It was supposed to be the move that made the 2010 Oscars more "meaningful". By opening up the Best Picture nominations to ten, more films, and by indirect correlation, more filmmakers, casts, and crewmembers, were supposed to be vying for the Academy's top prize. It was diversity in its purest, aesthetic form. So why was the announcement this morning of the 82nd Annual AMPAS choices so…expected. Where were the proposed "shockers"? Oh sure, would anyone have guessed that a sci-fi South African social commentary or the animated adventures of a curmudgeonly old man, a chubby adventure scout, and a floating house be vying for the year's top trophy. Sure, the aliens of Na'Vi and an bunch of bomb squad daredevils were a lock, but at least a couple of the Best Picture picks were interesting, to say the least. But "stunners"? Not really.
As for the rest of the major categories, they couldn't be more predictable. You've got to give Hollywood and the various guilds and critical community credit. They have micromanaged the awards season process to remove all legitimate suspense and surprise out of it. For those still interested - or working on their office pool - here's how we see the upcoming 7 March commencements:
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
So this is what doubling the nominees wrought. Clearly, Up, A Serious Man, An Education, District 9, and The Blind Side are the winners of the 2010 gimmickry award. While one could make a case for almost all of their inclusion on some Best-of list (Bullock's feel-good ersatz bio-pic excluded) adding them to the Academy roll does little to change the race. No one is expecting the Coens to pull an upset, or Pixar to do much except crow about its double nods. It's still a race between Avatar, The Hurt Locker, and everyone else. While the Iraq War thriller definitely has the Producer's Guild edge, we could be looking at a Crash like jaw-dropper for Cameron's champion chart-topper. Billions do talk.
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
No surprises here. Bridges is still poised to steal Renner's pre-ordained thunder. All others, including Freeman, should get their game faces ready. Frankly, the presence of the Invictus nominations are nothing more than a shoulder shrug. There were other performances - Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man, for example - that deserved to be here.
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel `Push' by Sapphire
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
In many ways, Oscar needn't bother anymore. SAG robs it of so much of its potential glory that the acting categories now look like an after thought. With one exception (more on this in a moment), it's the same group from the guild, and as momentum continues to build for Bullock, the result is looking more and more like a lock. So much for the drama and suspense of the 'big night'.
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
The good news is that Tucci survived the Academy's process to continue his stint as The Lovely Bones' sole reason for participating this late in the game. The bad news is that Christoph Waltz has owned this trophy since his Jew Hunter character walked into that tiny French farmhouse six months ago. Be on the look out for a Plummer upset - he's done great work this year, and at his advanced age, he could be looking at some major career overview consideration.
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Here it is - the only place where SAG and the Academy disagree. Ms. Gyllenhaal did not receive a nomination from her card-carrying peers a few weeks ago, but she is now standing in the place where many believe Diane Kruger belongs. The lack of said Inglourious Basterds co-star aside, this is still Mo'Nique's award to lose - and if she does (especially to that doesn't deserve to be here piffle Penelope Cruz), it will indeed be a crime.
James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
The usual suspects show up, fresh from their victory/defeat at 30 January's DGA ceremony, and a waiting film fanatic audience yawns. With ten Best Picture nominations, one could have easily anticipated some manner of minor upset - perhaps Neill Blomkamp for District 9 or the guys behind Up - but it looks like, no matter how they modify the process, the same month old names are always there, ready to reap their rewards.
Foreign Language Film:
El Secreto de Sus Ojos, Argentina
The Milk of Sorrow, Peru
Un Prophete, France
The White Ribbon, Germany
Our money has been on Haenke's Ribbon for a while now - which means this category is ripe for a Pan's Labyrinth double-take. While it's anyone's guess which other of the four foreign entries could play spoiler, don't be surprised if Germany walks away empty handed.
Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, District 9
Nick Hornby, An Education
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche, In the Loop
Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Tom McCarthy, Up
For years now, the screenplay categories have been the bastion of the "thanks for playing"/ "runner up" race among Best Picture/Best Director/Best X nominees. Looking over these two lists, you can definitely see where the serious contenders end and the "glad to be included" members begin. For Adapted, In the Loop looks more and more like a sure thing, with only Precious or possible an Up in the Air afterthought breathing down its neck. In Original, it's between Boal and Tarantino, period.
Animated Feature Film:
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells
The over-sensationalized story you'll be hearing for the next few weeks will center on the one-two punch from Pixar. How it managed both a Best Animation (given) and Best Picture (whaaaaaa???) nod will have pundits wagging and waffling until the credits roll. The bigger story will be how this affects the cartoon category itself. Could the Academy feel that this title has received more than its fair share of recognition and give the statue to someone else? Or will we see the CG effort dominate like everyone thought it would? Perhaps the answer is The Secret of Kells that everyone is still scratching their head over, both literally and figuratively.
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No Anvil? No care.