This year, the Best Picture category returns to a 10-nominee set as hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin tag team for comedy amid several costume changes as they hope to keep the ball rolling from Hugh Jackman’s varied hosting work last year. The 82nd Annual Academy Awards will be televised live on Sunday, March 7 on ABC. Here are my winning picks (in bold).
- The Blind Side
- District 9
- An Education
- The Hurt Locker
- Inglourious Basterds
- Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
- A Serious Man
- Up in the Air
The first year since 1944 with more than five nominees can make everyone happy with a nice mix of realism and escapism. Blind Side was a surprise as Star Trek didn’t make the cut. No Julie & Julia or (500) Days of Summer either. Avatar is the front runner here. Avatar accomplished filmmaking breakthroughs and represents a modern rarity, which Pixar and a few other studios follow — taking the time to make a great film. The pressure should lie with the end product and the storytelling. Yes, Avatar does not have a screenplay nomination here and has received harsh criticism for unoriginality in a derivative story written by director/producer James Cameron, but it's still the best picture this year.
Best Animated Film
- Fantastic Mr. Fox
- The Princess and the Frog
- The Secret of Kells
Many didn’t see Secret, while the obvious five-nomination front runner Up also got a much deserved best picture nomination. The other three nominees are very unique, but Up combines strong filmmaking, music, storytelling, setting, and characters into an unforgettable and highly entertaining story. Will Pixar’s incredible string of hits ever end?
- James Cameron, Avatar
- Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
- Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
- Lee Daniels, Precious…
- Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Clint Eastwood didn’t make the cut while Bigelow hopes to be the first female directing winner. Cameron’s already king of the world with a statue for Titanic and Bigelow almost has a guaranteed win by getting the Director's Guild award.
- Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
- Helen Mirren, The Last Station
- Carey Mulligan, An Education
- Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
- Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
British actresses swapped as Mirren replaced Emily Blunt for Young Victoria as Last Station gets some much deserved attention. Streep is the closest contender to Bullock who gets her first nomination and likely win, perhaps by popular vote because Blind Side also got a Best Picture nod. Bullock's longevity and appealing persona boost her chances along with her cumulative work.
- Penelope Cruz, Nine
- Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
- Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
- Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
- Mo'Nique, Precious
Cruz got the only major nomination for the high profile, but little seen musical Nine while Up in the Air had a double dose of great actresses. Kendrick has a great future while Farmiga cements herself at the top of the actress talent pool. Mo’Nique’s realistic and dramatic portrayal is the best here, an achievement which adds some credibility to "crossover" actresses and actors coming from stand-up or music.
- Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
- George Clooney, Up in the Air
- Colin Firth, A Single Man
- Morgan Freeman, Invictus
- Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Bridges is long overdue for a win after multiple nominations while newcomer Renner gets a much deserved nomination. Bridges' singing talents come through, but his ability to perform and permeate audiences with his characters fuel this win.
- Matt Damon, Invictus
- Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
- Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
- Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
- Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
A great set including men who could also headline any film. Plummer caps off an incredible year, but Waltz’s mesmerizing performance wins out here. His beginning dialogue scene in the Frenchman's house is enough. Tarantino again showcases an extraordinary performance in an extended role, which pushes a deserving actor into the spotlight.
Best Original Screenplay
- Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
- Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
- Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman, The Messenger
- Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
- Bob Peterson, Pete Docter & Tom McCarthy, Up
Boal won the Writers Guild Award and has good momentum. Up continues Pixar’s screenplay recognition as Messenger and Serious get deserved attention. Tarantino has his sole win with Roger Avary for Pulp Fiction. Boal succeeds with the first modern Iraq war movie, which balances taut realism and shocking scenarios as audiences follow along side military characters instead of being dragged along.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- 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
- Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Loop gets some nice recognition with their only nomination. Directors Blomkamp, Iannucci, and Reitman stretch their creative skills here while Reitman also gets a directing nod for a well-timed and personal film. Reitman and Turner also won the Writers Guild award. The generational conflicts, modern work environment and personal searches for life satisfaction balance well within each character.