Picking Winners at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards

Some Oscar nomination thoughts, the morning after:

William Altreuter:

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker. James Cameron backlash, plus Hollywood self-seriousness = victory!

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges. Everybody loved Clooney, but he’s in something good every year.

Supporting Actor: Stanley Tucci. Just a hunch.

Best Actress: Sandra Bullock. Did you realize she’s forty-five years old? Not exactly the best argument against the proposition that there are no roles for women over twenty-four, since she plays at least ten years younger, but still. Plus the Streep movie wasn’t that good (even though she was).

Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique. That way Gabourey Sidibe can get a shout-out from the podium.

Animated Feature Film: Up. This is the one category where I’ve seen the majority of the nominees, and it impresses me as the strongest field of any this year. Coraline is too dark; Mr. Fox is too arch; The Princess and the Frog won’t win because Mo’Nique is going to win Supporting Actress and that will take care of the African-American slot for the night. I don’t know what The Secret of Kells is. Sounds Irish. Up was actually really good, and it was cheerful. People like cheerful.

Art Direction: Who knows? Let’s call it for Avatar, since the number one box office hit of all time is going to win some stuff, and the two Victorian-era nominees are going to cancel each other out. Avatar will win Cinematography too. The Directing award will go to Up in the Air, because it is not Avatar, and it is the sort of socially aware movie that Hollywood likes to congratulate itself for making. Adapted Screenplay will go to Precious, because Up in the Air is going to win Directing. Original Screenplay is a tough call. Maybe A Serious Man, because they won’t want to give it to Tarantino, and Up is a cartoon.

Christopher Schobert:

These nominees have left me utterly depressed. Being one of the few American moviegoers who didn’t like District 9, the sheer idea that it was deemed more worthy of a nomination than In the LoopThe RoadThe MessengerTwo LoversStar TrekThe Informant!Bright StarMoon, and even Watchmen and Adventureland (not to mention Antichrist) … Well, it’s just upsetting, and absurd. The fact that A Serious Man is one of the ten kind of makes up for it. Kind of.

But who will win, among this meager lot? Avatar will win Best Picture—it’s just too damn big not to. But Cameron won’t win Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow will for The Hurt Locker, and it will be much deserved. Best Actor will be Jeff Bridges, and it’s hard to argue with that. I had really felt this would be an Up in the Air year, but looks like it wasn’t to be …

Sandra Bullock will win Best Actress. You can bet on that. If not her, it will be an also-undeserving Meryl Streep.

Stanley Tucci, for The Lovely Bones? Really? Matt Damon for Invictus? Huh? Yet no Alfred Molina or Peter Sarsgaard for An Education? What about Stephen Lang for either Public Enemies or even Avatar? Christoph Waltz wins this one (Supporting Actor) easily, as does Mo’Nique (Supporting Actress). I sure wish Fantastic Mr. Fox will take Animated, but of course it’ll be Up. I have no idea what The Secret of Kells is, but if it keeps Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs from joining the ranks of Oscar nominees, I’m all for it.

I’d love to see Nick Hornby win the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay, although In the Loop is more deserving. But I think this is the category that allows a bone to be thrown to Up in the Air, even with a small credit controversy. The Original Screenplay category actually might be the finest of the night; any of these five could be called a deserving winner—maybe The Messenger is a reach, but still. My early thinking (I may change my mind closer to the show) is that Quentin Tarantino will win for Inglourious Basterds. But if it ain’t QT, it’s The Hurt Locker.

As for the rest … I’m too depressed by the rest of the nominees to ponder at this moment. But let me just say, if The White Ribbon doesn’t take Foreign Film, boo to the Academy. I’ll take away the boo if Il Divo wins for makeup, but that’s pretty unlikely.

Jared Mobarak:

The nominees for the Oscars are never a good group or represent what critics or cinephiles really want. The truth of the matter is that the show is put on for the public, and to draw advertising money. So they need it to focus on fan-favorites and films that the American public actually saw. (See the blatant snub of Duncan Jones’ Moon across the board and A Serious Man only getting recognition because people see the Coen Brothers name and will go in blind.)

As a result, I’m not even going to give an opinion on who will win; I think both Bill and Chris do a good job guessing above. Instead I’ll say who should win in the categories rife with undeserving talent—only so much as others deserved it more, I don’t want to belittle their achievements.

Best Picture: Up in the Air. I ranked Avatar higher, but I believe it deserves more technical awards than overall praise on the whole.

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges. One of the few that deserves the inevitable win.

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan. She is unforgettable in An Education. Streep is doing an impression—which worked for Jamie Foxx—and while Bullock is great, the material itself doesn’t merit the award.

Supporting Actor: Christophe Waltz. No question.

Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique. No question.

Best Animated: Up. No question. (And I actually enjoyed Cloudy very much, Mr. Out-of-Nowhere-Secret of Kells, raining on its parade).

Best Foreign: The White Ribbon. Sad to not see 35 Rhums or Sin Nombre on the shortlist.

Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air. If only to watch Reitman completely ignore his co-credited writer once again.

Original Screenplay: A Serious Man. If there is any justice in the world, this will win, although I wouldn’t mind Tarantino scooping it up either.

William Altreuter:

It always seems to me that actual merit is largely irrelevant to the Oscars, which is why I like your list. Anyone who wants a guide to what 2009 movies would be worth having a look at would be well served with your “Alternate Dimension” selections.

This was a year with a lot of good science fiction movies, and ten Best Picture nominations to spread around, so I guess it isn’t a surprise that this technically demanding genre got some love, but Star Trek was worthy, wasn’t it? I liked Watchmen, but it was a doomed project. People who love the source material were certain to hate it, because it was so faithful to the source without being faithful enough; nobody else was ever going to enjoy it. In handicapping the Academy Awards what I try to do is think about what the voters might be thinking about. Actually, I frequently find myself thinking about that when I’m in the theater: “What were they thinking?” I mutter to myself.

As long as we are discussing alternate realities, let’s think about what the winners would look like if what Hollywood is thinking is the Massachusetts senatorial election should be rebuked and Obama supported. Stranger things have happened—Slumdog Millionaire comes to mind, for example. Out on Hollywood Boulevard “Yes We Can” still resonates, and the Academy could congratulate itself on its enlighted attitude and spread some awards around.

It’s pretty amazing to think that only three Best Actor awards have been given to black men: Sidney Poitier in 1963 (Lilies of the Field), in what was arguably a similar historical moment); Forest Whitaker in 2006 for The Last King of Scotland (another weird year—he was up against Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond, Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson, Peter O’Toole for Venus and Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness. The voters must have figured that Whitaker was overdue, Smith would be back, and O’Toole would be to obvious a pity pick); and Jamie Foxx for Ray.

Morgan Freeman has a Supporting Actor statue at home for Million Dollar Baby in 2004. Isn’t he due for a prize as a lead? After all, Nelson Mandela personally picked him for the part. That would be good news for Matt Damon presumably, since his character in Invictus was African, even if he was typecast as a white guy.

Precious and The Princess and the Frog would be the other obvious beneficiaries of this line of thinking; in just about every scenario Mo’Nique is a lock for Supporting Actress, but the only way I see Gabourey Sidibe winning is if there is an African-American sweep rolling through the auditorium. Diana Ross is the only black actress to receive an Academy Award nomination for a debut film, and that year—1972—was the only time that multiple black actresses received Best Actress nominations. (Cicely Tyson was nominated for Sounder.)

Precious is only the second film to feature black nominees for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress (hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since The Color Purple). Even harder to believe that Halle Berry was the first—and is still the only—black actress to win the Best Actress award. This scenario could work to put Avatar over the top for Best Picture, too. Its anti-imperialist message would probably trump its Dances With Wolves racial message (“What we need here is a white guy!”), and it would allow the members of the Academy to vote for a movie that made a ton of dough. There’s no business like show business, after all, and business is the point of that motto, isn’t it?.

Hilariously, under this scenario, Best Song would go to Randy Newman for his work on the New Orleans themed Princess and the Frog. Somewhere King Oliver is weeping.

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