Something about this Oscar season has officially turned me off the Academy Awards. It's not that the Oscars were ever all that important but does anyone remember when they used to be more fun? With all the drama about inappropriate emails and campaign violations, something about this year has just left me feeling dirty and uninspired by the whole event. The acting categories are remarkably predictable, as are most of the technical ones. I'm really only going to wake up during the screenplay awards, as those are as up in the air (no pun intended) as they have been in a very long time.
And has any story been more overwritten than the David vs. Goliath tale of The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar? Yawn. One will win, one won't, and we can all move on with our lives. Hopefully, just to send a shock wave through the dull presentation, neither will win. Personally, I once bought into the idea that there was a third warrior in the big arena in Inglourious Basterds but I no longer think that's the case. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the little Iraq War movie that could swept a la Slumdog Millionaire. Or maybe it will be the blue warriors of Avatar. The fact is that both Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron’s films have clearly earned their place in movie history and somehow being named Best Picture feels almost anticlimactic. So, just to shake up this boring, unexciting season, I'm rooting for District 9.
Totals: If my predictions come true, The Hurt Locker and Avatar will tie with four Oscars a piece. Crazy Heart, Inglourious Basterds, and Up will each claim two Academy Award statues. Finally, The Blind Side, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, Up in the Air, The Young Victoria, Star Trek, The Cove, and The Secret in Their Eyes can all put “Oscar Winner” on their future Blu-ray releases. Best Picture nominees without a single win will include An Education, District 9, and A Serious Man – all better films than The Blind Side. There truly is no Oscar justice.
WILL/SHOULD WIN: The Hurt Locker
Contrary to many published reports, the best thing that happened to the Best Picture chances for The Hurt Locker was the wild box office success of Avatar. When James Cameron's epic broke records, many people started to point to its financial accomplishments as a reason to vote for it for Best Picture and Academy members like success but not "too much" success. They don't want to be seen as the People Choice Awards and are more likely to vote for David than Goliath when it comes down to a close race. Of course, there's the other little fact that The Hurt Locker is a much better film, a fact that has been widely recognized now that the Avatar buzz has begun to finally wear off. The Hurt Locker won nearly every precursor award and should take the big prize easily. If it's not The Hurt Locker, it's Inglourious Basterds. Avatar is probably number three due to the overly complicated preferential voting system that’s so ridiculously conceived there’s no space to go into it here. To be brief, the more divisive the film, the less likely the win, and Avatar is pretty divisive. It’s going to be the little Iraq War movie that could.
WILL/SHOULD WIN: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
One of three acting awards that seemed determined months ago, Jeff Bridges' win for Best Actor not only seems destined due to the fact that he gave the best performance of the year but because he should have already won two or three (for films he wasn’t even nominated for – The Fisher King and Fearless). Bridges has that "Career Achievement" factor working for him big time with four previous nominations and no wins along with decades of quality, beloved work. Very few actors with as consistent a track record as Bridges get to five Oscar nominations without taking home a trophy and that's not going to happen to The Dude. The only conceivable upset would be from a man I once worried wouldn't even get nominated and that's if Jeremy Renner takes it in a true Slumdog-esque sweep for The Hurt Locker, but that would be the biggest shock of the night.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences likes to pretend that it's all about the quality of the work but they love the red carpet as much as much as any award-giving group and have a habit of giving pretty gold statues to people who have made the industry a lot of money through their star power as much as their acting ability. Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron – it only seems inevitable that Sandra Bullock would join this group. And I don't even hate Bullock's work in The Blind Side. She's charismatic and entertaining, but best of the year? Really? Even the people voting for her in this category would NOT be doing so if she wasn't an American sweetheart for the last two decades. Everyone else in the category deserves it more, especially Mulligan, as do a few people not even nominated (Abbie Cornish, Tilda Swinton, Melanie Laurent) but Bullock is a good story, a happy winner who can be the smiling face of the ceremony on Monday morning and make the Academy look good. She’ll give the most entertaining speech and if you don’t think that matters in close races, you don’t know how the Oscars work. If it's not Sandy, it's Meryl Streep, which would be a lovely surprise, although even she has done far superior work than this performance since her last Oscar win for Sophie's Choice.
WILL/SHOULD WIN: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
The buzz for Christoph Waltz started in Cannes and it shows no sign of stopping before the Oscars this Sunday. Honestly, this is the biggest lock of the night and has been since Inglourious Basterds hit theaters. Sometimes you see a performance and you just know that the other four nominees in that category will be runner-ups from the moment they're announced. Ironically, it's happened in this category three years in a row and with three of the most striking and memorable villains in film history. What do Anton Chigurh, The Joker, and Hans Landa have in common? They all won Oscars. Who could possibly upset? No one, but I guess if I have to pick it would be Woody Harrelson in The Messenger, a great performance that would have won in many other years. It seems that Woody might need to play a villain to get an Oscar.
The supporting categories clearly love their malevolence and one of the few film characters arguably even more darkly evil than Waltz's Hans Landa in Basterds was the twisted mommy dearest played by Mo'Nique in Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. If even a couple of precursor awards had gone a little differently, I might think that Mo'Nique's refusal to play the Oscar season ass-kissing game with as much gusto as everyone else might hurt her chances and allow one of the Up in the Air ladies to sneak in – especially in a category that often has produced surprises in the past – but she won nearly every possible award. It also feels like this is likely to be the only trophy that goes to Precious and it would be a bit surprising for a film that was once considered a frontrunner for Best Picture to walk away without a single Oscar. This will be it, although my vote goes to Kendrick for taking a role that could have easily been a shrill cliché and turning it into something wonderful.
You can read all you want about the game-changing done by Avatar but the history books will focus on another moment of this year's Oscars – Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. Those of us who have loved and thought Bigelow underrated for years might shed a tear when she gracefully steps to the podium. Or we might quote Point Break, Near Dark, or Strange Days. The fact is that Bigelow is not a great female director; she's a great DIRECTOR, period. I have to admit that I assumed that the first Best Director Oscar for a woman would go to a safer choice, but I love that the woman who directed Point Break is shattering the glass ceiling of the Academy and I love even more that her win has NOTHING to do with her gender. The Hurt Locker was the best directed film of 2009. It just happens that its director is a woman.
Nearly every Oscar pool is going to be won or lost in these categories, easily the most unpredictable big ones of the night. If The Hurt Locker sweeps, which is a distinct possibility, will that widespread love lead to a win in Best Original Screenplay? The last Best Picture winner to NOT win a screenplay award? Million Dollar Baby, which understandably lost to one of the most critically acclaimed scripts of all time in Alexander Payne's Sideways. In other words, it’s rare for the Best Picture winner not to get a screenplay win and if it’s going to happen it takes a lot of love for the script that's supplanting it. Is there that much love for Inglourious Basterds? Maybe I'm just thinking with my heart, but I think voters who are assuming The Hurt Locker is going to win Picture and Bigelow is going to win Director, are going to want to give Quentin Tarantino some love and just barely push Inglourious Basterds over to the win in this category. As for Adapted Screenplay, throw a dart and you could find a winner. The longtime favorite, Up in the Air, has left a few Academy members cold, which means An Education or even Precious could sneak in. This is one of those categories where I feel the vote is so divided that the slim majority will go to the winner that has been predicted the longest and give Up in the Air its only trophy of the night.
BEST ART DIRECTION
WILL WIN: Avatar
SHOULD WIN: Nine
WILL WIN: The Hurt Locker (whatever wins this is winning Best Picture – if Avatar takes it, expect that to win the big prize too)
SHOULD WIN: The White Ribbon
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
WILL WIN: The Young Victoria
SHOULD WIN: Bright Star
BEST FILM EDITING
WILL/SHOULD WIN: The Hurt Locker
WILL WIN: Star Trek
SHOULD WIN: District 9 (I know it wasn't nominated, but it's completely illogical that it was ignored. Did they think all of Wikus' transformation work was CGI? Ridiculous! Of the nominees, Star Trek is the most deserving.)
BEST SOUND EDITING
WILL WIN: Avatar
SHOULD WIN: The Hurt Locker
BEST SOUND MIXING
WILL WIN: Avatar
SHOULD WIN: Star Trek
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
WILL/SHOULD WIN: Avatar (If anyone in your pool doesn’t get this one right, they should be instantly expelled from competition.)
BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
WILL/SHOULD WIN: Up
BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
WILL/SHOULD WIN: "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart
BEST SHORT FILM, ANIMATED
WILL/SHOULD WIN: A Matter of Loaf and Death
BEST SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION
WILL WIN: Kavi
SHOULD WIN: The Door
BEST SHORT FILM, DOCUMENTARY
WILL/SHOULD WIN: China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
BEST ANIMATED FILM
WILL WIN: Up
SHOULD WIN: Coraline
WILL/SHOULD WIN: The Cove
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
WILL WIN: The Secret in Their Eyes
SHOULD WIN: The White Ribbon