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
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
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
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
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
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
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 years. District 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?