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Oscars 2010: The Best Picture Race

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This year, the Academy has elected ten films to compete for Best Picture. You may be thinking that sounds like a lot of contenders and it is! This is the first time there have been this many nominees since 1943. I have to wonder why they decided to expand the number of films this year. I am hoping it has to do with the failure of The Dark Knight to be nominated last year. Granted, I do not think it would have helped it win, but the nomination would have been nice and the recognition well-deserved. In any case this year’s crop is a mixture of popular studio titles and the indie. Who will win? I am sure you all have your guesses.

What I am hoping to do here is let you know who is nominated and give my thoughts on their virtues and perhaps even some thoughts as to why I believe each will win or lose. I am not likely to be right, but it could prove an interesting exercise.

First off, here are the ten nominees, in alphabetical order: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, and Up in the Air. Let me also add a couple of titles I felt were snubbed: The Road, Moon, and (500) Days of Summer.

In many cases, the Best Picture winner is also nominated for Best Director. Both do not always win, but it is always a good sign in terms of its chances to take home the top honor when a picture is nominated for both. Going by this, five nominated films can be eliminated right off the bat. Still, perhaps we should not dismiss them out of hand, perhaps we will be surprised. With this in mind, let’s take a look at those five first.

The Blind Side
This is one of the two nominees that I have not seen. I am not ashamed to admit that as I was cutting corners in my viewing (I see way too many films to begin with) I thought this looked like one that could safely be skipped. Perhaps the bad trailer is to blame, but I had no interest in seeing it. The movie has the look of so many inspirational films that have come before it. Judging by the positive reactions and its impressive (and record-making) box office I am wrong. I know I will eventually see it, but have not as yet. While inspirationals often appeal to the Academy, I do not feel this really has a chance.

District 9
Here is a movie that I absolutely love. This was my pick for best of the year (rather, my favorite). Directed by Neill Blomkamp, this science fiction film fires on all creative cylinders. The characters are fascinating, the effects spectacular, the story involving, and the list goes on. You are given a lot to chew on here. I am not foolish enough to believe it will Best Picture, but I am ecstatic that it has been nominated. It is definitely a film that you should see.

An Education
The second of the films I have no seen. I was a little surprised to see this one get a nod. Frankly, I have heard it is a good film, but that talk is always overshadowed by the performance of Carey Mulligan (who received a Best Actress nomination). It is a coming of age story set in the 1960s and explores how a young girl’s life changes in the wake of a playboy’s arrival. This is another film I am sure to see at some point, but it never really inspired me to rush out and see it.

A Serious Man
The latest Coen Brothers film failed to garner the duo another directing nomination. As for the film itself, I am not as enamored with it as others have been. Still, it is a very good, very personal film from some of the best currently working filmmakers. The film centers on an embattled Jewish man, a college professor who believes in order as his life is beset by disorder. The snub here is Michael Stuhlbarg for Best Actor.

Pete Docter and Bob Peterson co-directed this Pixar classic that has become the second animated film to be nominated for the big prize (after Beauty and the Beast). This is a phenomenal film that ranked number four on my list of top films. It is funny, exciting, and emotionally moving. However, in addition to the lack of a director nomination, it is also up for Best Animated Feature, a fact that is sure to hurt it here, much like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was hurt by a Best Foreign Feature nomination some years ago. Still, the fact that it got nominated is great and well deserved.

Now let’s move onto the five films which do have Best Director nominations attached. These I have ranked in order of likelihood to win — from least to most. This is not necessarily the order I would like them to be, after all District 9 was my number one for the year, rather this is the order I think they will rank when all is said and done, even though we will only ever know number one.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
As soon as I saw this film, and feeling very moved by it, I also saw the image of an Oscar statuette dancing in my head. I was not so sure about the wins so much as I was about the nominations. I predicted Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. It received all of those nominations. I feel that it’s best chance is in the acting categories, particularly supporting actress. It is a very good film, however its initial buzz seems to have faded in favor of other nominees.

Inglourious Basterds
I would love to say this has a better chance than fourth, but while critics have taken to it, the end of year awards have not exactly come rolling in. Still, I have a feeling this is a movie that will only grow in esteem over the years. Quentin Tarantino has crafted a great piece of revisionist history that is also a love story about the medium of film. Besides, it is a shoe in for Best Supporting Actor and I would like to believe it has a shot at screenplay.

Here is where things start to get a little tricky. The next three films are as close to a toss up as you can get. All three have taken in some prestigious awards this season. But, on with my guesses…

Up in the Air
Jason Reitman’s third film has gathered a lot of steam of late. It is a very good film with strong performances and a fantastic screenplay. It is a movie that arrived at just the perfect moment with its story of people at a crossroads in life and a main character who travels around to fire people. It is captivating and poetic. It is not a flashy film in the least, but it is one which you cannot take your eyes off. This is definitely a front runner (of course, I pick it for third, but still).

The Hurt Locker
When this was in very limited release, I hopped a train to New York City and saw this and Moon. Let me tell you, it was one great day for movies. I am so glad to have made that trip. This is a subtle and nuanced film that is also edge-of-your-seat exciting. It is quite the accomplishment for director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, not to mention star Jeremy Renner. It is the story of a bomb-defusing team in Iraq, the dangers they put themselves in, and the personal toll it takes. This one has been gaining a lot of steam of late, having picked up a handful of awards. I think this has a very strong shot at winning. In fact, it would not surprise me in the least. It is also the only one of the top three choices here to rank in my top of the year list, coming in at number eleven.

All right, conventional wisdom would say that a science fiction epic would not have a chance at winning. No science fiction feature has ever won. However, I feel that Return of the King‘s win a few years ago changed the rules. I feel the film has at least as good a shot at winning as Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker do. Avatar is a great film and one that deserves consideration. It is the top grossing film of all time, but more than that, it has entered the public’s consciousness like no other film has done since, perhaps, Titanic (another James Cameron offering). While Titanic won, I do not feel it was the best film that year, it was, however, the best experience. The same could be said for Avatar. Cameron pushes boundaries and has created jaw droppingly fantastic technologies that will surely have an effect on film history. Will all that be enough to push it over the top? I think it may. It may, technically, not be the best film of the year, but it could prove to be more historically significant than any of the other nominees (including my favorite).

Whoever wins on March 7, 2010, just remember that there were a lot of good films in 2009 and it is only time that will be the final judge of which film is truly the most worthy.

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