Our hopes and predictions for the 2010 Academy Awards.
The smashed box office records of Avatar notwithstanding, 2009 isn’t likely to go down in anybody’s books as a year to remember. The movie industry itself finds itself in a weird period, with theatre attendance slightly up while DVD sales take a sharp downward turn. The implied message is that people were more willing to watch their choice of movie than they were to keep it. Is that a comment on the quality of current films versus years previous, or a reflection of public expectations regarding the films themselves? Maybe.
The Academy Awards, the once and still-ostensible benchmark of film excellence, finds itself at odds with itself this year as well. Years of criticism for elitism and popular irrelevance finally went answered in 2009, as the Academy capitulated by opening the Best Picture category up to ten nominees. And some of the films on that ballot, frankly, have little business being there. The following are our predictions, observations, and ideas about the winners and nominees in some of the larger categories. We admit that we are usually aggressively, epically wrong in our predictions.
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Up In The Air; An Education; Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire; District 9; In The Loop. Our choice: Up In The Air What we think will win: Up In The Air. Everybody loved Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner’s translation of Walter Kirn’s novel, but it’s essentially a prestige picture at heart, and the Academy’s trying to go cold turkey on awarding such films the Best Picture statue. Saluting the script may offer a means of splitting the difference between snubbing it and giving it the big award.
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: The Hurt Locker; Inglorious Basterds; The Messenger; Up; A Serious Man. Our choice: The Hurt Locker What we think will win: The Hurt Locker. While Mark Boal’s script has drawn criticism from military personnel for its depiction of the war in Iraq, its recent win at the Writer’s Guild of America awards (along with Up In The Air, which won in its category) helps its chances of being the ceremony’s big winner, especially if – like Up In the Air again – it loses in the Best Picture category.
Best Achievement in Cinematography: Mauro Fiore, Avatar; Christian Berger, The White Ribbon; Bruno Delbonnel, Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince; Barry Ackroyd, The Hurt Locker; Robert Richardson, Inglorious Basterds. Our choice: Christian Berger Who we think will win: Mauro Fiore. Berger’s gorgeous black and white color palette does a lot of the heavy lifting in selling the disquiet of Michael Haneke’s latest meditation on violence. Nevertheless, we think this is the year of Avatar, including not least of which for recognition of its formidable visual achievements.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Penelope Cruz for Nine; Anna Kendrick for Up In The Air; Vera Farmiga for Up In The Air; Mo’Nique for Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire; Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart. Our choice: Vera Farmiga Who we think will win: Anna Kendrick. That’s damning praise, since we suspect a win could hurt Kendrick’s career in much the same way that the later efforts of previous upstart winners Anna Paquin, Mira Sorvino, and Jennifer Hudson all seemed manacled by their victories. It would be a shame if that happened to Kendrick, who showed real potential as George Clooney’s Gen-Y sidekick and antagonist. And we’re not sure why Farmiga isn’t in the Best Actress category.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Matt Damon for Invictus; Christopher Waltz for Inglorious Basterds; Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones; Christopher Plummer for The Last Station; Woody Harrelson for The Messenger. Our choice: Stanley Tucci Who we think will win: Christopher Waltz. We’ve been fans of Tucci’s for years, at least since Big Night back in 1996. It’s past time he gets some official recognition (and directs another film, while we’re on the subject.) The many flaws of Basterds notwithstanding, Waltz’s performance as Nazi ”Jew hunter” Hans Landa has met with virtually unanimous critical praise, and there’s no reason that won’t translate into an Academy victory.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side; Helen Mirren for The Last Station; Carey Mulligan for An Education; Gabourey Sidibe for Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire; Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia. Our choice: Sidibe Who we think will win: Streep. Of all the categories, this one seems the widest open; still, we’d rate Bullock’s and Mulligan’s chances as the most remote. And we maintain our suspicion that Streep’s name is pre-programmed into the Academy’s ballot template. They fill in the name of her movie for any given year.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart; George Clooney for Up In The Air; Colin Firth for A Single Man; Morgan Freeman for Invictus; Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker. Our choice: Bridges Who we think will win: Bridges, as his Golden Globes win indicates. This is the great actor’s fifth nomination, having previously lost Best Supporting Actor to Ben Johnson, Robert DeNiro and Benicio Del Toro and the Best Actor statue to F. Murray Abraham. Renner’s a long shot, but shouldn’t be counted completely out, either.
Best Achievement in Directing: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker; James Cameron for Avatar; Lee Daniels for Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire; Jason Reitman for Up In The Air; Quentin Tarantino for Inglorious Basterds. Our choice: Reitman Who we think will win: Bigelow. It’s a minutiae of Academy trivia, but is this the first time a divorced couple has gone head to head in a category? Cameron could likely lose to ex-wife Bigelow if Academy voters split the two big awards between their respective films. And vice versa. Still and all, Reitman’s film adroitly captured the zeitgeist on a relatively small budget – no mean feat.
Best Motion Picture of the Year: Avatar; The Bind Side; District 9; An Education; The Hurt Locker; Inglorious Basterds; Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire; A Serious Man; Up; Up In The Air. Our choice: Up In the Air Who we think will win: Avatar. Our comments listed just above about Up In The Air‘s achievements notwithstanding, the Academy loves a winner, and it loves James Cameron. Avatar has both, and it’s the populist choice besides. Of the rest of the nominees, we’re unsure what the Academy saw in District 9 and Pixar’s disappointing Up to merit their inclusion in competition.
Our congratulations to the winners and our condolences to those who don’t get the statue. We’ll be back next week.
- Michael Kabel