The awards season is, thankfully, coming to an end, climaxing this weekend with the Academy Awards, the biggest of all awards ceremonies.
Now, I’m usually giddy about the Oscars, especially so in recent years when edgy, left-field indies such as “No Country For Old Men, “Milk and “Million Dollar Baby dominated the most prestigious of film awards.
Yet for the worthy nominees vying for this year’s honors, the 82nd Academy Awards is looking particularly dull, predictable and inconsequential. The dozens of awards ceremony preceding the Oscars have determined their outcome months ago. Some welcomed surprise nominees aside, the Oscars is largely playing up to expectations; the Academy members have no mindset of their own, they’re simply sticking closely to popular opinion.
This year witnesses the last stage of the Oscars’ evolution from a grand celebration, awarding the best films produced over the past 12 months, into a monotonous procedure with little impact and zero significance.
Having been hit with low ratings that dwindle even further every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to expand its Best Picture category from five nominees to 10. The unexpected move was taken to include more blockbusters that failed to make the bill in the past.
The move, to some extent, worked, with top earners such as “Up, “The Blind Side and “District 9 securing coveted slots in the top 10 alongside smaller productions “A Serious Man and “An Education. Will the presence of these films, along with other popular fares like “Avatar and “Inglourious Basterds boost ratings? I doubt it.
The clear Best Picture frontrunner this year is Kathryn Bigelow’s universally acclaimed war actioner “The Hurt Locker. Out of the 10 nominees, “The Hurt Locker is certainly the most accomplished. A nail-biting thriller with top-notch performances and polished technicalities that rival “Avatar, “The Hurt Locker unquestionably deserves the multitude of awards it has been showered with.
The intriguing fact is that when it wins best film on Sunday, “The Hurt Locker – which has grossed $12.7 million domestically – will officially become the lowest grossing Best Picture winner in 52 years, specifically since Vincente Minnelli’s classic musical “Gigi, which raked $8.5 million, and that was in 1958.
On contrast, “Locker’s nearest challenger is “Avatar, the highest grossing motion picture of all time. The gulf between the two couldn’t be any bigger; the first is a $12 million labor of love that struggled for months to acquire a theatrical distribution. The second is one of the most expensive films ever made; a visual tour-de-force with a tedious narrative and plenty of bombast.
For Hollywood, “Avatar was an easy choice; “The Hurt Locker was not. Had it not been strongly backed by critics across the US, “Locker would have been stuck in the same gridlock that a large number of last year’s best films found themselves trapped in.
And herein lies my growing frustration with the Oscars. The majority of last year’s finest; most audacious American films were completely snubbed by Academy, and the list is long: James Gray’s “Two Lovers, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Sugar, Ramin Bahrani’s “Goodbye Solo, So Yong Kim’s “Treeless Mountain.
The gravest omission from this year’s list is Jane Campion’s stunning John Keats biopic “Bright Star which managed to nab a mere nomination in costume design.
The outcomes of all major categories are largely predetermined. Kathryn Bigelow is the surefire winner of best direction; her scriptwriter Mark Boal will follow suite to nab the best original script prize.
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner will duly win the best adapted screenplay award for their sharp and witty “Up in the Air, a personal favorite of mine that has little chance of raking more prizes.
In the acting categories, veteran actor Jeff Bridges will finally receive his overdue golden statue for his extraordinary turn as washed-up country singer attempting to make a comeback in “Crazy Heart, essentially 2009’s “The Wrestler.
Superb performances from George Clooney in “Air and Colin Firth in Tom Ford’s “A Single Man are well-worthy of the nominations. The most bewildering exclusion in this category is Nicolas Cage’s deliciously flamboyant performance in Werner Herzog’s misunderstood “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans.
Christoph Waltz, the best thing in Quentin Tarantino’s “Basterds is a lock-in for best supporting actor; Mo’Nique is also a safe bet for best supporting actress for her fearless turn as an abusive mother in “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.
As always, the best actress category is a shamble. By some odd stroke of luck, rom-com queen Sandra Bullock has been elevated to the front of the best actress race for her role as strong-headed Texan mom in the highly overrated sappy drama “The Blind Side. Bullock’s turn is admirable, one of the best of her career. It is not, however – by any means – the best performance of the year.
I’m not the biggest Meryl Streep fan, but her charming, effortless performance as American cook Julia Child in Nora Ephron’s “Julia & Julia is much far superior. The real best female performance of the year, Tilda Swinton in Erick Zonca’s “Julia, was, as expected, overlooked by the Academy.
In the best animated feature category, Pixar’s “Up is another sure win. The Academy must be both complimented for nominating Tomm Moore’s little seen 2-D gem “The Secret of Kells and lambasted for giving the cold shoulder to Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo, the best animated film of 2009.
In documentary features, the race is wide open, although Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens’ harrowing “The Cove about the murder of dolphins in Japan seems to have bigger clout than the other nominees.
Finally, great Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke is set to win the best foreign language film award for “The White Ribbon which, if there’s any justice in the world, should’ve been nominated for best picture.
I’ve been watching the Academy Awards ceremony for the past 20 years of my life. This year, I’m planning to break with tradition because frankly, I couldn’t care less. Instead of watching the Oscars, my advice is pick up a copy of Sight & Sound or Film Comment, catch up with the latest releases from Cannes and Venice or rent the real best American films of last year, those which the short-sighted Academy has ignored.
Don’t be misled by the hype; the nominees at offer are not the best cinematic accomplishments of the past 12 months. For that, you need to search somewhere else.
The 82nd Academy Awards ceremony will be aired live on Fox Movies on Sunday, March 7, at 1 am.