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The Nominees That No Longer Matter

Posted by NumberSix , 09 May 2010 · 473 views

[The following now-irrelevant list was originally a PM response to another member who noticed something I mentioned on the boards and called me out on it. It's "new" writing from me in the sense that this is its first public posting, including two necessary amendments to the original version. While I'm working on shifting myself out of online fussbudget mode and at the same time mentally contemplating what form my future on this site will take, I'm crossing this line item off my to-do list partly to bump up my blog as a reminder to myself that sometimes I kinda like to write, and partly so I can delete this text file from my hard drive and finish cleaning up my My Documents folder.]

Since 1997 I've made a habit of doing my best to see every single Best Picture nominee before the Oscar ceremony airs. I've now seen all of those nominees, though two of them thwarted me at every turn in their respective years -- Ray and The Thin Red Line, both of which I eventually finished and consumed after the fact. Someday I'll have to start working my way through other nominees backward from 1996 and beyond, but I have a hard time convincing myself to go track down copies of 1996's Shine and Secrets and Lies.

Nobody asked, and I didn't feel like participating heavily in the Movies forum's Oscar thread at the time I'd've ranked this past year's ten Best Picture nominees like so, from worst to best:

10. Avatar was indisputably pretty the first time I saw it. The second time I saw it, I had trouble staying awake during the Dragonriders of Pern sequences. I've since bought it on BluRay because I expect its unprecedented visuals to be a great use of 1080p HD, unlike the $8.00 BluRay pile at Wal*Mart (my, how they made Stargate uglier), but I have yet to convince myself to sit through a third time. The good guys gave me no reason to care about what happened to them, I had my fill of save-the-forest plots back in childhood, and the bad guys are all one-dimensional straw men. Trust me when I say I'm not trying to act cool through Cameron-bashing. I've enjoyed all of his other films, leaving out the dissatisfying endings for The Abyss and the unseen-by-me Piranha 2: the Spawning. I wanted to enjoy this. Apparently I failed.

10. The Blind Side was just inspirational treacle about how a rich white sports-loving family turned a poor black giant into a millionaire. The dialogue in general and the football-for-dummies-as-symbolic-allegory prologue were better material than this kind of film normally offers, but...I dunno. My heartstrings didn't feel quite as tugged as they should've been, maybe because reports of slight factual exaggerations and distortions made me wonder if the real events were, in fact, even less stressful than they appear here. As it is, the moral of the story is that there's no problem that can't be solved if you can find someone willing to throw money at it. And maybe love. With money.

8. Precious was a brutal, harrowing, but eventually slightly uplifting experience about life in the ghetto with poverty, incest, obesity, and inadequate schools. My only qualm is that the movie takes a weird three-minute detour to explore the lives of a happy lesbian couple who both teach Precious that some gay people are nicer than some straight people. It felt like a PSA that belonged in some other art film about sexual liberty or whatever. When the spectre of a certain world-famous STD rears its head into the film, I felt like someone had dragged my seat over to the next screen. I get that such diseases know no class boundaries, but it was pretty jarring, as plot surprises go. It's not like the movie had had any shortage of issues to address up to that point.

7. An Education is, at face value, just another film about a '60s British high school girl experiencing a sort of "freedom" for the first time with a much older man after a stern upbringing. Thanks to a script by excellent Brit novelist Nick Hornby, it works well above that level as the girl finds out that freedom isn't always as fun as it seems, that parents have good reasons even for their wrong decisions, that teachers aren't always about the oppression...and, most curious of all, that a woman needs to keep her priorities straight regardless of what having or seeking "an education" means to her. This one really stuck with me and has some great performances - -my favorite is Alfred Molina (Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2!) as the girl's father, who wants only the best for her, but turns out to be quite flexible depending on what "the best" is at certain moments. He's at turns harsh and funny and fragile, and I'd've loved to see him grab an Oscar nod for his work here.

6. Up in the Air was hilarious, insightful, sometimes heartbreaking, and extremely topical in today's downsize-happy business climate. My company has been through two rounds of layoffs in the last 10 years, so I saw a lot of truth in this. I have yet to be disappointed by a Jason Reitman film, not even that episode of The Office he directed. In a weaker field I would've ranked this so much higher. I docked it a few arbitrary points just because J. K. Simmons' electrifying cameo was too, too short. (I had to rank these somehow!)

5. A Serious Man is the Coen Brothers' look at Jewish suburbia in the 1960s (there's that decade again!) through the eyes of a put-upon schmuck whose family, students, coworkers, friends, and neighbors each take turns putting him through a sort of Job-like wringer. As his family makes him seek answers about the meaning and purpose of life from the three nearest rabbi, the film asks a lot of questions about faith and belief in the face of relentless soul-sucking challenges. It's not a very showy film, and most of the actors are nobodies or character actors (I recognized a few, including Mitch Hedberg from CBS' The Big Bang Theory)...but it gives believers of all faiths a LOT to think about. I dunno if atheists would get much from it except "Ha! The little Jew! He's in constant pain! It's funny because the universe is mocking him!" but it's designed as one of those films where the audience is forced to calculate their own answers to what they're seeing, instead of letting the filmmakers tell them what to think.

4. District 9. I liked this far more than I did Avatar. That puts me in a very tiny minority, but I found it more affecting, more surprising, more emotionally engaging, and at times much more horrifying. Their tiny budget was put to good, shrewd use. Even the heavy-handed moralizing parts didn't bother me. And the explosions are, y'know, AWESOME, especially the alien arsenal whose lethal effects resemble the fancy overkill weaponry in the "Ratchet and Clank" video games.

3. Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino's best film since Reservoir Dogs, possibly because I was knocked out by its glorious French landscapes on BluRay instead of in theaters. Brad Pitt's ugly American squad is an unwelcome intrusion from which sufficient wartime hijinks are eventually wrung, but I was otherwise hypnotized by this deep-seated loving tribute to obscure European WWII cinema and its multifaceted performances by everyone who had dialogue, especially Academy Award Winner Christoph Waltz, which goes without saying, and yet goes double with saying. It's the only Tarantino film I've ever been able to justify sitting and watching with family without feeling ashamed or hitting "Pause" until they all go to bed.

2. Up. The first 20 minutes made me cry. The animation is beautiful. I want to meet and hug every character, even Christopher Plummer's bad guy. Pixar films are just an automatic for our household, especially this one.

1. The Hurt Locker. I already wrote a lengthy review for the Nightly front page back in July, long before I knew this would even be a contender, let alone a winner. I stand by what I wrote, except I wish I'd said it with 200-300 fewer words. If more than five people read it from beginning to end...well, thank you, that one hardcore fan.

[With that out of my system and off my C drive, maybe now I can get to that "10 Best CDs of 2009" list I've been meaning to cobble together, too.]

Boy, since you vow to see all nominees, how much did it hurt you that they increased from 5 to 10?

Nice capsule reviews thou!
When I first learned of the new rule, you can bet I panicked. When the nominees were finally announced, I breathed a little more easily.

Of those 10, I'd already seen Up, Avatar, Up in the Air, and The Hurt Locker for my own entertainment. I'd also already gambled the month before and watched Precious under the assumption that it was a lock. So I already had 5 of the 10 out of the way before my annual month-long marathon began.

Usually this means I have to spend a lot of time traveling around the city to various theaters to catch all the nominees, because I've never been lucky enough to have them all coincidentally showing at one nearby theater. This is especially difficult with any given indie-film nominees because Indianapolis' only local art-house theater is on the opposite end of town from me. (We used to have two, but the older, more rundown competition finally gave up the ghost at the end of 2008.)

Luck was with me again in a different form this time -- District 9, Inglourious Basterds, and A Serious Man were already on DVD by this time. One weeklong Blockbuster marathon took care of those.

In all, that means I only had to make extra trips for The Blind Side (which was still showing almost everywhere) and An Education (yay art-house theater field trip!).

From a logistics standpoint, this year was a breeze compared to past years. If only I could put this much planning into other creative endeavors...
    • ShadowDog +1 this
Good writeup, man.

I know I'm late reading this, but hey you were late writing it, right? Heh.
Hey! No fair being apropos!
I've seen six of the 10 nominees, and of the four that I haven't seen (Precious, A Serious Man, An Education and The Blindside) the only two I"m interested in seeing are A Serious Man and An Education. Precious just looks terrible and The Blindside looks even worse with the added annoyance of terrible fake southern accents and SPORTS. no thx.

I'd put my number one as The Hurt Locker followed closely by Up in the Air, Inglorious Basterds and District 9.

But man. District 9 was really really gross.

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