AVATAR – (James Cameron)
Avatar to me, was all flash and little substance. The story, something like Aliens meets Captain Planet was convoluted, overdrawn and overlong. At times, especially when the blue folk are “linking” with the environment, it felt like I was watching soft-core tech-porn. The visuals are generally excellent – though I may be the only person in the world that was more impressed by the scenes in the military installation than the scenes on Pandora – but anyone who grew up in the video game era has already seen this stuff. I don't buy the hype.
THE BLIND SIDE – (John Lee Hancock)
It's a nice little sports flick, but nothing groundbreaking. The character development suffers from sticking to the book too closely at some points, and not close enough at others (we never see why Michael Oher was labeled a character risk on draft day for instance) and it diverts into a weepy Sandra Bullock Oscar reel for long segments. Still, it was a surprisingly good film. It's not designed to challenge, nor necessarily to inspire, (why we see so much of Bullock and so little of Oher I don't really know) but it gives you a good time at least.
DISTRICT 9 – (Neill Blomkamp)
I was with this movie at the beginning. The setting was well done and the central conflict of the filmic universe was set up nicely. I was even a fan of the quasi-unique documentary style. But, as the film's main character became more invested in the alien livelihood, it began to devolve into a rather generic action-fest, though some of the tweaks to the formula were unexpected. I'm more interested in seeing what the film's creators do next than stumping for it as the year's best picture.
AN EDUCATION – (Lone Scherfig)
This was probably the one Oscar nominated film that I wanted to see the most. It has all the hallmarks of an Oscar sleeper – under-seen, under-appreciated and definitely under-discussed - yet it was vigorously loved by many critics. I think that An Education was designed to be a poignantly emotional, slightly creepy, coming of age story – something it mostly succeeds at – but none of the themes really connected on a deep level (maybe I need ovaries). Also, for a film that derives so much story material from its time and place, Cary Mulligan's obstacles seem rather tacked on and inorganic – more convenience than reality. The performances are great, but the story and direction are flawed.
THE HURT LOCKER – (Kathryn Bigelow)
Shaky-cam to the rescue. Recent controversy aside I still think that The Hurt Locker is the favorite in the Best Picture Race. The direction here is fantastic; Bigelow really knows how to keep the tension amped up and the set pieces are endlessly entertaining. Its basically a really fantastic action film with a little more heart than say, Bloodsport. It's not without its weaknesses – there are random 'lets try to be shocking and make giant statements about today's military' thrown in, but it is easily one of the most memorable films I saw last year.
INGLORIOUS BASTERDS – (Quentin Tarantino)
I get that its supposed to be campy and stylishly violent, but I can also tell that it didn't cook in the oven for quite long enough. None of the characters really stand out and demand that their story be told and, while I can appreciate some of the set pieces, I really couldn't have given less of a damn about what happened to the people in the story. Its a good time waster but, in a year in which Black Dynamite was released, its not even the best throwback/homage film out there. Perhaps, I need to watch it again but I really don't understand the hype.
PRECIOUS – (Lee Daniels)
I don't think that its as disturbing or emotionally shattering as many make it out to be (those “terrifying” flashback scenes are a bit ridiculous) but Precious is a damn fine movie. Gabourey Sidibe was absolutely amazing here and kept me invested in her character's fate – something that many of the year's nominees fail to do. It is definitely a distressing and depressing film (not really shocking) but the lead performance (I don't really buy into any of the hype about Mo'nique) and mostly well-told story here put it on my shortlist.
A SERIOUS MAN – (Joel and Ethan Coen)
This one was a bit surprising. After being utterly disappointed by Burn After Reading I had low hopes for another Coen brothers comedy with a short production cycle. And, while I can see its lack of mass appeal (the open-ended conclusion ensures there is no satisfying resolution to the film), I ate up the interesting filming techniques, strange humor and absolutely loved the performances. Watch it more than once and you just may begin to see through the insanity.
UP – (Pete Docter and bob Peterson)
I was absolutely in love with Up after my theatrical viewing. I saw it in 3D, though that added little to the experience, and was blown away by the garish visuals and the fact that a cartoon was able to toy with my emotions. After revisiting it on DVD, however, some issues became apparent. Its still beautiful and there's still some emotional pull, but the hour long slog through a land of giant birds and talking dog armies really detracts from the film's overall quality. I'm glad Pixar got a nomination, but Up won't and shouldn't win Best Picture (or even Best Animated feature if you ask me).
UP IN THE AIR – (Jason Reitman)
I have deemed Up in the Air the ultimate deceiver. It lures you in with its comical whimsy only to slam the door on your hand with a startlingly sad ending sequence. The writing is great here, I loved Clooney and both actresses but the film seems a bit hurried and unmotivated at times. Still, its one of my top five favorites from 2009.
So without further ado my hypothetical ballot would be
9. District 9
8. Inglorious Basterds
6. An Education
5. The Blind Side
4. Up in the Air
2. The Hurt Locker
1. A Serious Man
MY CHOICE: A Serious Man
WHO WILL WIN: The Hurt Locker
BEST LEAD ACTOR – Morgan Freeman (Invictus), George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Jeff Bridged (Crazy Heart), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
I haven't seen all five performances. I don't think that Freeman would sway my choice, but I've heard really good things about Colin Firth. From the remaining three I liked Clooney's performance the best. It was alternatively humorous and emotional. Perhaps that's more of a credit to the writing but I was invested heavily in his story. Renner was great in The Hurt Locker but not given enough to do. Jeff Bridges as a half-drunk country singer in Crazy Heart is getting all the hype but that movie was pretty awful. Bridges is solid, and you can really tell that he's inhabiting his character but I couldn't really be bothered to care. I won't be offended if he wins because all the performances I saw were pretty standard. Now if Michael Jai Williams were nominated...
MY CHOICE: George Clooney (Up in the Air)
WHO WILL WIN: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
BEST LEAD ACTRESS – Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia)
I haven't seen Streep or Mirren's performances and Streep is getting some late hype so maybe she's the best. Of the remaining three my clear cut favorite performance was Sidibe's. It's by far the most challenging role I saw last year and she absolutely nails it. It's a subdued take on a role that could easily be ruined by overacting. Carey Mulligan was very good, though slightly annoying at times and Sandra Bullock was, in my opinion at least, terribly overrated. All she did was talk with a Southern accent and act indignant. Big whoop.
MY CHOICE: Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)
WHO WILL WIN: I hope it's Sidibe but I think Bullock (The Blind Side) will probably take it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Matt Damon (Invictus), Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
Christoph Waltz as the villain in Inglorious Basterds was probably the best thing about the movie. That being said I haven't seen any of the other performances here so no (real) comment.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Penelope Cruz (Nine), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Mo'nique (Precious)
I haven't seen Cruz's performance but haven't heard much hype about it either. Gyllenhaal is mediocre in Crazy Heart, Mo'nique is vicious in Precious but I didn't really buy into the performance – it seemed rather silly at times. So, for me, its between the two supporting roles in Up in the Air. If I had to choose between Farmiga and Kendrick I'd take Kendrick. Farmiga is the main love interest in the story but I never really saw the “thing” that sparked that interest. Kendrick, on the other hand, straddled the line between arrogance and innocence beautifully.
MY CHOICE: Anna Kendrick – (Up in the Air)
WHO WILL WIN: Mo'nique – (Precious)
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING – Katheryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), James Cameron (Avatar), Lee Daniels (Precious)
I think the academy generally gives this award to the best picture director, but in this case I'd disagree. Cameron gets some props (not enough to take the award) - despite my hatred for his movie – for making a visually stunning but bad movie, Daniels makes some some strange choices in his depiction of the more shocking moments in Precious and Reitman really benefits from an excellent screenplay. This leaves Bigelow and Tarantino. While I loved how Bigelow approached the set pieces in The Hurt Locker I don't think they compare to the direction of the action sequences in Inglorious Basterds. Though the story in Basterds was forgettable, the visual style and large scale action set-pieces were fantastically done. Not the best overall picture by any stretch of the imagination but still a great directing job.
MY CHOICE: Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds)
WHO WILL WIN: Katheryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
BEST SCREENPLAY WRITTEN DIRECTLY FOR THE SCREEN – Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man), Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Thomas McCarthy (Up), Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds), Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman (The Messenger)
This one, for me, is no contest. The Coen Brothers should win, hands down, for A Serious Man. They probably won't – I think Tarantino will - but should.
MY CHOICE: Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man)
WHO WILL WIN: Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds)
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)
This is another easy category for me to pick (I haven't seen In the Loop – perhaps if I had then it wouldn't be so easy). District 9 was mostly action and style, An Education was nicely written but nothing special, Precious relied more on its acting then its story leaving me with Up in the Air as my clear choice. It was funny, witty and, at times, deeply affecting.
MY CHOICE: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)
WHO WILL WIN: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS
MY CHOICE: Star Trek
WHO WILL WIN: Avatar
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
MY CHOICE: Fantastic Mr. Fox
WHO WILL WIN: Up
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
MY CHOICE: The Cove
WHO WILL WIN: The Cove