Oscars 2010: The Last Second Primer

The Oscars, once again trying to do something to mix it up, have further diluted their already severely degraded brand. Much as Chris Rock said that the Oscars are about movies only white people watch (being as the world is divided into two distinct groups: white people and black people; white people talk like this and black people like this), this year they're trying to make the whole thing that much more populist … and therefore meaningless.
Ten Best Picture nominees, but only five Best Director nominees. This is the same thing as there being only five Best Picture nominees. The Best picture and Best Director don't always line up; one need only look at 2005, when Ang Lee rightly won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain, and Paul Haggis' execrable Crash took Best Picture.

You may have noticed that Brokeback Mountain still gets mentioned for many reasons, not least of which being the still somewhat raw tragedy of Heath Ledger (a bizarrely opposite parallel to the movie itself), while Crash is mentioned largely for the fact that it undeservedly won Best Picture and the various shallow implications it had for race relations.

Ten Best Pictures! What a spread! They run from the criminally overrated (An Education, Up in the Air), the way out there (District 9), the sadly without a chance (Up), the extremely popular (Avatar), to the totally mystifying (The Blind Side).

Best Picture


In December, I may have been guilty of describing Avatar as an example of "amazing and perfect movie making”.  To me, it exemplified a specific form of movie making. There are many different types of movies, and many of them are exemplifiers of the form as a whole. What Avatar is not is the model Best Picture … or at least of what Best Picture has come to mean in the modern age. If it wins anything that's not a technical type award, I will be very disappointed in the Academy.

Is this some sort of extreme elitism on my part? Maybe. I'm not an elitist; I am an eclecticist. I like what I like. I like Avatar, but I don't like it as Best Picture. When it leaves the cinema, if it leaves the cinema, what will people come to think of it? What will be its legacy? If it forces everything to come to be a 3D extravaganza, I will be mad as Hell.

Plus there are going to be at least two more of these? I don't see how $2.5b plus can strike thrice.


It has the popular vote, yes. Does it have the Academy vote? That appears to be skewing towards something else, another weird choice.

The Blind Side

The Blind Side is the "what the hell?” of the Best Picture nominees. If anyone can tell me how this movie got into the upper echelon, I would desperately like to know. The Blind Side is the most straightforward, somewhat bland, paint by numbers story of "white man's largesse” movie in recent years. Our old friend The White Man (or Woman, in this case) moves in on an underprivileged black kid and gives him the love that he could never have possibly received from his (black) parents.

It's a true story, but there is absolutely nothing special about it. Sandra Bullock putting on an accent and dying her hair blonde does not a Best Actress make. I think that what cemented this movie not being anywhere near Best Picture are Bullock's children. There is absolutely no tension between anyone in the family … and this is fine … but the daughter is reduced to a smiler and nodder and the son is that worst of movie tropes: the cute kid who isn't actually cute. Yep, one butt ugly kid gets all the "best” lines and we end up with a ridiculously outdated movie that is set in recent times but feels like it was made a million years ago.

How often do you see a movie powered by Christ these days? So much of the motivation for the characters in this film is faith. That would have sat fine with me if it were … any other movie … but it doesn't gel in this adventure in condescension. Its inclusion in the ten suggests that it is the film that was picked in a random drawing to make up the numbers.

It wouldn't suck in normal release, where it would languish in obscurity and no one would care, but it sucks by virtue of contending for Best Picture.


I would sooner burn in heck than see this movie win best picture. If it wins (which it won't), then I will boycott the Academy until they welcome me as a member and I turn the tables from the inside (while accepting my award for Best Original Screenplay).

District 9

District 9 is the long shot movie of the ten. It's a brave choice, but it's also one that has no chance in Hell. This tale of apartheid prawns is better at first blush than second; I was absolutely enchanted by the thrill of unpredictability on my first run through. Is it a Best Picture? One could argue that it's nothing but a low budget version of Avatar.

District 9 is a very personal type of project, and the sort that people complain about because it's different. It's a documentary action drama, told with delightful South African accents. If you were to award Best Picture for a departure from the norm, then District 9 would get it.
Great movie, with a real heart … the father/son aspect of the story is genuinely moving … but without a chance.


Not going to happen, but a worthy and interesting nomination.

An Education

This is the most urgh worthy of the ten. I have no idea what was going on in the minds of the legitimate film critics who decided to place this in their personal top tens of 2009.

An Education is the true story of a girl who makes a lot of bad decisions in her teens but manages to survive them.  Maybe this is a case of identification; I was not a teenaged girl in the sixties, whose aspirations ran only to going to plays and the races. Still, I've loved a lot of movies that I've had nothing in common with, and Carey Mulligan's utter fecklessness is annoying rather than enticing or understandable.

The fact of the movie is that Peter Sarsgaard and the world that he represents are really not that enticing. His own obvious deficiencies are barely more than skin deep; even when she is totally cognizant of them, she chooses to stay around because of something that they may call "love” but which doesn't translate at all in the chemistry between Mulligan and Sarsgaard.

Maybe it's because I, as the moviegoer, "know better” than Mulligan's character, but everyone in her family behaves irrationally. Alfred Molina makes a go of it … so too do Cara Seymour, Rosamund Pike and especially Olivia Williams. The performances are great … and Mulligan definitely earned her nomination … but the movie doesn't work because it took me too far out of what I expected of reasonable society. When a woman who has great prospects ahead of her decides to give it all up on the off chance of marrying a scoundrel, something seriously wrong has occurred.


A critical favourite, to be sure, but no Best Director nomination means this is pretty much dead in the water. I am fine with that, because I think that An Education is repugnant on many levels, not least of which is the utterly smug closing voice over.

The Hurt Locker

It's the favourite's favourite! However, I'm going to be honest with you: I liked The Hurt Locker; I thought it was a good movie. Yet it's one of those movies that, had it not been nominated and favourited, I would have seen (you can be sure I would have seen it) and almost immediately forgotten about. It's good, but it's not great. It's not memorable. Many people have said that it seems so realistic. Actual bomb disposal units have suggested that it is anything but.

Not knowing anything about bomb disposal myself, I found myself thinking that, if the US army operated as shown in The Hurt Locker, everyone in the world would be dead of hubris about ten times over by now.

The Hurt Locker is nothing special. It makes a few good points about the mindset of a few soldiers in one of the more dangerous areas of Iraq, but I don't see what distinguishes it and what will make it win tomorrow. Maybe people are surprised that a Gulf War II (or is it 2½?) movie can be good, and have gone all out on this one to make up for lost time.

I expected tension I was not given, and I received some stupid irresponsible dudes into the bargain. Not a fair trade.


For better or worse, this probably has it in the bag. It's one of the "Real Five” contenders. I hope that it doesn't come down to identity politics, Bigelow wielding the dual firearms of being a woman and being the ex-wife of James Cameron. We shouldn't be defining her that way; her gender should be irrelevant. However, if she is going to win Best Director, I would like it to be for a better movie than The Hurt Locker.

Inglourious Basterds

This one is probably my favourite. It's in the Real Five, and it's a great movie. Of course, it's been courting controversy since it came out, but that's what happens with someone like Tarantino … who somehow recovered from the heavy handed stabbing he received at the hands of Ben Elton in 1996 and continues to make movies.

Inglourious Basterds was a grand movie on an epic scale, personal, intimate and beautifully executed. It is a movie that improves on repeat viewings because you come to understand exactly how and why it works. Christoph Waltz' Hans Landa is a masterful villain and his inevitable nod for Best Supporting will be well won. If he chooses to chase up that success with … The Green Hornet … then so be it.

Whether Inglourious Basterds stands a chance remains to be seen, because the overarching narrative has become the two horse race twixt Cameron and Bigelow. Tarantino has returned to making movies that are "artful” and not just "fun” (although calling Death Proof "fun” rather than "protracted onanism” is a bit of a stretch).  It would be nice to see him receive recognition for what "just may be [his] masterpiece”, but alas. This isn't going to be his year.


I'd like it to win, really, I would. It's not going to happen. Sorry, Quentin. Come back in another fifteen years with a script that's taken you twenty to write and maybe you'll get the recognition you (legitimately) deserve.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Frankly, Precious deserves to win because of the ridiculousness of its full title. You see, Precious tells the story of an illiterate, overfed, abused black girl who is allowed to turn into a butterfly through the liberal application of tailored education. It's a good movie and is not as terrible in content as it sounds. It doesn't have the negative takeaway one might expect, instead suggesting that education is something essential to one's sense of self esteem, and that finding people to support you and your choices is an essential ingredient to a happy life.

It's one of the "Real Five”, and has suffered some backlash for some perceived amateurism in its direction (the education montage was a bit much), but it is a good movie. The fantasy sequences, that eventually give way to a reality that is palatable enough to live in, are a great contrast and the performances from Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique are incandescent for an otherwise drably coloured movie.


Precious will do best in the acting stakes. I wouldn't mind it if it won, but I don't think that it really stand a chance.

A Serious Man

Obscure work from the Coen Brothers! I saw A Serious Man with the same people I saw Burn After Reading with. Funnily enough, I got exactly the same reactions from them: one loved it; one hated it. Personally, once I reconciled myself to the fact that nothing good would happen in the movie, I became enamoured. It's the sort of movie that you don't think of for months at a time and then you're suddenly reliving it in your mind. Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love” is the trigger to experience this sublime film if you've no access to a print, DVD or Blu Ray.

I can think of A Serious Man and smile, and that makes it a great movie. Well, there's stuff besides that ("Embrace the Mystery”, for example), but that's the simplest explanation of what makes it so great to me.


The Coens could win for their screenplay (they probably won't), but as a best picture this doesn't have the endurance of No Country For Old Men and they're not nominated for their direction. Plus the Academy hates partners in crime, anyway. One man does all the work! No women, no partners!


To the Academy, the fact that they've nominated an animated film for Best Picture is acknowledgement enough. Up doesn't stand a chance. This is a shame, because Up is a legitimately good movie. I don't make strong distinctions between animation and live action, and this is a sign of a little step in the right direction. So many people cry in the first ten minutes of Up, and rightly so: it tells the beautiful story of a life time together. Then, after we've seen that, we're treated to the adventure of Grandpa Carl's Flying House. A great movie and one of my favourites,


This is a case of "the nomination is as good as the award”, which is BS, but it's the best Pixar will have to settle for right now. That said, if Cars 2 is nominated for anything …

Up In The Air

"I live here.” Great, George Clooney! Great! What is so special about Up In The Air? I don't know. It's a tepid experience that unfairly judges a man who was happy with his existence as it was. If a man is happy in his life, what does it matter what some freshly graduated girl with no life experience thinks of it? Simply put, it doesn't. Up In The Air doesn't grate; it just doesn't ring true. That's a huge crime in a movie, and one shared by An Education (which is basically the British version of Up In The Air).

Vera Farmiga's performance is great, but the movie isn't. Why Anna Kendrick got nominated at all is beyond me … and so, too, is the movie.


Another critical darling, Up In The Air would stand a chance if it weren't for the two horse race that this year has become. I don't want it to win but I don't dislike it as much as I did An Education. One has to wonder what will become of Jason Reitman, and how far he will go. He clearly has a large reserve of talent, so I'll be interested to see him (and his nominations) in the years to come.

Best Actor


  • 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

I've seen all of these save Morgan Freeman in Invictus, and it's actually a pretty fair spread.  Of all of these, I most liked Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth. I want to give it to Firth, whose performance was beautiful, but I think it may be a battle royale with Bridges coming out on top … that is unless Morgan Freeman's Mandela was awesome that the Academy has to award it to him using their patented "Historical Figure” clause. He's playing a real person! Give him the award!

Best Actress


  • 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

I've seen all of these save Helen Mirren's performance in The Last Station, but the trailer made her look good and eccentric. I've seen Streep's turn as Julia Child and find myself wishing that I hadn't (the vowels! The vowels!). As mentioned previously, Sandra Bullock getting her hair did and putting an accent on is not the same as acting … and her acting could not raise a fundamentally flawed movie.

I therefore see it as a showdown between Mulligan and Sidibe, both of whom I would be happy to see winning.

Despite my misgivings about An Education, Mulligan proved herself to be one of those actresses who has an undeniable sparkle about her. Seeing her little smile is enough to fill one with wonder. It's just a pity that she had such dodgy material to work with, even if it was written by Nick Hornby.

Gabourey Sidibe's presence in Precious ensured that the movie never sank under the weight of its own subject matter. She brought lightness to what could have been an incredibly depressing movie, forcing me to leave the cinema on a high.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Matt Damon for Invictus
  • Woody Harrelson for The Messenger (2009/I)
  • Christopher Plummer for The Last Station
  • Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones
  • Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds

I've only seen Stanley Tucci and Christoph Waltz of all this, but come on: Christoph Waltz. Stanley Tucci was great, too, but Christoph Waltz! The others may have been great but I could not tell you. Waltz is all you need.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Penélope Cruz for Nine
  • Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart
  • Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air
  • Mo’Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Strangely enough, I've seen all of these. I have no idea why anything from Nine was nominated, but Marion Cotillard was actually better than my beloved Pené in it (it was pretty bad all around, though). Vera Farmiga was great, Maggie Gyllenhaal was pretty good, Anna Kendrick was a weak link … but it all adds up to Mo'Nique. That I can feel a modicum of warmth for this woman, who played such a horrible monster, speaks volumes. At the time I marvelled at Lee Daniels' ability to get great performances out of actors who traditionally make bad movies; Mo'Nique could make it as a legit performer.

Best Director

Every year, I realise I don't really understand what exactly marks "direction” in a film. I am the worst amateur film critic ever, and will have to take some sort of course in seeing the invisible hand of a director manifest itself in films.

I'm giving this one to Bigelow, only because it's what the Academy wants. I'm biased towards Tarantino in this instance.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen


  • The Hurt Locker : Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds : Quentin Tarantino
  • The Messenger: Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman
  • A Serious Man : Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  • Up : Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy

The Coen brothers are good at winning screen writing awards when they don't get the other big ones, so this could go to them. The Hurt Locker seemed more workmanlike than anything else. I would like to give this to Inglourious Basterds, which is both a labour of love and has many a good line, or Up, which is both good and would make up for the injustice of whatever it was Wall-E lost to … oh, Milk. Well, that wasn't an outrage.

And again, I haven't seen The Messenger, which exists in the same vacuum in Australia as In the Valley of Elah did a few years back.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published


  • District 9 : Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
  • An Education : Nick Hornby
  • In the Loop : Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
  • Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire : Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Up in the Air: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner

Up in the Air is probably going to win this. I am still frustrated I haven't gotten to see In The Loop yet.

I will skip the rest of the technical type nominations (although cinematography is important), and go right to the last:

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year


  • Coraline : Henry Selick
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox : Wes Anderson
  • The Princess and the Frog : John Musker, Ron Clements
  • The Secret of Kells : Tomm Moore
  • Up : Pete Docter

This is obviously going to go to Up. If it doesn't, it will be a total surprise. It is, after all, nominated for Best Picture. The other three movies were good … and I'm assuming The Secret of Kells is good, because I missed it. This field is proof that the animation industry is getting better all the time, because I would have seriously given a nomination to the surprisingly kind of great Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, one of my better film experiences in the last year.

Well, there's the long and the short of it, mere hours before the Oscars themselves kick off. With each passing year my heart grows more hardened and cynical … until, one day, it will burst clean out of my chest and do the red carpet with Joan Rivers. To be honest, I'm kind of looking forward to that. I really don't know if the ceremony will expose the whole thing as a sham … and if it does, I'll probably keep watching anyway.

Like the Academy, I am both bad and predictable like that. Surprise me, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. I'll be there … dead or alive.


  1. Melinda March 8, 2010
  2. Filmy3 March 8, 2010
  3. Alex March 8, 2010
  4. Philbert March 9, 2010

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