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The Oscar Back-And-Forth

Posted on Tuesday February 2, 2010, 19:31 by Helen O'Hara in Off The Wire
The Oscar Back-And-Forth

Helen: Well, here we are – and it feels like it’s a pretty predictable mix. Avatar and The Hurt Locker lead the way, both with nine, with Inglourious Basterds, Precious and Up In The Air snapping at their heels. This year’s awards feel suspiciously like a two horse race between Bigelow and Cameron’s movies (will Oscar reward the money, the scale and technical innovation or the sheer ability?) but perhaps I am unwisely discounting Tarantino and Reitman too early. Precious, I feel, is a lock only for Best Supporting Actress, which will go to Mo’Nique or there is no justice.

But let’s focus on Best Picture to begin with. We can discount any film that didn’t also get a Best Director nod from winning, I think. So goodbye (but well done for joining the party) District 9, The Blind Side (definitely the WTF nomination there), An Education, A Serious Man and (the mighty) Up. And another filter: the Best Picture winner pretty much always has a nomination for Film Editing, so I actually think we can now stop talking about Up In The Air. Right?

Personally, I think that this could be the most boring race in Oscar history, with virtually every major category already locked down tighter than security at a Leona Lewis book signing. Hang on, scratch that analogy. Anyway, I fancy Avatar to win Best Picture, Kathryn Bigelow to beat Big Jim to the Best Director prize, while Bridges, Bullock, Waltz and Mo’nique can virtually start clearing mantelpiece space right now.

But you’re right, let’s focus on Best Picture first. Avatar will win. Done. Dusted. Take that to the bank. It’s a hometree run. Filmmakers I know – no names – seem to be, by and large, utterly blown away by it and it’s going to be rewarded for its phenomenal business in some way. With no nominations in the acting or writing categories, that leaves just Best Director and Best Picture. I think the voters will plump for the latter.

But if Avatar didn’t win…? There are three worthy winners on that list for me – Up In The Air, The Hurt Locker and Pixar’s brilliant, brilliant Up. Personally, I’d give the prize to Up in a heartbeat, but in this case, escaping the ghetto of the Best Animated Feature category, virtually feels like a win.

The WTF nomination for me isn’t The Blind Side (massive hit, well-liked star, might actually supersede the likes of Precious in the final tallies), but District 9. I enjoyed it, thought it was a stunning achievement, even if I thought some of its content was… dubious, but I’m still astonished that it won the ‘Let’s Put A Blockbuster In There For The Hell Of It’ category ahead of Star Trek and The Hangover.

Helen: Oh, I dunno: District 9 has had a heck of a lot of awards love at other ceremonies, so I’m not surprised by that (disappointed by Sharlto Copley’s omission though; ditto Sam Rockwell. Why does acting not count if done in a sci-fi environment?), and for me, nominating The Blind Side is not a heck of a lot better than nominating The Proposal (which I am not advocating, for the record).

I’d love to see Up take it, but I don’t expect it, sadly. It should win the Animated category though, and I reckon it’ll take Best Score as well. There isn’t another theme this year that resonates like that Married Life theme. I completely agree with you that the acting categories feel sewn-up: Bridges, Bullock, Waltz and Mo’Nique. Can anyone beat them? Carey Mulligan had a stunning breakthrough with An Education, but she hasn’t got much momentum behind her. Meryl Streep gives an almost supernaturally charming performance in Julie & Julia – but it’s not her turn again, surely? Given that Best Actress tends to go to the biggest name nominated, Bullock feels locked in. Bridges does too, because he’s overdue, and the Supporting probable winners just seem head-and-shoulders above the (very good) other nominees.

How about glaring omissions? Good to see Jeremy Renner getting some love, but what about Copley and Rockwell? Or your favourite, Chris: how about Peter Capaldi?

Chris: Ah, Peter Capaldi. Maybe I’ve got a soft spot for him because he looks like my Aunt Isabel, or maybe it’s because his turn as Malcolm Tucker in In The Loop – for my money, the year’s best comedy, so thank God it got some recognition in the screenplay department – is a more nuanced version of the coruscating performance he puts in, week in, week out, on The Thick Of it. The moment when Malcolm breaks down and shows some humanity, some vulnerability towards the end of the film was as rewarding as any montage of Malc’s swearier moments – not that In The Loop skimped on those. That he was not only overlooked, but not even considered, for Best Supporting Actor is a travesty and the Academy can shove it up their A-Star-Star-Arse. Mind you, he would have been up against Christoph Waltz, which is a bit like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

As for Copley and Rockwell, I’m slightly mystified. Moon seemed to suffer the same fate as In The Loop – it wasn’t seen by enough people – but his was a stunning performance, not least because it was truly a one-man show (or two-man show, for those who’ve seen the film). His time will come, though. I can’t praise Moon highly enough – if you haven’t seen it, rent it or buy it tonight.

I’ve already written about Copley’s performance in the Empire review and in The 10 in the new issue, but I’m astonished that District 9 was nominated for Best Screenplay while Copley – who improvised every single line of his dialogue, including the instantly iconic ‘fookin’ prawns’ catchphrase that still rings through the Empire office from time to time – was overlooked. Maybe it’s because he’s considered a non-actor, and the Academy treated him with the same suspicion that they do motion-capture performers. Maybe they couldn’t understand his accent. Maybe it was the ‘tache. I honestly don’t have a clue.

But I mentioned motion-capture there, and it’s a very pertinent issue. The Academy had a great chance here to show that they weren’t fuddy-duddies and embrace the brave new world of mo-cap by nominating Zoe Saldana for Best Actress. They blew it.

Helen: I am Jack’s total lack of surprise* at that omission. Maybe Oscar could set up a halfway house and have a special category for invisible performances like hers. First Serkis, now Saldana: it does feel like good people are being overlooked.

It’s funny how unexciting the list feels this year. I feel like we know who’s going to win every category – which, hopefully, means we’re wrong in quite a few cases and there will be even bigger surprises than usual on the night. I mean, maybe Stanley Tucci can beat Waltz. Maybe the ace Coraline or the ace Fantastic Mr Fox or the ace The Secret of Kells (which might finally get a UK distributor now after being ignored here when it came out in the US and Ireland) can upset the acest of all Up – who knows? Oscar is capable of anything.

Just to touch on a few other categories, I feel like Un Prophete should take Foreign Film (although I’ll confess that I just don’t get the big fuss about The White Ribbon, so maybe I’m a philistine), and this year I’m really uncertain about Feature Documentary – The Cove, maybe? No nod for Michael Moore’s latest, though: Hollywood appears to be over him.

*And a big hello to that line! It’s been a good ten years since you were fashionable!

Chris: Congrats to you for being one of the few people on the planet to have seen The Secret Of Kells! I get the feeling that most people haven’t even heard of it, and I bet that even now Jeffrey Katzenberg at DreamWorks and Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli are mobilising the troops, astonished that they’ve been overlooked in favour of this tiny little film.

I don’t know about unexciting – I know that it feels like it might take the combined forces of a thousand banshees and a bad-ass thanator to shake Avatar off the Best Picture throne, the fact that there are ten Best Picture nominees this year might split the vote more than usual. There’s a frisson of excitement to be had from seeing Bigelow vs Cameron – the most good-natured of ex-partners – going head-to-head in the Best Director race. And I can’t wait to see how they get around the title of Inglourious Basterds (deservedly nominated for eight Oscars, by the way) on a prime-time broadcast. Over here, they just call it ‘Inglourious’ before 9pm. In the way more censorious States, I imagine they’d have a heart attack at the thought of uttering a bad word on a major network before midnight.

But I will agree that, short of four nominations for Nine and the slightly head-scratching acting noms for Invictus, that the Academy hasn’t dropped any Dark Knight-sized clangers this year.

Oh, and I’m contractually obliged to say this: good/bad/average year for the Brits, eh?

Helen: Oh, it’s not the bloody Olympics. Sigh – but since we apparently must, since that’s all we’re ever asked about – there’s a few Brits among the acting nominees (Mulligan, Firth, Mirren…er, that’s it) and An Education got three nods overall. Then, it hasn’t been a banner year for British films, so it’s hardly any big surprise.

In summary, then, we mostly agree. Some good nods, some bad ones – and it kinda feels like we know where the big categories are going. So come on, Oscar, surprise us! And come on, readers, and tell us why we’re wrong.

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1 ThismonkeyhasRAGE
Posted on Tuesday February 2, 2010, 21:53
I have long ago completely lost any regard for the Academy awards, and believe it to be an outdated Americanised institution which should not be taken notice of.


I have objections to:

--The Blind Side for Best Picture. In fact I think its an offence to human decency.
--Sandra Bullock for Best Actress - same as above.

--The fact that there is nothing for 'Moon', or Sam Rockwell, or the Art Design. The art design itself is the biggest crime - with such a small budget, the film is a miracle.

--- Viggo Mortenssen has not been nominated for his astounding performance in The Road
-- The Road getting nothing at all, not even in cinematography.

--- I would also agree that Sharlto Copely demanded a nomination, and think that the Best Actor section is extremely weak this year, and unnecessarily so.

-- I think District 9 is nowhere near the top ten of this year, and really dont get the big fuss around it. Besides it being an achievement in low-budget film-making, it really has very little substance, and had it been made on a bigger budget in a typical hollywood environment, wouldn't have received any of the attention that it has done.

-- My most extreme dissapointment - though it's not as if I didn't see it coming - is Avatar's nominations in the artistic categories. As a piece of Motion Picture SCIENCE, Avatar is a incredibly important and talented film, as a piece of Motion Picture ART (And the academy recognises both) it is run-of-the-mill, bland, and, well, rubbish. I mean, cinematography? Is it even actually cinematography when 89% of it is rendered in a computer? The worst thing is knowing its probably going to win the Best Picture/Best Director combo.

Whilst I object to the mere existence of 'best foreign film' (it ghettoises anything not in the English language by removing them for contention for Best Motion Picture) - it's exceptionally weak this year, which is saying something (Gomorrah anyone?). Where on earth is Let the Right One in?

2 yiannis21
Posted on Tuesday February 2, 2010, 22:45

While you make a few good points (especially about District 9 not being as special as it's made out to be - guess we're in the minority on that one though!), I think you're being more than a little unfair by suggesting that Avatar doesn't count as cinematography.

The ability that effects companies have these days of creating backgrounds, objects, creatures and even characters within the confines of a computer does not suddenly give the director additional skill when it comes to framing a shot. Neither do computers make creative choices on behalf of the director on matters such as lighting. Even if the actual execution of these things happens inside a computer rather than on a set, these are still the result of creative choices made by the director and DoP.

I also utterly fail to see how you can describe Avatar as "bland", regardless of whether or not you like it. Unless I missed a meeting, cinema is a VISUAL form of art. Yes, storytelling and performance are still important (and I would happily argue that Avatar has both a good - albeit familiar - story and good performances, especially by "blockbuster" standards), but it is the visualising of the stories that makes films, well, FILMS, as opposed to plays or novels. Whatever criticisms you might level at Cameron's brand of visual storytelling, I really don't think that "bland" can possibly be one of them.

However, I, like you, lost interest in the Oscars a long time ago, so really couldn't give a shit who wins what, although I would laugh my rear off if D9 won for the screenplay, considering all the dialogue was improv'ed and the plot, by Blomkamp's own admission, is deliberately derivative.

Now, does D9 actually count as a screenplay? There's a better debate...

3 ThismonkeyhasRAGE
Posted on Tuesday February 2, 2010, 23:49
(In response to the above)
"Even if the actual execution of these things happens inside a computer rather than on a set, these are still the result of creative choices made by the director and DoP."
Maybe I have misunderstood what 'cinematography' awards are recognising, but my understanding is that we are looking at the craft of a cinematographer to capture images. ‘Cinematography’ can be completely transposed for 'photography'. Just as I would not accept, in a photography competition, to see nominations from artists who create images on CAD software, I would not expect to see a cinematographer nominated for images in which - as is shown in the film's online featurettes - the lighting, texture, colouration, even the angles and filters, are all graphically rendered by a team of computer experts. Perhaps I am old-fashioned and narrow-minded, I just don't see it as photography.

I take your point that of cinema being greater influenced by its visuality than literature, obviously. In my opinion - and I accept that here we will likely part ways due to subjectivity - I think that, in terms of its 'literary' merit (and I'll accept the slightly incongruous term), it is 'bland', but that visually it is stunning. If you weigh the latter as being more important to a film's quality than the former, then of course, Avatar is a superb film. However; might I ask, if plot, character, dialogue, originality, and wider/deeper 'readings' into the 'text'(the film) - all literary criticisms - and all, in my opinion, bland in Avatar's case - are to be disconsidered or excused on the basis of striking visuality, then why not put the film in an art gallery as an animated display, rather than incite 'literary' responses as film inevitably does. In this case, we’re looking at bad ‘literature’ and beautiful digital art... but a brilliant film?

And I had not noticed that District 9 was nominated for a screenplay award! That is absolutely bizarre and oddly wonderful taking the Academy’s previous track-record of odd rules preventing perfectly legitimate films from consideration.

4 tokyomyers
Posted on Tuesday February 2, 2010, 23:57
Personally I have no problem with Avatar winning best film. Yes the story is so recycled it's as transparent as toilet paper, but the overall feel, look and experience of the film is something truly incredible and deserves rewarding. Besides the only other film that should win best film is the magnificent Up! - and Pixar more than deserve a 'proper' award just this once.... but the Academy will never concede.

However, where they may concede and reward for past achievements through present accomplishments, is with the Best Director category.
Lets just stop and take note, because QT has a nomination. Yes, Quintin 'I will strike down upon thee with great vengence and furious anger' Tarantino.
Inglorious (Americans cover your eyes) Basterds is a brilliantly directed piece of work!
The first scene is a masterclass in slow burn tension and the quality persists throughout.
Yes it's very silly at points, and No the Academy will not approve of the 'untrue' history lesson, but it truly is QT's directorial masterpiece. So while Katherine "we love you for Point Break" Bigelow and James "I'm so hot right now' Cameron divide the votes maybe old QT can jump in... and I for one would be happy to see it.

5 freddie205
Posted on Wednesday February 3, 2010, 04:02
I'm with the complaints at the lack of nomination for Rockwell and Copely, for my money, Rockwell and by extension Moon were easily the most gripping thing I have seen at the cinema this year, in spite of the fact that very few of us (a privileged few) saw it.

6 labyrinth4eva
Posted on Wednesday February 3, 2010, 11:42
serioulsy, Nine, up for ANYTHING?? I am the worlds biggest musical fan, i constantly have to justify my love of them to most, esp boys, and once in a while a film like Hairspray comes along and they get it! finally! and then u get a Nine. And all my hard work goes back down tha pan! So this is my first gripe this year! My second is with the blog-aspere the way it is now, and the billions of angry film rants that flit their way around the net, why does the academy still insist on ignoring all this and live in the stone age? I know many people who would die happy if UP won best picture but of course it would never!! its just a "cartoon"....grrr......And Zoe Saldanas performance was quite remarkable! As was Mr Serkis's back in the day! And i agree with the Sci-fi snobbery, Rockwell was FANTASTIC!! When r the academy gonna realise that the world has started to think out of the box and that to keep this ceremony relevant and people interested in anything beyond the dresses, they MUST too?!?!!??!!

7 gogzilla
Posted on Wednesday February 3, 2010, 12:47
I agree that Moon should have been nominated for something, but am I alone in thinking Inglorious Basterds should be up for best foriegn language?

8 timgowen
Posted on Wednesday February 3, 2010, 17:33
Well the last time there were 10 nominees for Best Picture a Bing Crosby film called 'Going My Way' won Best Picture and quite a few other awards. Also nominated: Double Indemnity.

Which had I never heard of in my life and which is on my DVD Shelf? 'Nuff said.

9 yiannis21
Posted on Thursday February 4, 2010, 08:28

Good point on the whole cinematography/photography comparison, but I would argue that, even without CGI, cinematography does not "capture images", to use your phrase, in the same way that photography does, it CREATES images through manipulation. Unless you are watching a Dogme fim or something on a ridiculously low budget, what you see on screen is not what you would have seen with your own eyes had you been standing on set in the same position as the camera. Whether through filters, artificial lighting or any number of other manipulations, the DoP uses his creative process to change the image from what actually appeared in front of him into what the director wants to see on screen.

In a film with lots of CGI such as Avatar, the DoP still has to make the same creative choices, as does the director. When you get down to it, is changing the filter on a camera REALLY any different from moving the filter slider on the taskbar of a computer? And what is the difference between a group of computer experts at their stations and a bunch of riggers operating the lighting? CGI is a tool for filmmakers to use, but they still have to have the creativity required to make the film in the first place. Think about it another way: trading in your crappy old acoustic guitar for brand new electric one with all sorts of special gizmos and features does not make you a better musician.

10 yiannis21
Posted on Thursday February 4, 2010, 08:50
ThismonkeyhasRAGE (again),

Sorry - damn word limit!

As for the "literary/visual" point, perhaps I didn't make my point clearly enough. To me, there normally cannot be a divide between the two when it comes to film, however if there IS a divide then visuals are far more important. After all, there are plenty of abstract films with no plot, dialogue or any other supposed "literary" qualities, yet these are still films. However, a plot or story with no visual aspect at all cannot logically be called a film. I prefer to see it as a long grey area between the two extremes, starting somewhere between "literary" and the mid-point (to represent strong stories with little visual flair), all the way up to purely "visual". The key is that nobody is going to appreciate every point along that line, so your personal taste is going to represent a far narrower band than the whole spectrum available to you.

However, even if your primary focus is on the literary aspects, I still feel that you are short-changing Avatar a little. Yes, of course the story is familiar and derivative, but I feel I could make a compelling case that virtually EVERY story is derivative, whether from other stories or real life. The real art of storytelling is not trying to come up with a totally original story, but to put familiar pieces together in a way that hasn't been done before. In that sense, I would argue that, for all its familiar plot points, character tics and motifs, Avatar succeeds in creating a combination that we genuinely have not experienced before - at least not on film, anyway (old school sci-fi novels have most definitely done this sort of thing before - that was one of Cameron's biggest influences).

Anyway, I always say that if a story was actually bad, it would not be familiar. If a story gets told repeatedly, then somebody must like it...

Remember, there are no bad stories - only bad storytellers

11 garricksee
Posted on Thursday February 4, 2010, 13:20
I don't feel satisfied with this year's predictions for Best Picture. In my opinion, the Best Picture award was always about the acting and the story that captivates the people, making us feel like part of the experience. The award should be based on how the storytelling itself made us think or admire or feel something for the whole movie. I don't agree that Avatar should win the award solely on its CGI when the story itself doesn't say, anything at all. In my opinion, I think it will still win though but only based on its box-office success.

I remember watching Juno or Garden State and I thought to myself that these are the movies that should be recognized because of its originality. Sure Avatar is great and all, but do you feel anything after watching it? Maybe it's because I'm more sensitive towards indie-type movies but it still doesn't change the fact that the Best Picture award is already pre-decided before each and every film is analyzed carefully. I watched Up and Up In The Air and I could feel something in me when the movie was over - it left a big impression on me about my life as well. That is the kind of movie that should be winning the Best Picture award.

Call me old fashioned but great movies have always been judged this way throughout the years.

For Best Actor I feel that Colin Firth could give Bridges a run for his money due to his amazing performance ever in his career. Best Supporting Actor is Waltz no doubt. Best Animated and Best Score is Up for me and for Best Director, well, I guess it's a two-horse race. I don't really have a care for the other categories so we'll see then.

12 pottynoodles
Posted on Thursday February 4, 2010, 13:45
excellent comments folks. slightly off topic but back to Helen's remark in the blog, congrats to the Secret of Kells for the surprise nomination. There's not a hope in hell sadly of winning but it was such a lovely film and a nice nod to a very small studio. Also good to see that in some cases story and characters can win out. Was well received here in Ireland so I hope it gets a UK distributor following the nom.
Sam Rockwell being overlooked for his performance in Moon is a travesty by the way. And what's the point of having 10 nominations for Best Picture when it looks as if Best Director drives it?

13 Ambition
Posted on Thursday February 4, 2010, 23:12
The two best pictures that have been overlooked in my opinion, would be NINE and Where The Wild Things Are (which didn't even get nominated for Costume design for christ sake?! is that not a bit silly? anyone? At least a soundtrack nod?). I'd also give NINE a nod for Cinematography, and trade Cruz's supporting actress for Cotillard. I'd like to have seen a few other members of the Inglourious cast in supporting categories - there were many great performances.

I didn't really like Avatar, can I just say - after all Jakes time in the jungle, reconnecting with nature - he ended up taking down the bad guys mothership with... grenades! Uh-huh... and the moral there was?

I'd love to see Tarantino walk away with Best Director. I may put some money on it - it's 20/1!

14 general_potatoface
Posted on Friday February 5, 2010, 14:52
The nomination for the Secret of Kells is a great achievement for the guys in Cartoon Saloon. While the story didn't entirely wow me (I think the elements were too familiar, as an Irish person), it was visually stunning. Just wonderful animation.

I'm eagerly awaiting their next project. Check out their website.

The Irish Pixar, maybe?

15 blindfold
Posted on Saturday February 6, 2010, 00:26
Nice bit of Banter But I do get fed up of critics moaning about people not going to see certain films that get limited releases. Obviously these films have limited budgets so their marketing campaigns are minimal- So if you guys are such fans then why don't you all get your editor to strap on a pair and run a decent feature on them that will get them better noticed.

Alot of the time the general public need road signs to get to these places. Im sure alot of readers wont be offended by it - and a break from the next BIG Blockbuster might do your journalism some good.

PS- On a persoanl note - if Sandra Bullock wins an oscar in this life then I'm quitting watching movies forever.

16 sirisol
Posted on Sunday February 7, 2010, 18:33
Helen, I have great respect for you, but I am disappointed and surprised that you didn't like The White Ribbon. Great story, great acting, great insight, it's good to know it'll win a surely deserved Oscar

17 jimmytwotimes
Posted on Monday February 8, 2010, 12:55
If Avatar wins Best Pic it will be the biggest travesty since Goodfellas not winning. A massive technical achievement but there are Oscars for technical achievements. Avatar's not a bad film, just not a great one, having said that The Hurt Locker's much ado about nothing as well. Give it Tarantino - if we're talking overdue, he's earned it. Plus might be fun seeing the Americans squirm over the title!!

18 darrylstill
Posted on Monday February 22, 2010, 14:05
Check these alternative awards
Very funny!

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