The time for the Academy Awards is here again, which for film fans means the anticipation of finding out whether their favorite picks for nominations are accurate. Hitting a few bulls’ eyes is more probable than ever with the newly expanded category for Best Picture stretched out to 10 nominees over the usual 5. The much ballyhooed extension to this category will mean that there is more of a chance for crowd pleasers and underdog favorites to vie for top honors, making the competition for the top spot all the more exciting
One of the first films that has likely benefitted from the categories now generous girth falls squarely into the “crowd pleaser” category, Disney/Pixar’s animated feature “Up.” The nomination of “Up” in this category will mark only the second time in the academy’s 82 year history that an animated film has been nominated, the first being another Disney favorite, “Beauty And The Beast.” The appearance of “Up” in this category doesn’t necessarily mean that a loss will lead to total disappointment for fans since it is also nominated for best animated feature against, “Coraline,” “Fantastic,” “Mr Fox,” “The Princess And The Frog,” and “The Secret Of Kells.” In the latter category, “Up” is the clear favorite to win.
Another underdog of the Best Picture nominees is the sci-fi apartheid allegory, “District 9.” Well reviewed and well attended, it’s extremely dark and sometimes ghastly storyline is far out of the norm for Academy picks. It is the first R rated Sci-fi film to make the category since “A Clockwork Orange”(actually rated X on initial release) in 1971. The films entry in this category is nonetheless a testament to the good intentions of giving us 10 best picture nominees
Also unusual this year is that there are two Sci-fi films in the running. James Cameron’s mega blockbuster “Avatar” is facing stiff competition from an unexpected rival Katheryn Bigelow, his ex-wife. Bigelow’s (“Point Break,”” Strange Days”) breakthrough achievement, “The Hurt Locker” has garnered tremendous buzz and seems to be on equal footing with “Avatar” as the #1 contender for Oscar gold this year. Both films have earned best director nods this year and there is great expectation that each film will walk away with one award or the other.
Against one or the other of the two favorites this year, the little-film-that-could nominee, “Inglorious Basterds” would have little chance of out performing the goliaths, but enthusiasm for Basterds could split the vote count and let a distant second pull into first. “Inglorious Basterds” has a very good chance indeed, though there is nothing little about Quentin Tarantino’s far-fetched-but-completely-satisfying take on world war two Nazis. The improbability is that there is very little of the standard Best Picture formula that the Academy generally looks for.
The last real contender and fighter for “Inglorious Basterds” come-from-behind win is Jason Reitman’s “Up In the Air.” Reitman burst onto the scene a few short years ago with the excellent “Thank you for Smoking,” and has been unstoppable among critics ever since. With his second film “Juno” earning four nominations and winning best screenplay for writer Diablo Cody, his latest film is primed to reach the same heights. The success of “Up in the Air” with critics and audiences alike give this now seasoned director his best chance yet of grabbing the coveted statue.
The rest of the films in the category lack the heft needed to push them into undeniable contention. The Sandra Bullock vehicle “The Blind Side” and it’s sentimental blood-sister Precious certainly drew the crowds as much as they drew the tears, but their chick flick pedigrees put them in to the specialized territory that will keep fellow nominees “Up” and “District 9” from winning as well. Of course, at this point you may be saying, hey, that is only nine films and the category has ten. Thus, we get a good idea of the chances for the final entry into the category becoming a winner. The film “A Serious Man”by the Coen Brothers was very well received by critics and has already won several industry awards, but it is very likely to be overlooked by the Academy as it was by the film going public. In the end, each film has a one in ten chance of winning and all the odds-making and pure conjecture in the world isn’t going to make one bit of difference when that envelope is opened and the real winner is finally revealed on March 8, 2010. I am pretty sure it will be “Avatar” though.