Film from any angle, is a form of fine art and like a painting in a gallery, it’s not about the tiny details but the big picture that is an intricate collision of literature, music, the visual arts and theatre.
Sidney Lumet, director of Academy Award nominated films like 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Network said it best when he said, “masterpieces are films that come to you by accident.” This year, the Academy Awards have nominated films that will not only stand the test of time as masterpieces in cinematic history but will somewhat have an influence on the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of filmmakers and moviegoers for years to come.
This year, the 82nd annual Academy Awards have decided to throw back to tradition and nominate ten movies for the Best Picture category, shocking audiences with the vast eclectic mix of films. During the Academy’s elementary years, it was for about a decade that the Best Picture category welcomed more than five films; for nine years there were ten nominees. The last time the Academy included that many films for Best Picture was in 1943, when Casablanca won. Though in the early 1930s, there were eight nominees and then in 1934 and 1935 there were twelve in the category.
After more than six decades, the Academy notions that with such a broad palette of films to choose from, it not only gives the audience a list of fantastic movies to recognize for years to come but makes the race all the more traditional.
The contenders up for Best Picture are quite a bunch and are all very different from one another.
James Cameron’s Avatar has been recently deemed as one of the most successful films of all time. It has about nine nominations; five short of 1997’s Titanic but is controversial in its own right in terms of being a film that was shut out of its acting nominations. Avatar is not your average film. Sure it’s got blockbuster elements that make it a creative piece of art but it’s also a film that relies on special effects and creates the notion that if imaginative and inspiring filmmaking means computer graphics and the revolutionary performance motion capture, actors could become obsolete. A film like that, disguises an actor to such a depth that you lose the feeling of a relationship of sorts with that character; actors could very well be combinations of others and in toe, you lose the spirit of the actor’s portrayal. It’s more of a director’s kind of film as it doesn’t allow the actor to tell the story but rather the director carrying the work and it seems a sort of selfish move in filmmaking. Will James Cameron win the Academy Award for Best Director though? Who knows? If he picks up the award, it’ll be a strong statement if they give it to him again after his 1997 win for Titanic.
Kathryn Bigelow may not have directed the best and critically acclaimed films over the span of her career (Point Break, Strange Days) but The Hurt Locker could very well be her masterpiece. For a film that wasn’t in wide release, it created quite a buzz this past year and become the number one hit in rental sales this past January. The fact that Bigelow is nominated for Best Director is a big deal. There haven’t been many women in Academy history who’ve been nominated in the category (Bigelow is the fourth), the last female being Sophia Coppola for Lost In Translation back in 2004. If Bigelow does win, which she very well could as the Academy enjoys making political and social statements, she would be the first female to win the award and not only would that shift the gender card in directing but break the barrier of the genres at hand. As for The Hurt Locker, the film sees its actor Jeremy Renner nominated in the Best Actor category. He’s a relative newcomer with a Cinderella-type story. Renner may not pick up the award this year but it seems as though now his career’s been solidified as the Academy enjoys hand picking the next generation of talent. The actor who was cast in failed television pilots and a few supporting roles in films over the years will definitely be in the industry as a solid name that will persevere through the waves of the film industry.
Quentin Tarantino is always a fan favourite and like the character of Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds said at the end of the movie as personified in the parallel of Tarantino’s notion, “I think this might just be my masterpiece”. It’s been about fifteen years since Tarantino’s seen Oscar. The Academy appreciates his writing (he won for Best Writing in 1994 for Pulp Fiction) and the fact that he rewrote world history in Inglorious Basterds, it could be in favour of a possible win. The Academy does honour movies revolving around the Holocaust and World War II but can he quite possibly rewrite Oscar history? It’s going to be a hard mould to break if he wins for Best Director and Best Picture because the film has elements of comedic action. Comedies with intense action sequences rarely see gold but one of the film’s actors could quite possibly pick up the award for Best Supporting Actor. Christophe Waltz is relatively new to American audiences but appears to be a shoe-in as he’s already picked up every award this season has to offer. For a role that Leonardo DiCaprio was slated for, the small-time Austrian TV actor created a solid and powerful performance as the intimidating Colonel Hans Landa.
Another film nominated for Best Picture is the film, Precious: Based on the novel, Push by Sapphire. The director, Lee Daniels who’s nominated for Best Director has made the most successful film that was out in limited release and garnered much attention for newcomer, Gabby Sidibe and Mo’Nique who’s been sweeping the awards up this season. The thing about Mo’Nique though is that her career has seen her star in films like Beer Fest, Soul Plane and Fat Girls and it makes you wonder, does the Academy forgive actors for films like that? Could she pick up the award for Best Supporting Actress? She does indeed deliver a stellar performance that is most worthy of a win but audiences will have to see. As for Gabby Sidibe, this is her first major film role but will she last in the industry? Like other newcomer Academy Award nominated actresses like Kesha Castle Hughes (Whale Rider) and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace), one can only wonder if this is the last time we’ll hear of Sidibe in the industry.
The Blindside is nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress for Sandra Bullock’s portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the woman who took into her home now-NFL football player for the Baltimore Ravens, Michael Oher. It’s a sleeper hit with audiences and though the race for the Best Actress is mainly between Bullock and Meryl Streep for her portrayal of Julia Childs in Julie & Julia, Bullock has already garnered golden statues this season. The Blindside was a well-liked movie and she was terrific in it. Bullock showcased her dramatic chops in the film and though she’s shown audiences her serious side before in 2004’s Crash and 2006’s Infamous, this role could push her into a new chapter for her career without marginalizing her into romantic comedies for the rest of her career.
The film Up In The Air was last year’s best reviewed film and was supposed to be a shoe-in for sweeping awards up this season but it’s too early on for young filmmaker, Jason Reitman who’s been nominated for Best Director as well as Best Adapted Screenplay to step into the Oscar limelight. This is Reitman’s second Academy Award nomination for directing, his first being from two years ago for Juno. The beauty of a Jason Reitman film is his writing skills; he’s a brilliant writer and the way he writes female roles is the most endearing part of his films. The film sees all its leads with category nominations; George Clooney is nominated for the first time as Best Actor but as an actor in his prime and with solid hearty roles like this for years to come, he won’t be taking Oscar home this time around. His career is in full swing and with the characters he plays, he will surely be up again for an award in the years to come. The film’s two female actresses are head-to-head in the Best Supporting Actress categories and though they may not pick up the awards this year, they will definitely be valuable names in the industry. Vera Farmiga’s star is on a steady climb to the top and Anna Kendrick, who’s only been a few years in the film industry will surely be a name out there even if she’s currently known best for her role as Jessica in the Twilight films.
The British film, An Education is perhaps this year’s The Reader. The Academy loves coming-of-age stories and this one is interesting though not a lot of people have seen it, it’s still garnered critical acclaim as well as a Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and a Best Actress nomination for Carey Mulligan. She’s up against not just Bullock, Streep and Sidibe but Helen Mirren for The Last Station, a film that sees its two leads, she and Christopher Plummer nominated for their respective categories in the Best Acting fields.
Christopher Plummer, who’s nominated for the first time ever as Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal as Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station might be the dark horse in this race. That seems like a bold statement especially with a standout performance from Inglorious Basterds’ Christophe Waltz in the mix but sometimes the Academy evaluates the career of an actor rather than a role. A perfect example was Alan Arkin for his role in Little Miss Sunshine back in 2006; Arkin won the award, shocking audiences as everyone thought Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls was going to take Oscar gold seeing that he took every other award that year. Sometimes the depth of a career speaks more than a role played once in a film though this may not always be the case. In 2006, Peter O’Toole was nominated for Best Actor in the film, Venus but lost to Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Iddi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. How will the dice roll this year?
The other actor nominated for Best Supporting Actor along with Plummer and Waltz is Stanley Tucci who some argue should have been nominated for his role in Julie & Julia rather than The Lovely Bones. In Julie & Julia, Tucci's dynamic with Streep was compelling to watch and he became the fulcrum to her character. However, in Peter Jackson's adaption of The Lovely Bones, Tucci’s portrayal of a child murderer is similar to Jackie Earle Hayley’s in Little Children where Hayley played a registered sex offender. Hayley didn’t get the award and neither will Tucci. Another nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category is Woody Harrelson for The Messenger. He’s been nominated before for 1996's The People Versus Larry Flint and this second nomination proves not to be a fluke. He too won’t win this time around but it proves that he is a good actor and can push through the barriers of roles.
A film that got snubbed in the Best Director and Picture category that took some by surprise is Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. Starring in an Eastwood film is somewhat of a good luck charm for actors; the film only picked up respective acting nominations for the leads, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Damon, who’s nominated for Best Supporting Actor won’t be picking up the award this year as well but he clearly proves he’s more than a blockbuster actor and though he’s cemented Oscar gold before with his writing credits for Good Will Hunting, Damon will be back for an Academy Award one day. He’s a flexible actor who enjoys not just roles where he beats a man with a magazine like in the Jason Bourne films but the little roles in independent features and become somewhat of a character actor.
On the other hand, Morgan Freeman could very well pick up the Academy Award for Best Actor for Invictus playing Nelson Mandela but then again, he’d be up against Jeff Bridges for his portrayal of a down-on-his-luck country singer in Crazy Heart. If the same goes for Plummer beating out Waltz in terms of the embodiment of a career and the span rather than a role, Freeman and Bridges could be head to head as they both have very expansive filmographies and have performed in some very solid performances over the years, especially Freeman in films like The Shawshank Redemption, Driving Miss Daisy and Million Dollar Baby. Nonetheless, Bridges deserves Oscar gold just as much as the other contenders. His role as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart was immaculate and seems to be a shoe-in for this season; he’d be a worthy win as he showed much spirit and vulnerability as a character in that position. He was captivating and tender and is a role audiences must watch.
Another role nominated in the acting category from Crazy Heart was Maggie Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of a small-town reporter. The actress is up for Best Supporting Actress and though it’s her first time being nominated for a role, it’s a longshot for her in the category but nonetheless, she played a solid character and since the Academy is secretly smitten with Crazy Heart, it’d be no surprise if she actually picked up the gold. She’d be up against not just Mo’Nique, Farmiga and Kendrick but Penelope Cruz as well for her role of burlesque dancer in Rob Marshall’s Nine. Cruz won for Best Supporting Actress though last year for Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona so perhaps this year, she’ll be passed by.
A man who’s alone at the Academy Awards and has been trying his best to represent his film, is Colin Firth. The actor is nominated in Tom Ford’s A Single Man for the Best Actor category. He may not pick up the award but his performance as an English professor coping with the death of his partner is heartfelt and touching to watch. Firth is a talented actor and his performance in the film is one of worth.
A film that outgrew its own category was Disney Pixar’s UP. Even though in 2001, the Academy devoted a category to Best Animated Features, the film UP made a mark with voters and in toe, got nominated for Best Picture. It’s been about almost twenty years since an animated feature made it into the Best Picture category (1991’s Beauty and the Beast).
Oscar darlings, the Coen Brothers have found themselves in the Best Picture category yet again with A Serious Man, a film that didn’t get much attention or stars any bigwigs but made a mark and is also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Along with the Coen’s, the sci-fi yet CNN-type District 9 also got nominated for Best Picture which proves you don’t need to use a lot of computer generated images to project an ideal for the future of film.
With the several nominations, there’s always snubs. For one, Eastwood was overlooked in his directing for Invictus. It was a great movie full of endurance of the human spirit and it was a hearty yet vigorous film. In the Best Picture category, some believed the Academy should have learnt from last year with a film like The Dark Knight being nominated and hoping this year would have seen Star Trek as a contender for Best Picture. Another film missed out on was Where The Wild Things Are; a film that created much buzz and hype for the past few years but came up with nothing as per the Academy’s liking.
Two films that some argue could have been part of the Academy Award nominations this year in some way could have been either It’s Complicated or The Hangover; both hilarious films in their own right. However, since the Academy is so reserved and customary to more subdued films, it’ll be hard to break the mould and somehow add comedy into the mix and this year definitely isn’t the year that change will take place. A big snub some disputed was Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of a soldier back home in Brothers and Viggo Mortensen’s role in The Road.
Marion Cotillard was skipped over as well for her performance in the film, Nine. She portrayed a wife who was cheated on by her film director husband and played her role with such an emotional truth and raw vulnerability. The French film, Coco Avant Chanel starring Audrey Tautou only received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design, when in actuality, Tautou’s role garnered much acclaim and attention but not enough to earn her a nomination for Best Actress.
In the Best Animated Film category, some wonder where Ponyo went and the summer hit, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Now, no matter which way you look at it, film is an art form that we all interpret and no matter who wins or what movie is declared the Best Picture, it’s what we value and cherish that means most. What we take out of watching films is more valuable to us an audience and like a painting, we all observe something different and grasp another form of understanding life through the magic of film.
Francis Ford Coppola said it best when he said, “I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.”
The 82nd Annual Academy Awards hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steven Martin airs March 7th at 8pm ET on ABC, check your local listings.