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Picking the Oscars: 2010 Edition

28 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

With the single exception of missing Around the World in 80 Days’ best picture win for 1956 — this is what you get for mouthing off to your fourth-grade teacher and being forbidden by your parents to watch the show — I have seen every Academy Awards presentation since the 1954 gala.

And what a gala it was: Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, Walt Disney, Elia Kazan, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Dandridge, emcee Bob Hope trading insults with Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis introducing Dean Martin to sing winning song “Three Coins in the Fountain,” William Holden and (in a filmed segment from Europe) Audrey Hepburn.

Over-analysis by every pundit and his cousin’s brother-in-law — plus the frigid precision of prognostication in the 2000s — has made the evening almost immeasurably less interesting than it used to be, though I suppose one can’t have lived through more than a half-century’s worth of these affairs without having a few opinions about what’s to come at this year’s ceremony, which takes place March 7.  So here are a few:

Best Picture

Am I the only one who thinks Avatar sags some and gets redundant in the middle? I like it well enough, but it and The Abyss are the only James Cameron movies I haven’t been able to go all the way with since before The Terminator (yes, I love True Lies). If Avatar wins, it’ll be among the less distinguished honorees in a while (special effects breakthroughs obviously excepted) — and this from a filmmaker whose manner likely puts off a lot of voters. On the other hand — and adjusting for inflated dollars — The Hurt Locker would be a contender for the most atypical Oscar winner ever and with the least box office. So could Inglourious Basterds (the year’s most self-conscious movie) sneak in there with an upset? Someone advanced this theory the other day, and I’m intrigued. For the record, my favorite 2009 movies were A Serious Man and Up in the Air, both best picture nominees.

Best Actor

Just as Sterling Hayden appeared in more great and certainly durable movies than Clark Gable, Jeff Bridges has starred in more black-belt cult movies than anyone: Fat City, Bad Company, The Last American Hero, The Iceman Cometh, Rancho Deluxe, Hearts of the West, Stay Hungry, Cutter’s Way, Tron, Nadine, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King, American Dream, Fearless, The Big Lebowski (which, by now, may have transcended cult status) and The Door in the Floor. Plus three more — along with Lebowski — I personally don’t care for: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Winter Kills and Starman. Plus The Last Picture Show and Iron Man, which are definitely more than cult movies. All this is a way of saying that if Bridges is going to get an Oscar, it can’t help but make me (and so many others) happy for him. I’m just sorry it’s for Crazy Heart, which wouldn’t be much of anything if the actor didn’t elevate it about 500 notches. (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s nomination is a real stretch.) I’d prefer George Clooney for Up in the Air because old-school star power is such a lost art — though had Shutter Island been released in 2009 as originally intended, I might be going for Leonardo DiCaprio because he has the toughest lead actor role in recent memory: taking it right up to the top but stopping at the brim.

Best Actress

Of the 10 best-picture nominees, The Blind Side is the only one that can’t at be all be justified, given that it is, at best, only on the moderately high side of exactly what you expect while perpetually playing to the third balcony. I’ve liked Sandra Bullock since she played the waitress in 1993’s woefully underrated Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, but — as with Bridges and Crazy Heart — I’m in the “anti-Cliff Robertson/Charly” school that thinks a cited performance ought to serve a movie of at least minor distinction.

Though I love Carey Mulligan in An Education (damned good movie, too), I’d prefer to see her in something else before taking the plunge. I’d probably give the award to Meryl Streep — who, interestingly, has become a box office figure in middle age when she wasn’t earlier in her career. Like Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer, Streep was giving great performance after great performance two decades ago while the broad demographic that prefers to shell out for the likes of The Blind Side was staying away.

Best Supporting Actor

The biggest shaft of the entire 2009 run goes to un-nominated Christian McKay, who (as Orson) should be getting the Oscar for Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (a movie that sent the dean of American film critics, Andrew Sarris, spinning into ecstasy). Though favorite Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) is basically his equal, there have been a lot of memorably oily Nazis in movie history, but few characterizations of McKay’s caliber when it comes to playing a bigger-than-life figure (no pun intended — and besides, this is the relatively thinner 1930s Welles) we all know.

Best Supporting Actress

My top picks for 2009 were Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air, who are both nominated. Assuming a vote split, this probably clears the path for Mo’Nique in Precious, which would be a fine choice — her character the ironic African-American equivalent of the white racist mother-from-hell harridan Shelley Winters played in A Patch of Blue. And Winters won the 1965 supporting Oscar.

Best Director

Here’s a legitimate set-up for The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow to become the first woman to win a directorial Oscar — so if it doesn’t happen, it’ll be the story of the night. But she will win.

Passing thought: Though the Coen Brothers got a most deserved original screenplay nomination, it’s worth noting that A Serious Man is as directed-to-the-hilt as The Hurt Locker. In fact, I can’t fault the movie on any level.


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