and even “a handful” may be a bit generous.

James Cameron did indeed change the way films will be made.  He created an entire world, complete with indigenous species and even a religion, and used the most sophisticated visual effects technology to date to present a cohesive narrative.  The result is not only the best-looking movie of all time, but a viewing experience that felt more like an amusement park ride than a night at the cinema.

I’m sure people will argue that Avatar’s story is lacking (to which I’d respond it’s simply derivative, unless you’re also arguing that the stories in Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai are lacking), but nobody has ever done what Cameron’s done before.  No one’s even come close.

(This concludes my verbal fellatio of James Cameron)

Best Picture – District 9

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If you’re a regular reader of the site, it should come as no surprise that I thought District 9 was the best movie this year; I had previously ranked it the best movie of 2009, as well as the second-best science fiction movie of the past 10 yearsDistrict 9 is an intelligent science fiction movie that comes with a poignant social commentary, complex, multi-dimensional characters that experience true arcs, and even scenes of intense action.  No doubt it’s a sci-fi classic.  District 9 isn’t too heavy-handed and it doesn’t think of itself as clever for presenting an apartheid metaphor; the film avoids the cliches that so many other films fall into.  For the sake of avoiding redundancy – as I’ve written about this movie quite a bit in the past – District 9 is the most pleasantly surprising movie of this past year and my pick for Best Picture.

And by the way, there’s absolutely no chance that The Hurt Locker doesn’t win.  But hey, it’s all one big circle-jerk now anyway, right?





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19 responses so far

  • http://paul@unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    God damn it we have all the same picks, though I’m really not surprised. I think I’m going to make mine a “will win” rather than “should win,” though I think the first three overlap.

  • Jason

    Whether I agree or not, I think Avatar is going to crush everything at the Oscars, including Best Picture. Hurt Locker had a chance, but now I hear the producer has been banned from the ceremony for his Avatar bashing letter to voters.

  • Brendan

    Saw this on drudgereport last night:
    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9E6Q4IG0&show_article=1

    To sum it up, the producer of The Hurt Locker, was sending emails to academy voters to vote for his movie over the “500million dollar movie.” As you can imagine, actively lobbying for your movie to the voters is not legal, so the producer is now banned from the academy awards. If his movie wins, he’ll have to accept his oscar after the award show

  • Madison

    @ Brendan

    Great find…and that’s incredibly childish on the part of the producer. What an asshole. If you want to trumpet the merits of your own movie, by all means, go ahead – but to trash someone else’s movie is bush league.

  • Cheryl

    I didn’t manage to see too many noms this year…I’m still excited for awards night tho!

    I did see Up In The Air and agree that Clooney shouldn’t be awarded for being himself…I did like Anna Kendrick’s performance tho (even if she will always be Bella’s friend Jessica to me).

    I’d like District 9 to win but if memory serves sci-fi doesn’t do particularly well at the Oscars. I’d like Jason Reitman to win for his writing…he’s very clever.

  • Nick

    meh so what if its childish, The Hurt Locker is still a better movie and thats what counts. And Bigelow deserves Director more than Mr Ego.

    Also having seen both I’d have to go with Colin Firth over Bridges (even though i want Jeremy Renner to win).

  • Madison

    @ Nick

    So by your logic, the director of the best movie each year should win Best Director? That doesn’t really make much sense…why even have the category, then?

  • Brendan

    @Madison

    Why stop there? Why do we have best screenplay? Shouldn’t the best movie have the best screenplay? Shouldn’t the best movie have the best actors/actresses in it?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/25/AR2010022506161_pf.html

    After reading that I don’t know how you can think “The Hurt Locker” should win best picture. If you are going to make a movie based on recent history, you better make damn well sure your facts are at least moderately in order. This would be like if holocost survivors started crying foul on Spielberg for messing up the facts in Shindlers List.

    And yes you can apply a double-standard when it comes to inglorious basterds. Inglorious Basterds was a Tarentino action flick that used WWII as a plot device. He wasn’t trying to pawn it off as the next “Platoon” or “Apocopyse Now” like the Hurt Locker.

    The Hurt Locker would have been a better movie if they had kept the same script but cast Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the title rolls and let them apply their dry english humor to a cliche filled script.

  • Madison

    @ Brendan

    Didn’t say Hurt Locker should win; I think it’s going to win. Pretty sure that’s what you meant, right?

    Well, I’m really hoping I’m wrong, but people are just nuts about this movie.

    Thanks a lot for the link, by the way, I really enjoyed reading that article.

    Hurt Locker is more of a cartoon than Avatar.

  • Nick

    @Madison im not sure where i have said that – if that was the impression that my post gave then I apologise but thats not what i was saying.

    In my opinion, whilst I enjoyed Avatar it was not a good film. Conversely, for example, I did not enjoy The White Ribbon but I thought it was a great film. In my opinion The Hurt Locker is the best film out of those nominees (although I would choose different nominees).

    In terms of Director: for me Avatar had so many problems across the board that I am not sure who to blame other than James Cameron. I agree that he manages to blend the visual effects well but the performances? Some of them were down right awful – only Sigourney Weaver could have acted her way out of a wet paper bag. Script – doesnt the director usually adapt from that if there are problems with it – oh wait he wrote it as well. Conceptually Avatar was great – before I saw it I was so excited. Now its just like okay well thats done – im not gonna remember that. The cynic in me, when reading your reasoning for giving him best director, felt like saying that its a pity there is no event planning award. I can see where you are coming from he just didnt do it for me. Whereas Bigelow did. And I think budget is something that you have to take into consideration (although should not be given too much weight as then you might start giving awards to The Blair Witch Project).

    Everything worked for me in The Hurt Locker especially how Bigelow created such a tense, visceral movie. She made me care about the characters even “Will James”, despite him being so reckless – the scenes when he returns home are brilliant.

    Side question: out of interest – hypothetically if bigelow directed Avatar and cameron directed The Hurt Locker how do you think they would have differed and do you think that they could have crafted films of the same calibre?

    @Brendan I wasnt suggesting that. However, if you looked at it the other way round you might expect the Best Film to BE MORE LIKELY to also have received awards in other categories. Off the top of my head I can’t think of an occasion when a film won Best Picture but nothing else – it seems like it would be a rare occurence.

    It is an interesting article although I can’t say that it is unexpected. Its not like whilst I was watching The Hurt Locker I thought well this is 100% accurate. I always took it as a work of fiction – I would never have expected the army to allow someone like that to continue operating. There must be inaccuracies in almost every film but I do not see why this would mean that it is not the best FILM of the year.

    If I had my way I would give the Best Picture Award to either 35 Shots of Rum or Une Prophete but I can’t.

    IMO – The Hurt Locker is a better film than Avatar, and had better direction, score, writing, acting – the editing and cinematography were on a par with Avatar.

    However, I do not think The Hurt Locker had the best screenplay out of all the films this year. Yes some aspects of it were cliched but they made the best out of an average script.

    I’m not sure when it was first screened that anyone was suggesting that it was the next apocalypse now – not that i have anything to back that up but it doesnt seem to me like the angle that wouldve been taken with it.

    Oh well – just my thoughts guys :)

  • Madison

    @ Nick

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. It’s a matter of different tastes, I suppose.

    And as for your Best Event Planner, well, that’s sort of the director’s job, too, isn’t it?

    The thing is, if people are going to nitpick Avatar for holes or inconsistencies, then why is Hurt Locker exempt? After all, Avatar is the fantasy film, yet its critics expect fine detail and explanation on everything, whereas Hurt Locker – the visceral, gritty film – is incredibly innaccurate, yet its supporters neglect that because it’s “supposed to be entertaining.” That’s hypocricy, and you (not you, but you generally) can’t have it both ways.

    There’s a delicate balance in film between art and entertainent – and if you didn’t enjoy The White Ribbon, then how can you claim it was a great movie? One of the primary goals of a movie is to entertain, so whereas you may appreciate the production quality, you’re not being honest with yourself, it seems.

    I don’t think Cameron is trying to make “art” – he’s trying to make engaging, fun movies with some layers to them (as opposed to Michael Bay, whose films are as mindless as possible). Bigelow, though, I think was shooting for “art.” And in my opinion, she failed. If the message of the film is that war is a drug, that’s pretty sad – considering we could have simply read the quote at the beginning of the film and be done with it – because the movie itself did nothing to illuminate, explore, or explain anything about war, and on top of that, it failed to entertain, too.

    To answer your clever hypothetical question:

    If Cameron directed Hurt Locker, the climax would have been World War 3. If Bigelow had directed Avatar, you’d have a bunch of Na’vi sitting around, speaking in cliches, and not developing whatsoever. There’d be some good action and unrealistic male bonding thrown in, too.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Nick

    For me the problems with Avatar were more blatant – they took me out of the film whereas in the Hurt Locker – I didnt notice most of the suggested problems whilst i was watching it and i cant see them stopping me thinking of it as great in the future.

    This may just be me but I can think of quite a few films that either didnt entertain me or I didnt like (two separate things) that I still think are good movies

    Thanks for the answer.

  • Ryan A

    Hurt Locker was honestly one of the worst movies ive ever seen. One of my friends summed it up best (spoiler alert): Guy Pearce is a great actor, i’m glad he’s in this movie. oh damn he’s dead. find bomb, disarm, find bomb disarm. Hey there’s Ralph Fiennes, finally. oh damn they killed him too. find bomb, disarm. Oh and Kate from Lost shows up for a few minutes. There’s the movie summed up for you. What was so visceral? A guy with a bomb strapped to his chest blows up? Yeah I saw people exploding in District 9, and it was wayyyy more interesting. Visceral is the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Not this.

  • Brendan

    I guess we were affecting by varying degrees of hype so to say. My experience was completely ruined for the Dark Knight because of the hype machine. Instead of going into it expecting a comic movie, I went in expecting more and I was frankly disapointed and much quicker to point out things I hated.(Two-Face as a tack on villian at the end bugs the hell out of me.)

    With Avatar, I knew the hype machine was going to be massive. I averted my eyes to all previews and actively went out of my way to not read stuff leading up to it. When I went into the movie I was looking to just enjoy the movie for what it was and I was entralled.

    With Hurt Locker, I was sucked into the hype machine. Rottentomatoes had it at like 97% fresh and the critics hyped it as the next big war movie.(Something no one has been able to do since Saving Private Ryan, I liked Sands of Iwo Jima but it’s not on the level of SVP, Platoon, The Longest Day, Great Escape, Full Metal Jacket, path’s of Glory, Dr.Strangelove[Kubrick much?]The Bridge on the River Kwai, Patton or Apocopyse Now.) What I got instead of the next great war movie was a wooden script, where army engineers patroll the streets of Baghdad and are Delta Force-esque snipers. When Chuck Norris is rescuing prisoners out of a POW camp, I expect him to be a jack of all trades, not so much with a “realistic” group of army engineers.

    If I had avoided the hype behind Hurt Locker, I most likely would have enjoyed it more. Same as if you had gone into Avatar expecting entertainment instead of Citizen Kane’s love child with the Terminator. Boo the hype machine! Booo

  • Banditone

    I just don’t get the Hurt Locker hype….

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  • Ethan

    While The Hurt Locker may have its own set of cliches, Avatar’s problems are exponentially worse. Caricatures of villains spouting already-dated phrases such as “shut your pie hole” (while based a century-and-a-half into the future, no less), blatant retreads of the themes from Ferngully and Dances With Wolves, and absolutely no characterization of anyone apart from Sigourney Weaver kind of makes it the weaker film. That and the Enya-lite soundtrack.

    Having said that, the final battle was pants-wettingly awesome.

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