I have a confession to make: Every year in March, I partake in something that makes me hate myself. When it is over, I feel ashamed and dirty. You see, each year I gorge myself on the pleasure and disgust that comes with watching the Oscars. No matter how hard I try, I can't resist. It's a sickness I have and the disease is known as "filmgeekicitus." There is no known cure.
When it comes to egos running amok and the slap-ourselves-on-the-back award experience, nothing comes close to what Hollywood unleashes on the world with the Academy Awards.
The red carpet is an endless parade of couture dresses, millions of dollars of jewelry adorning plunging necklines, inane interviews and every stripe of nouveau surgical or chemical procedure to give aging stars the delusion of youth. It's a train wreck, and I can't stop myself from witnessing every last second of it.
Each year, I attach myself to certain awards as if I have wagered a mortgage payment with a bookie. I'm not talking about the major awards, either. I have a real soft spot for the obscure award, where winners get 30 seconds to calm down and thank everyone they have ever come in contact with. So, for costume design, it's Janet Patterson and Bright Star all the way!
For the first time ever, there are 10 movies nominated for best film rather than the usual five. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thinks that by adding five films they are opening up the nominations to a more diverse selection of movies. This is gibberish code-speak that translates to, "let's add more box office hits." It is a terrible, terrible idea.
Adding five films allows this particular category to become littered with average films being rewarded for the amount of ticket sales rather than artistic merit (I know, I know, this is highly subjective in most instances, but let's agree to this: some films deserve more acclaim than others). Look no further than The Blind Side, a woefully inadequate and flawed film that tugged a bunch of heart strings and made lots of cash. Hello, best picture Oscar nomination!
If a film as mediocre as The Blind Side can reap the benefits of lowered expectations for what constitutes the best in film, why not just cede at least one nomination to the biggest grosser of the year (which can be taken literally)? This could lead to a best picture nomination for the upcoming Sandler/Rock/Spade/Schneider vehicle Grown Ups if it can make fistfuls of dollars for the studios. Odds are stacked against it since it isn't based on a true story, crafted to inspire and make you cry like the manipulative The Blind Side was. Lesson: It's always better to go for the tears rather than the laughs if you are aiming for Oscar.
Here's where my rooting interests lie for some of the major awards, including picture, actor, actress, supporting actor, animation and director.
My favorite movie in 2009 was the riveting war film The Hurt Locker and that's my clear-cut favorite for best picture. The Hurt Locker, amazingly made for only $10 million, delivers a raw take on the nature of war and being a soldier without preaching to the audience. Winning an Oscar or two will hopefully get more people to see it.
The category of best actor is crowded with perhaps the most solid list of nominees: Morgan Freeman, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth and Jeremy Renner. I expect Bridges to win for his boozy, downtrodden country singer in Crazy Heart, but I would like to see Renner win for his scathing performance in The Hurt Locker. Renner's not as well known as the others, so it might hurt him.
Supporting actor is possibly the most no-brainer of the entire evening as Christoph Waltz is winning an Oscar for his performance in Inglorious Basterds. Waltz is amazing in the movie -- terrifying, funny and mesmerizing. If anyone other than Waltz was to win this category, I'd like it to be Woody Harrelson of The Messenger. Who would have thought that the former bumpkin from Cheers would become the interesting character actor that Harrelson has morphed into?
For best actress, it is more who I don't want to win, Sandra Bullock, rather than who I want to win. If Bullock wins for her one-note performance in The Blind Side, it might set back women's acting for years to come. I would prefer Carey Mulligan in An Education, but as I said, I'll settle for Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren or Gabourey Sidibe. Anyone but Bullock will make me happy.
For sheer whimsy, creativity and charm, it was hard to top Fantastic Mr. Fox in the animated category. Hyper-detailed, quirky and fun, the biggest problem Fantastic Mr. Fox has is that it wasn't made by Pixar. That fact will doom it as Pixar films are unstoppable behemoths when it comes to picking up awards. Pixar's film for 2009 is Up. Expect Up to rake in more awards for Pixar.
Director is a tricky one. It's a two person race between former spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow; one film had a giant budget and was a blockbuster, the other was low budget and barely seen by the masses. Cameron spent years making Avatar and, against all odds, has created a benchmark film that will influence movies for a long time to come; Bigelow made an intimate, personal, complicated war film in The Hurt Locker. No woman has ever won a best director Oscar in the 80 years the awards have been given. That changes this year as Bigelow wins.
I feel better now that I've made my guilty pleasure confession regarding the Oscars. I have my picks for who I'm rooting for, or against in many cases, and can now just sit back and watch the events unfold, struck down again by my never-ending case of "filmgeekicitus."
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