There’s no movie review this week because the only movie I went to see was Avatar
for the second time. Instead, let’s look at the recently announced contenders for the Best Picture Oscar. And the nominees are:
2. The Blind Side
3. The Hurt Locker
4. An Education
5. Precious, Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
6. Inglourious Basterds
7. A Serious Man
8. District 9
9. Up in the Air
10. Just Plain Up
This is the first time that there are 10 Best Picture nominees since 1943, the year Casablanca won. Why so many? Despite what Academy stuffed shirts may say about wanting to recognize a greater number of deserving movies, the primary reason is the all-important one of television ratings. Over the years they have gone down. Although they may sometimes rebound slightly depending on the host -- Hugh Jackman, last year’s host, gave them a slight bump -- Oscar night ratings have dwindled considerably compared to their heyday in years gone by.
One reason for the decline may be that the Best Picture contenders were not always the most popular movies. Academy members might have loved them, but those who were shelling out bucks at the box office were often indifferent, at least to some of them. Consider last year’s five Best Picture nods: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire. I saw all of them except The Reader, and would agree that they were pretty good movies -- I liked Frost/Nixon the best -- but none of them were blockbusters that resonated with most of the movie-going multitudes. Slumdog, which won Best Picture, was the most popular, yet is only ranked 16 on the list of biggest moneymakers in 2008. It made $141,319,928 domestically. The Dark Knight was number one with $533,345,358. There was a lot of lobbying for the latter to be nominated for Best Picture, but alas, it was not. It sure was my favorite that year, and if it had been nominated for Best Picture perhaps a lot of Dark Knight fans would have watched the Oscars.
By increasing the number of Best Picture nominees, thereby allowing the addition of some of the more popular movies of the year, the hope is that the millions of fans of those movies will tune in to ABC come Oscar night. Heck, if even half of the people who have seen Avatar, with its current box office take of more than $601 million tune in, you would think the show would be a ratings juggernaut. It will be interesting to see if the ploy works.
I have seen six of the 10 Best Picture nominees. The four I haven’t seen are The Blind Side, An Education, Up in the Air and A Serious Man. I do want to see A Serious Man, being a big fan of the Coen brothers, and Up in the Air, but I’ll likely have to hit those on Blu-Ray. As for the six I’ve seen, following are some brief comments about them.
Avatar. I loved Avatar – one of the two nominees for which I wrote a review. I saw the IMAX 3D version twice. It’s amazing that about 80 percent of the movie’s huge box office take has been from 3D showings. Get ready for a flood of new 3D movies, which is going to cause a bit of a problem for the Hollywood suits because there are already scheduling conflicts arising due to multiple 3D movies opening at the same time. There are only so many theaters that can show 3D movies right now, but you can bet a lot of 3D retrofitting is going to be taking place in theaters pretty fast.
The Hurt Locker. It feels weird to use the word “enjoy” in reference to The Hurt Locker, but I did enjoy it very much. This story of an Army unit that disarms bombs in Iraq was harrowing, and I recommend it to anyone who likes movies that ratchet up the tension. Star Jeremy Renner is well-deserving of his Best Actor nomination, too.
Precious, Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. This is the other Best Picture nominee for which I wrote a review. It’s another great movie, and an important one, too, in telling the story of an illiterate and morbidly obese black girl who is trying to survive in Harlem, with a major hindrance in the form of her terrifying mother, played by Mo’nique. She won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and is a likely contender to win the Oscar in the same category.
Inglourious Basterds. At the risk of sounding as if I like every movie I see, I really liked Inglourious Basterds, too. Quentin Tarantino is another of my favorite directors, with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction remaining my very favorites of his. I was completely caught up in the escapades of Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his elite band of Nazi killers, ultimately devising a plot to take out Hitler at a movie premiere. And let me say it will be a crime if Christoph Walz, as the brilliant and smarmy SS Colonel Hans Landa, doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
District 9. I loved District 9, too! I just bought the Blu-Ray, as a matter of fact. First-time director Neill Blomkamp impressed blockbuster director Peter Jackson so much that Jackson -- who’s latest film, The Lovely Bones, is currently underperforming at the box office -- decided to produce this much smaller sci fi film after his big-budget plans for a Halo movie collapsed. The district of the title is one inhabited by a race of aliens, referred to disparagingly as “prawns” because of their shellfish-like appearance. They show up in their giant spaceship one day, which stalls in mid-hover right over Johannesburg. The South African government eventually restricts the hundreds of ship’s resident aliens to District 9, a slum where the desperate and frequently persecuted creatures are reduced to scrabbling out an existence in a desolate, crime-infested landscape littered with gigantic mounds of garbage and tarpaper shacks. Enter a government lackey (the stellar Sharlto Copley, in his feature film debut) who is leading an information-gathering tour through the district. When he is exposed to an alien substance, an already fascinating story gets much more fascinating.
Up. My thumbs are way up for Up! As far as I’m concerned, Pixar can do no wrong, and Up continues their long string of hit movies that appeal to young and old alike. Within the first five minutes of this movie you will experience the gamut of emotions, from wonder and happiness to lump-in-your-throat sadness. Elderly widower and balloon vendor Carl Fredericksen, voiced by Ed Asner, ties thousands of balloons to his house and floats off in search of a long-dreamed-of destination in South America. An eager Wilderness Explorer scout named Russell – who wants nothing more than to earn his Assisting the Elderly merit badge – becomes an accidental stowaway upon takeoff. What happens next I leave you to discover. I relished this movie, and it earns its place in Academy Award history as only the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture, the first being Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (which lost to The Silence of the Lambs).
It’s an interesting crop of Best Picture contenders, to be sure. I think it’s a safe bet that Avatar or District 9 will not win. Though they’re willing to nominate both movies, and Avatar did win one of the two Best Picture awards at the Golden Globes (often considered a fairly accurate predictor of the Oscar winners), it’s another thing for Academy voters to hand the Best Picture Oscar over to a science fiction or fantasy film. Oscar-wise, Avatar will likely have to make do with every single technical achievement award. The same goes for Up; I’d be very surprised if Academy voters were ready to bestow the Best Picture award on an animated movie, even one with the emotional punch this one has. I’m guessing either The Hurt Locker or Up in the Air will win.
Who knows, though? Maybe Academy members are going to buck tradition when turning in their votes, and stir things up. It would be good for a group that is historically considered pretty stodgy to do so. I bet it would help those all-important TV ratings, to boot.
Which movie do you think will win Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards? Leave a comment below.
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