[This piece was published in The Union newspaper January 28, 2010 before the nominees were announced February 2.]
Predicting 1 of 10, Not 1 of 5
Starting this year, there will be 10 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, not the standard five. Granted, the Academy Awards is a marketing tool, but this tactic cheapens, maybe even embarrasses, the meaning of an Oscar nomination.
Regardless, no one suggests that any award honoring movies stacks up to the clout and prestige of the Oscars.
It's not like any of the additional five will threaten to win Best Picture, although in some years, it is conceivable that one of these tacked-on contenders could tip the tally among the top two or three real contenders.
Which ten films will gain bragging rights (and a sales bump)? If there were only five nominees for the Best Picture Oscar, they would be the following:
“Avatar”: Denying a nomination for this incomparable marketing triumph is impossible.
James Cameron's devotion to breakthrough cinema technology and to perversely expensive filmmaking has resulted in an impressive science fiction fantasy.
“The Hurt Locker”: Masterfully, this film sidesteps all politics while providing fodder for pro-war and anti-war sensibilities. It focuses intensely well on three very different soldiers doing their jobs – diffusing bombs in war-torn Iraq.
“Inglourious Basterds”: Quentin Tarantino's brilliance, in recent years, has receded to a potential brilliance caught up in brash cinematic fun. His overfed aura carries better than it deserves in a violent, Nazi-busting romp.
“Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire”: Built on a rough and raw, lower-class circumstance and the opposite of what we're trained to find attractive, this is a precious film experience.
“Up in the Air”: In better economic times, this pithy and effective film about a guy who fires people would merely be further confirmation that smirkmeister George Clooney deserves more than sexy-man credit.
Three films easily deserve Best Picture attention more than “Inglourious Basterds” and “Up in the Air.” With ten slots to fill, there is plenty of room.
“An Education”: The director and actors merge charm into the creepiness of a sexually predatory man. It turns a tricky screenplay into a deftly realized film, stirring an otherwise standard coming of age story about a bright, high school girl.
“The Last Station”: With sure Oscar contenders Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren as Leo Tolstoy and his wife, this film adds a theater-like dramatic storm to the list of Best Picture nominees.
“A Serious Man”: If it weren't the Coen Brothers, this would be a depressing, overly Jewish filmmaking puddle. Because it's the Coen Brothers, it's a depressing, overly Jewish, brilliant, under-your-skin-hilarious cinematic drenching.
Continuing the attempt to peg the ten nominees for Oscar's biggest prize, here's two more films that are satisfying, if not exactly top ten type realizations.
“Invictus”: This is a relatively ordinary result from Clint Eastwood. However, this instructive, feel-good film, with Nelson Mandela as its centerpiece, pushes global historic buttons in a way that corners Oscar attention.
“Up”: Audiences and film reviewers point thumbs way up, enough for an animation to make the Best Picture list. Never mind that a marvelously fresh beginning and an impressive first half settles into ordinary formula. It does look popping good throughout.
Potential surprises: “Where the Wild Things Are” or “Fantastic Mr. Fox” could measure how much the tide of films for kids is rising. “(500) Days of Summer” has enough fresh and creative pinball action to slide onto an expanded Oscar menu. “The Cove” is a striking documentary with caper-film trappings. Small gems like “Goodbye Solo,” unfortunately, don't make it into the discussion.
On Feb. 2, this discussion will be old news, then on to who will come out on top March 7.