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Friday, March 5,2010

And the Oscar goes to...

Expect some close races in Sunday night's Academy Awards

by James Sanford

hurt_locker_jeremy_renner.jpg


Forget Christmas: For filmmakers, the most wonderful time of
the year is Oscar season, a time when they do everything they can (and
sometimes more than they’re allowed to) in order to take home one of those
prized statuettes. Making movies is all good and well, but making big money off
of them — that’s the real work.


This Sunday’s Academy Awards will see a number of sure
things, a few close races and at least a couple of categories in which Sunday
becomes Anything Can Happen Day. Expect “Avatar” to handily clean up in the
technical categories (visual effects, art direction, etc.). But when it comes
to taking best picture, it may face some very tough competition. Even the
biggest moneymaker in history isn’t automatically guaranteed to take the gold
on Oscar night.


Animated feature


Nominees:


“Coraline”


“Fantastic Mr. Fox”


“The Princess and the Frog”


“The Secret of Kells”


“Up”


Personal choice:


“Up”


Likely winner:


“Up”


Comments: Pixar regularly rules this category, and “Up” will
keep that record intact. Still, there’s no denying “Coraline” and “Fantastic
Mr. Fox” are outstanding films, and “The Princess and the Frog” definitely has
its charms.


Supporting actress


Nominees:


Penelope Cruz, “Nine”


Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”


Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Crazy Heart”


Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”


Monique, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”


Personal choice:


Monique, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”


Likely winner:


Monique, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”


Comments: In a strong field of contenders, Monique has the
showiest role and gives the fiercest performance. Cruz won last year for Woody
Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which should make her a long shot. Although
Farmiga and Kendrick are both terrific in “Up in the Air,” it’s easy to imagine
them canceling each other out. Gyllenhaal gives a soulful portrayal of a lonely
single mom in “Crazy Heart,” but it’s the other single mom in this category —
Monique — that everybody’s talking about.


Supporting actor


Nominees:


Matt Damon, “Invictus”


Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”


Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”


Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”


Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”


Personal choice:


Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”


Likely winner:


Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”


Comments: Between “Messenger” and “Zombieland,” Harrelson
had a great year, and his nomination is well-deserved. Even so, Waltz’s
cultured, calculating Nazi villain all but stole the show in “Basterds” and
he’ll probably steal the Oscar, too. Superb as Waltz was, Tucci is even better
as a serial killer who hides behind the mask of a quiet 1970s suburbanite in
“Bones”; instead of playing up the man’s madness, Tucci concentrates on how
badly this deeply disturbed guy wants to pass himself off as a normal neighbor.
It’s a spectacular, yet subtle piece of great acting.


Leading actress


Nominees:


Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”


Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”


Carey Mulligan, “An Education”


Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by
Sapphire”


Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”


Personal choice:


Carey Mulligan, “An Education”


Likely winner:


Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side” or Meryl Streep, “Julie
& Julia”


Comments: Two newcomers face two of the most-admired
actresses around, with Bullock tossed in as a wild card. Yes, Bullock managed a
most impressive comeback last year with “The Proposal” and “The Blind Side”
both hitting the jackpot at the box office (I’m sure she would have preferred
it if “All About Steve,” her dismal stalker comedy that netted her a worst
actress nomination from the Golden Raspberries, had stayed on the shelf for all
eternity.) And perhaps her enduring popularity will result in an Oscar win,
even though she’s merely good, not great, in “The Blind Side.” Mirren is no
competition: She has a few strong moments in “Station,” but the film is mostly
a yawner. Streep, on the other hand, has made the leap from perennial critics’
darling to certifiable box office cash cow in recent years, headlining such
hits as “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Mamma Mia!” and “It’s Complicated.” She’s
delightful as Julia Child in “Julie & Julia,” going far beyond mere
impersonation to create a fascinating, full-fledged and very warm character.
Good as she is, I’m still in awe of Mulligan, who single-handedly carries “An
Education” with her stunning, funny and utterly beguiling portrait of a young
woman growing up too quickly in early-1960s England; it’s breathtaking to watch
Mulligan easily change from bored schoolgirl to chic sophisticate and back
again.


Leading actor


Nominees:


Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”


George Clooney, “Up in the Air”


Colin Firth, “A Single Man”


Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”



Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”


Personal choice:


Colin Firth, “A Single Man”


Likely winner:


Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”


Comments: Freeman’s perfectly polished,
sanitized-for-your-protection turn as Nelson Mandela in “Invictus” has no place
here: dull, dull, dull. The voters should have gone for his "Invictus" co-star Matt Damon's wildly funny portrayal of an unbalanced whistle-blower in "The Informant!" instead. Clooney managed to make a seemingly unsympathetic
character — a corporate ax man — into someone worth caring about in “Up in the
Air,” and Renner was first-rate as the devil-may-care hero of “The Hurt
Locker.” The real race here, however, will be between Firth and Bridges. Firth
has never been better than he is in “A Single Man,” playing a gay college
professor reeling from the loss of his longtime lover in 1962 California; it’s
a beautifully detailed performance in which silences and stares communicate
more than words ever could. In just about any other year, the Oscar would be
his. But Bridges has four previous nominations behind him (dating back to 1971)
and his hard-drinking, self-destructive country singer is the shambling,
staggering centerpiece of “Crazy Heart.” Can’t say I was completely crazy about
the film itself, but Bridges is thoroughly believable throughout.


Directing


Nominees:


James Cameron, “Avatar”


Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”


Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”


Lee Daniels, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by
Sapphire”



Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”


Personal choice:


Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”


Likely winner:


Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”


Comments: Five impressive nominees, two of whom used to be
married to each other — yes, Cameron and Bigelow were husband and wife from
1989-1991. He may have made the more financially successful film, but she made
the all-around better movie. Although “The Hurt Locker” has been criticized by
some for offering an inaccurate picture of life in Iraq, Bigelow establishes
such vivid characters and builds so much suspense it becomes a gripping,
disturbing thriller.


Best picture


Nominees:


“Avatar”


“The Blind Side”


“District 9”


“An Education”


“The Hurt Locker”


“Inglourious Basterds”


“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”


“A Serious Man”



“Up”


“Up in the Air”


Personal choice:


“An Education”


Likely winner:


“The Hurt Locker”


Comments: Don’t be fooled by the fact there are 10 nominees:
This is very much a three-picture race between “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker” and
“Up in the Air.” Want to vote for a couple real long shots? Put your money on
“District 9” and “A Serious Man.” Strangely, the excellent “Up in the Air,”
which seemed to have enormous support after its first screenings, has somehow
lost much of its momentum in recent months. So “Avatar” is the only obstacle
standing between “The Hurt Locker” and the award.


What are your personal picks? Who would you have nominated? Who should have been left out of the race? Please share your thoughts.


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