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March 5, 2010

Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director and Other Oscar Picks

Filed under: Casual Fridays,Film — Steve Krupa @ 11:35 am

This year’s film phenomenon was undoubtedly AvatarHow much did it really cost? – numbers range from $230-$500 million.  It’s analogous to Star Wars (I saw Star Wars with my father the first week it was out.  I was 13).  Its state-of-the-art 3-D/CGI sets the stage for revitalizing the Hollywood blockbuster, creating new film making techniques and enhancing the theatre going experience as something superior to home DVD viewing, even Blue Ray.  Avatar is a visual masterpiece and James Cameron deserves praise for it.  But does he deserve the Oscar for Best Director?  Is Avatar a great movie, or an amazing visual spectacle?  Did someone make a better movie this year?

Avatar, which I really did like, ranks 6th on my list of the 10 nominated films (yes – I have seen all 10).  As beautiful as the film is, I find its story flawed (I’ve seen it before).  Granted, the predictability allowed me to get absorbed into the 3-D/CGI, but I never quite fell for the Universe’s greatest sci-fi army falling prey to the native’s bows and arrows and super powerful prehistoric animals bit.   For a more intellectual dissection of Avatar’s plot failings, check out David Brooks’ analysis in his New York Times Op-Ed, The Messiah Complex.   

Director Kathryn Bigelow spent around $15 million on The Hurt Locker and managed to make a much better movie than her long-ago ex-husband Cameron; it might well be my favorite war movie since Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter.

So what makes The Hurt Locker so special?  It manages to slow down war and make it comprehensible, both visually and emotionally; it creates a set of characters we find ourselves giving a damn about; and it creates non-stop, nearly unbearable, suspense.  Every shot and hand-held camera angle is meticulous and in almost every instant we know exactly what everyone is doing and why.  On a personal level, it’s also about those of us that at some point in our lives learned to do something so well that we loved it beyond anything else.  That’s the case of the understated main character in this film, Staff Sgt. William James (played by Jeremy Renner).  He knows how to diffuse bombs better than anyone.  He’s a hotshot.  It’s all he loves, and he changes the lives of everyone in his platoon as a result of it.

Below is my ranking of the nominees for Best Director.

Best Director Ranking:

  1. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
  2. Avatar (James Cameron)
  3. Precious (Lee Daniels)
  4. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
  5. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)

If you have an interest in Bigelow, and you’re okay with a couple of plot spoilers, Leslie Stahl’s 60 Minutes profile on Bigelow is very interesting.  It includes an interview with James Cameron who insists Bigelow might win because she is a woman.  Oh, I failed to mention, were Bigelow to win she would be the first woman ever to win the Best Director Oscar, pretty cool.

For controversy, note that one of The Hurt Locker’s producers, Nicolas Chartier, has been banned from the Oscar ceremony because of e-mails he sent urging academy members to vote for his movie  (he also indirectly pans Avatar in the emails, apparently).

It is “Casual Friday” so here are my other Oscar Picks.  We’ll check in on Monday to see how I did.

Best Picture Ranking:

  1. The Hurt Locker
  2. Precious
  3. Up
  4. District 9
  5. An Education
  6. Avatar
  7. Inglorious Basterds
  8. A Serious Man
  9. Up in the Air
  10. The Blind Side 

I have no idea how The Blind Side got nominated, it’s a very good made-for-TV movie, like Brian’s Song.  Bullock might win for Best Actress, but I didn’t get why the performance was so special.  My wife disagrees.

Best Actor:

Jeff Bridges is great in Crazy Heart.  He sings, he plays, he pukes, he does it all.  He was better as the Dude, so this is a make up win for a great career, but he deserves it.  Jeremy Renner is also excellent in The Hurt Locker.  If he weren’t running against Bridges I’d expect him to win.

  1. Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
  2. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
  3. George Clooney (Up in the Air)
  4. Did not see: Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus)

Best Actress:

  1. Carey Mulligan (An Education)
  2. Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia)
  3. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)
  4. Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
  5. Did not see:  Helen Mirren (The Last Station) 

Carey Mulligan upsets Sandra Bullock – you watch.  And see An Education.  It’s creepy and unexpected.

 Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
  2. Did not see: Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)

Sorry, I can not add a lot of value to this category given that I have not seen 4 of the 5 performances.  I did think Christopher Plummer did a great voice over in Up, as the evil explorer, and Stanley Tucci was sweet in Julie and Julia.  Christoph Waltz MADE the movie in Inglorious Basterds.  I have not heard similar praise for the others, but we’ll see.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Mo’Nique (Precious)
  2. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)
  3. Tie:Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)
  4. Did not see: Penélope Cruz (Nine)

Notwithstanding my missing Penélope Cruz (Nine), I just cannot believe that Mo’Nique will not win this category.  In Precious she (Mo’Nique) plays Mary Jones, the meanest most disgusting woman in the world, and the perfect antagonist to the loveable Precious herself.  I guess Mo’Nique is a loved stand-up comedian (I thought to include a youtube clip of her stand-up routine, but it’s quite dirty and this is a PG blog).  Credit Lee Daniels for getting a great performance out of her, and other celebrities including Lenny Kravitz and an almost unrecognizable Mariah Carrey.  Note: Gyllenhaal was very good in Crazy Heart, but my favorite performance of hers was her supporting role in Away We Go, which is a very fun movie if you haven’t yet seen it. 



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