Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Immediate Reactions

Okay, so...we've been discussing The Blind Side as being a potential sleeper candidate for a BP nod for a while now, and I will shamelessly pat myself on the back for dropping a note about the film's chances just three minutes before the announcement commenced. Good job, J and K.

Other surprises: the biggest, for me, was Maggie Gyllenhaal's inclusion in the Supporting Actress category for her work in Crazy Heart. Yes, the category has about three sure-fire locks in Mo'Nique, Farmiga, and Kendrick, and Cruz was widely seen as a likely fourth, but even amid all the discussion of who would fill that final wild card slot -- Julianne Moore, Diane Kruger, Samantha Morton, Susan Sarandon, etc. -- Gyllenhaal's name never came up much. So good for her and good for Crazy Heart, which came away with three nominations this morning (Bridges, Gyllenhaal, and Best Song), and is the odds-on favorite to win two of them on March 7.

No surprises in Best Actor or Best Actress. In Supporting Actor, many of us had been looking at Alfred Molina to sneak in, but conventional wisdom prevailed in the form of Matt Damon in Invictus.

Speaking of Invictus, Eastwood's movie only came away with two nods: Damon in Supporting and Freeman in Lead Actor. No Best Director, no Best Picture. And thank God for that: based on the group of films nominated this morning, Invictus would have easily been the least deserving, and good on the Academy for side-stepping an obligatory "Clout Nomination." Eastwood has, can, and will do much, much better.

Now that Invictus is out, it falls to District 9 and The Blind Side for the "worst of the lot" awards. Both films likely filled the 9 and 10 slots, respectively. And yet, while I would not personally nominate either picture...I get it. District 9 is an ingenious idea. Blind Side is a quality crowd-pleaser. Both were very popular hits. Blind Side is still chugging, and the Oscar traction might be responsible for carrying the film to $250 million domestic, maybe more.

So...the "10 Nominees" thing worked well this time out. I wish The Messenger had prevailed, as many of us were thinking it might a few weeks ago...but I guess even the smallest films can peak early...and the film got well-deserved nods for Harrelson's career-best performance and the film's pitch-perfect screenplay. As far as the two intentions of adding five additional BP contenders, more crowd-pleasers got in than indie favorites, but at least the Academy didn't lobotomize itself into nominating Star Trek or other such crap. I think the nod to The Blind Side will be very popular among mainstream movie-goers, and as the Best Picture categories third-highest grosser (and it may be the second-highest grosser by Oscar night), it will be responsible for a viewer bump, I imagine. This may well be the highest-rated Oscar telecast in recent memory, which means the 10-nominee strategy paid off in a big way and will become the Oscar standard for the better part of this new decade.

Even more after the jump...

I failed to post my predictions for the screenplay categories, but I have been talking about In the Loop's chances for weeks, and the film walked the walk today. The rest of the Adapted Screenplay nominees are as expected...happy for Hornby, whose work on An Education is wonderful, and despite the fact that I didn't love either film, good for Fletcher on Precious and Blomkamp and Tatchell on District 9. I may take issue with either film's ultimate success, but the difficulty of writing both screenplays was very high to say the least, and I admire the work. Of course, the category's obvious winner is Up in the Air, and I obviously have no complaints about that.

I do have a complaint that Up in the Air didn't manage to score anything outside of the major categories. Six total nominations, including all three actors, BP, Director, and Screenplay, but...no love for the year's best score, by Rolfe Kent? No recognition of Dana Glauberman's extraordinary editing? What about Eric Steelberg's cinematography? Or "Help Yourself," the wonderful original song? This film should have led the field in nominations. Sad to see wonderful work go ignored, but the film got its due in the major categories.

Nine managed to score four nominations despite being shut-out of the BP race, though oddly enough, the film's most deserving aspect, its cinematography (by former Oscar winner Dion Beebe), was ignored. I would have traded Penelope Cruz's Supporting Actress nomination (a fun, cheeky performance, but not a large enough supporting role to merit a nomination, in my opinion) for a Cinematography nod.

Avatar and Hurt Locker lead the field with nine nominations each, interesting symmetry for the two movies, which will go toe-to-toe in most of the categories. Give Bigelow the advantage in Best Director at this point, but give Avatar the advantage in Best Picture at this stage...but both could shift in the coming weeks. Avatar takes the visual effects award going away (Hurt Locker obviously isn't up for that one) and Hurt Locker has gotta be the favorite in Original Screenplay (Avatar didn't get a nomination there), but the other categories -- among them Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing -- are still toss-ups. A few of them might be parceled out to other deserving nominees, but at this point I have to expect the two Big Ones to go head-to-head in most of these categories. It will be interesting to see how the race unfolds over the next 32 days, and all the more interesting to watch how the grudge match resolves itself on March 7.

More conversation and analysis lies ahead, including updated charts with new predictions.

Happy Nomination Day to All, and To All a Frustrating Month of Prognosticating.

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