The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker (winner)
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
What do you say about the year where Best Picture nominations were boosted from five nominations to up to 10 except to say that this wasn’t really a great year for that boost? There are plenty of movies that were nominated that I think could easily be kicked to the curb and a few that I think are worth bringing up. Admittedly, based on my tastes, no serious Oscar person is going to consider movies like Zombieland, Triangle, and I Sell the Dead aren’t going to show up, but I can at least consider them in my head. Moon was likely bumped by a couple of science fiction nominations already, and Mary and Max by the presence of a different animated film. There are no foreign language films on this list, which means that both Three Idiots and The White Ribbon were snubbed. Beyond that, I’d have loved a nomination for In the Loop. And before you mention Fish Tank, know that I hated Fish Tank.
Weeding through the Nominees
10. There are going to be some bad nominations the year when the number of nominations double. Avatar, which has nothing beyond the spectacle of the film and the presence of Sigourney Weaver to recommend it, is the poster child for this. I’ll be the first to admit that for its time and in the theater, it was pretty visually fantastic. Beyond that, I don’t really care at all about it. The story is not only dumb, it’s predictably dumb because it’s just Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas or Ferngully or The Last Samurai. Yeah, it’s pretty and it made a lot of money. But best picture? Zombieland would be a better choice.
9. There are going to be a few places in this wrap-up where I’m going to buck convention. I know that I’m supposed to like A Serious Man, but I really didn’t. I didn’t like the characters, and I didn’t think there was any real comedy in the situation that was supposed to be comedic. There was nothing here that I cared about and I was happy when the film was over. I like dark comedy. I enjoy film that take dark turns. But there was nothing here that offered anything other than a completely bleak and unrelenting progression of misery. Pass.
8. We’re going to do this again: I disliked An Education, a movie that I think a lot of people should have been in genuine contention for the top position. I know that I’m supposed to like and I am happy to say that An Education is well-acted and nicely filmed. There is a great deal to recommend the film, and I simply don’t like it very much. There are plenty of things that I take complaints about when I do these write-ups, and I’m imagining that the low position of An Education will be one of those things. But the truth is that I simply don’t like the movie.
7. The Blind Side is the first of these movies that I can claim to like, and in this case, I’m just barely getting there. I don’t know that this is a film I’d bring myself to watch a second time since there was barely enough worth seeing the first time around. It’s a fine story, I suppose, but I don’t think it has any business being here. While I like it more than the previous two places on this list, I can see nominations for those films much more readily. I don’t like those films, but there are people who do. The Blind Side just isn’t enough to really warrant being nominated.
6. I probably like Precious more than I should, because this is a movie that doesn’t just manipulate its audience, it telegraphs that manipulation, points to it, and then goes exactly where you expect it’s going to. It’s one of those “misery parfait” movies of pain layered on top of nastiness layered on top of awfulness. I get why people think it’s a great movie, and I’m happy to say that it’s at least a pretty good one, mostly for Gabourey Sidibe and a surprising role from Mariah Carey. But it’s manipulative as hell, and that doesn’t gain a lot of traction from me.
5. Inglourious Basterds would be the choice of a lot of people, I think. I’ll admit right now that part of the reason that this movie is as low on this list as this is because I may well have a mental block when it comes to Quentin Tarantino. My running opinion of him and his movies are that he’d be a lot better as a filmmaker if he stopped trying to be awesome and instead tried to merely be good. I don’t care about the references he can make, and I think that frequently detracts from the film he’s making. A less clever film would almost certainly be a better one, not that I think I could convince him.
4. As we get to the top tier of nominations, we find a collection of films that I more or less gave the same rating to on Letterboxd. What this means is that the distinctions here are going to be a bit more subtle. Up in the Air was a film I found surprisingly moving. I expected very little from this and was surprised at both the emotional depth of the film itself and the emotional depth of George Clooney’s performance. I like the other films a little more, but I wouldn’t squawk terribly if someone wanted to put this on the top.
3. I was excited to see District 9 nominated for Best Picture because it’s not the sort of film that normally gets a nomination. This is not merely a science fiction film, but a science fiction film that attempts to be based in a very real world. Like the best science fiction, District 9 manages to be about the real human condition and real human problems. That it serves as a metaphor for racism and the apartheid system and comes from South Africa is all a part of what makes the film work as well as it does. It’s great to see movies like this one in the running, and this one deserved to be here.
2. Up is one of very few animated films to achieve the lofty status of Best Picture nominee, a feat that virtually guarantees a Best Animated Feature win and not a win in this category. If we could award for specific parts of films, the opening few minutes of Up is probably the purest, most beautifully realized film sequence of its year, possibly its decade. There’s a lot to love in this film—that wonderful opening, the vibrant characters, the great relationship between Carl and Russell. Up defies expectations from Pixar by being so different in so many ways and still being so good.
1. Ultimately, I can’t get to a reason to not give the statue to The Hurt Locker, and my rule has always been that ties (and anything like ties) go to the Academy. Opinions have varied on this film. I’ve had students tell me this is nothing like the Iraq experience and others (including one who worked in bomb disposal) tell me that it was disturbingly accurate. Regardless of the realism to being in a combat zone, the film itself is a masterpiece of characterization and the exploration of a personality type. It’s a film that manages to be exciting and also contain a real depth. It’s important, and for that and for its other qualities, I’m leaving it where Oscar put it.