Nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards officially came out today, with few surprises (except, perhaps, for The Blind Side's Best Picture nomination — what's with that?). Come Oscar night, these are the films to bet on.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will win: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Should win: Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox
I realize it wasn't nominated, but dammit, it should have been. The best of George Clooney's three movies this year, Fantastic Mr. Fox impressed me far more than I expected it to. Wes Anderson adapted the Roald Dahl book into a funny, intelligent film with exceptionally smart dialogue and strange, memorable characters. Even so, the Oscar will go to Up in the Air, Jason Reitman's good-but-not-great film that owes its success more to its performances than its screenplay. The real-life testimonies from men and women who have actually lost their jobs, for one thing, go on for too long, and they make Air's message obvious. That won't stop it from winning, though. Unfortunately, Fox also has zero chance of winning for Best Animated Feature, which will go to Up. Better luck next year, Wes.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will win: Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
Should win: Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
It's proven easy for the major awards to overlook Tarantino in the past. Even Jason Reitman, while accepting his Golden Globe for Best Screenplay last month, said he was “still waiting for them to say your name, Quentin.” And yes, Tarantino is self-indulgent and a little obnoxious, but he's also so fucking good—no one is more of a cinephile than he, and nobody's work reflects a pure joy to be making films the way his does. (In his world, the power of film is such that it can defeat the Nazis. How can you not love that?) The Best Original Screenplay award can almost be seen as a consolation prize for films that, while good or even great, don't have a chance at winning either of the top awards. (Past winners The Usual Suspects and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are great examples.) It's also the one Academy Award Tarantino has already won—or shared, actually, with the now-incarcerated Roger Avary, for writing Pulp Fiction—and it's his best, if only, shot this year.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Will win: Mo'Nique, Precious
Should win: Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Though it's already a sure thing that Mo'Nique will win an Oscar for her performance in Precious, I can’t help but be drawn to Vera Farmiga’s turn as Alex Goran, the woman who somehow makes the hardened Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) want to change his plane-hopping, dream-crushing ways. The arc is not especially well-executed, but Farmiga's performance is. One gets the sense, watching Up in the Air, that there's more to Farmiga's character than she's letting on. She seems too good to be true and, it turns out, is — but that's all I'll say.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will win: Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
Should win: Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
A certainty. For the third year in a row, the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor will go to a first-time winner for portraying an unforgettable villain. (The previous two went to Heath Ledger for his turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight and Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.) And, also for the third year in a row, the win will be completely deserved. Waltz's performance in Basterds is brilliant; without it, the film simply would not work as well as it does, and Waltz's work is getting the credit it deserves.
Will win: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Should win: No preference
I won't lie, dear readers: I haven't seen any of the films that these formidable thespians are nominated for this year, so I'll go ahead and say that I won't mind when Sandra Bullock wins. Why? Well, other nominees include such flybys as Emily Blunt and Carey Mulligan—who, you ask? exactly—and Meryl Streep, who's already the most decorated actress, well, ever. I tend to think awards like this are best suited for veterans who've proven themselves over a long career rather than one-timers who may never display any acting chops again (I'm looking at you, Jennifer Hudson). So, Ms. Bullock, whose role in Speed grants you a permanent, if small, place in my heart: kudos to you.
Will win: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Should win: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Call it the Year of the Dude, folks. Bridges has already won every other major award for his performance as down and out country singer/drunkard—“Careful, man, there's a beverage here!”—Bad Blake, and with good reason. The film's story is a familiar one: washed-up star spends day and night at the bottom of a bottle, meets woman, cleans up act, has bittersweet ending. (Think The Wrestler, only funnier and, to be honest, better.) But it works, and the reason is that Bridges pulls off the role (which, sans drunkenness, was tailor-made for him) wonderfully. Considering this is his fifth nomination, the Oscar is a long time coming.
Will win: The Hurt Locker
Should win: The Hurt Locker
“Well, who'd you expect, numbnuts!?”
A week ago I would have predicted that the Oscar would go to Avatar. James Cameron's latest is as immersive a film as you're likely to experience, this year or any other. That's what makes it the huge draw it is, but it's also the problem: Avatar is more of an experience than a movie. The oft-repeated criticism that its plot is little more than Dances with Wolves in space is warranted, and much of the dialogue is laughable. Avatar's made-up language, fantastical ecosystem, and transparent message make it unapologetically grandiose and sweeping: All this to say that it has little in common with The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War docudrama is neither epic nor understated. Rather, it simply just is. For every absurd scene in Avatar, there's one in Locker that feels unpretentiously genuine. With its heightened realism, strong central performance from Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner, and mature handling of its subject, The Hurt Locker reaches heights that, even with all the Toruks in Pandora, Avatar just can't.
Will win: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Should win: Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
Kathryn Bigelow will be the first woman to walk away with the Academy Award for Best Director. This became all but clear when The Hurt Locker won her top honors at the Directors Guild of America Awards, the official Oscar bellwether. Though I rarely root for such an act — splitting the Best Picture/Director awards between two films — I think this case warrants it. Locker may be a better film, but Basterds is better-directed. The former seems to me an excellent combination of factors, but the latter is the vision of a cinematic savant made flesh. I'll be quite happy when Bigelow wins, even if I'd prefer that the award go to Tarantino (though Basterds isn't his best film—but hey, The Departed wasn't Scorsese's best, either). Sometimes these awards are tantamount to honoring career-long, rather than singular, achievement. That won't be the case this year, but I kind of wish it would.