Oscar Picks 2009

Over the years I have tried to define or articulate what the Oscars mean. I think I’m going to give up. For one thing that meaning has evolved over the years. Few people know or care what the original intentions of the people who started the tradition were. I also believe that the meaning changes every year according to the political currents, unseen by most of us, of the industry. Marketing, industry recognition, artistic achievement–the Oscar is all of these things, and none of them. One constant is money. The words “Oscar Winner” after your name means a pay raise, and usually a significant one. That goes for the sound editors, special effects houses and costumer designers as well as the stars, directors and producers.

Another is fun, at least for me. I love reading and writing about it, seeing all the movies and making my picks. People complain about the length of the ceremony, but to me the time flies by. Maybe I’m just weird, but I don’t think I’m alone.

And remember these are not predictions. They are my preferences. For predictions see Dave Karger at ew.com or just google Oscar predictions. I’m sure you’ll get thousands of hits.

Anyway here are my picks:

Animated Feature

It’s going to Up. The Secret of Kells is an interesting attempt but it really doesn’t belong here. The two stop action entries, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline fall short and any traditional Disney ink and paint offering needs to be great to challenge the mighty Pixar. The Princess and the Frog is merely good. Up is the class of this group by a wide margin.

Directing

If you go by the idea that a successful director is one who realizes his or her vision on the project, I think you have to go with Quentin Tarantino. His love of film, language and pop culture is stamped all over Inglourious Basterds. The other directors don’t really disqualify themselves; this year Tarantino was better.

Supporting Actress

I didn’t see Nine, so I can’t comment.

Supporting Actor

This is probably the strongest of the acting categories. That being said, it could be stronger. Matt Damon doesn’t belong here. He wasn’t bad in Invictus, he just didn’t have much to do. He should have been nominated for Best Actor for The Informant. Woody Harrelson, Christopher Plummer and especially Stanley Tucci could all win and I would have no complaints. But this has been Christoph Waltz’s award from the first showing of Inglourious Basterds. You can’t take your eyes off him.

Leading Actress

I think I’d give it to Meryl Streep who inhabits Julia Child in Julie and Julia. The other ladies did fine jobs, although I don’t really think that Helen Mirren did much stretching in The Last Station. The other nominees are worthy. Sandra Bullock’s performance is a revelation; Gabourey Sidibe’s turn as an abused teenager in Precious is harrowing, especially when you consider she’d never acted before. And Carey Mulligan is smart and adorable in An Education. I’d still give it to Meryl Streep.

Leading Actor

None of these performances really stand out from the others. I don’t think Morgan Freeman surprised anybody by his performance as Nelson Mandela. Really, who else could have done it? George Clooney added a little depth to his usual slick persona in Up in the Air. Jeremy Renner gives a subtle and disturbing performance as a danger addicted soldier in The Hurt Locker. Jeff Bridges shows us the charisma and vulnerability of a journeyman minstrel. But I think I’ll give the nod to Colin Firth’s mannered portrayal of a gay man in 60’s Los Angeles, trying to deal with the grief over his lover’s death while trying to hide it.

Best Picture

I know I said that this blog entry would be about my preferences and not predictions but I do want to say one thing. All the prognosticators are saying the Best Picture race is between Hurt Locker and Avatar. I’m not so sure. The Academy went to ten nominees this year because they wanted to have more popular movies nominated so that maybe more people would watch the awards show and stick with it until the end, when the big award is handed out. This distorts all the old formulas people use to predict the race and I don’t think anybody really knows what going to happen. I have a sneaking suspicion that there could be an upset of unprecedented proportions and I think it could be The Blind Side. It’s a crowd pleaser and Sandra Bullock is the front-runner for the Best Actress award. I think this may be a situation where voters admire Hurt Locker and some of the other films but they may love The Blind Side and think, “what the heck.” I’m probably wrong and I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t help but think it’s a possibility.

That being said, the film I enjoyed most last year was Inglourious Basterds. It doesn’t have a chance in this category, but that’s my pick.

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