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Film

Frank J. Avella’s
Film and Theater Column

2009 Oscar Hopefuls

Written by Frank J. Avella

Opposite Photo:
Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard
in Nine

 

 



 

December 20, 2009:

THE BEST OF 2009 and of THE DECADE

I have decided to choose a top 13 for my favorite movies of 2009 as well as this past decade (even though the decade doesn’t technically end until NEXT year). It’s my lucky number and who decided 10 was the definitive quantity anyway!

My Favorite Films of 2009

Honorable Mentions to:
Broken Promises, Crazy Heart, District 9, Duplicity, An Education, (500) Days of Summer, Flame and Citron, The Girlfriend Experience, The Informant, It’s Complicated, Julia, Julie and Julia, The Last Station, The Messenger, Moon, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Outrage, Precious, A Prophet, Public Enemies, Star Trek, Up, The Young Victoria.

And a loud shout out to:

Italy’s Vincere which should have had a 2009 release and would have been in my Top 5, but will instead be released in 2010…

My 13 favorite films of 2009:

13. Me and Orson Welles, directed by Richard Linklater. A delight from beginning to end, this gem has been rightly praised for Christian McKay’s genius embodiment of the genius wunderkind Welles, but the film itself has been unjustly overlooked. It terrifically captures an important moment in theatre history—and because of what Welles was to achieve—cinema history. Enthralling and perceptive yet old-fashioned, the movie avoids the cliche' trappings of standard period flicks and focuses on love and art and the passion both demand.


James Gandolfini in In The Loop

12. In The Loop, directed by Armando Iannucci. This biting, abrasive and profanely exhilarating film captures the true redundancy of political satire and cunningly sends up the maneuverings and machinations of two of the most powerful nations on the planet. The Strangelovian plot is simultaneously side-splittingly funny and jaw-droppingly cynical. And the acting is sensational with a cast of seasoned pros that complement one another. James Gandolfini is particularly hilarious as an off-kilter US General. But the film belongs to Peter Capaldi (so good in Torchwood). As spin-doctor extraordinaire, Malcolm Tucker, Capaldi gives a relentlessly furious performance so enjoyable it should be criminal! His nasty and searing line deliveries are some of the funniest movie moments I have seen in eons.


Charlotte Gainsborough and Willem Dafoe in Antichrist

11. Antichrist, directed by Lars von Trier. A horror film born out of the disturbed, genius mind of auteur provocateur von Trier, Antichrist is one of the most disturbing and deliberately enigmatic films of 2009. It took me two viewings to get my bearings on this challenging, enraging and mesmerizing movie. And even then, I wasn’t sure what I really felt. I do know that its grueling exploration of the dark side of human nature has stayed with me all these months.


A Serious Man

10. A Serious Man, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen. This bizarre and highly personal film is one of the Coen brothers’ best works. As someone who has a love/respectfully dislike relationship with their work this came as a refreshing surprise. Michael Stuhlbarg leads a relatively unknown cast in a movie that explores ethical and moral dilemmas on small and grand scales via a Jewish family growing up in the post-Cold War 60s. In keeping their film seemingly narrow in focus, it is disturbingly universal.


Colin Firth and Julianne Moore in A Single Man

9. A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford. Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, this film is startling in it’s presentation of a day in the life of a gay man in 1962 haunted by the death of his significant other. Colin Firth is given the role of his career and there is great supporting work by Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode and Nicholas Hoult, whose pretty features shouldn’t take away from the fact that he’s a really good actor. A newcomer to directing, Ford fearlessly avoids the obvious and, instead, gives us a beautifully sublime and richly satisfying meditation on the devastating impact death can have on someone.


Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in Invictus

8. Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood. Age cannot slow this auteur down and it continues to be a cause for rejoicing. Invictus is pretty straightforward in its storytelling and instead of an epic journey, Eastwood decided to focus on the smaller details of this amazingly true story. We become privy to Mandela’s loneliness as we watch him at home eating alone. We imagine the thoughts going through Pienaar’s head as he stands in the jail cell that held Mandela for 27 years. In zeroing in on the details, Eastwood allows for empathy, something rare in a film. And to the detractors, if a film about forgiveness feels old hat, then we’ve all become way too jaded.


Penelope Cruz in Nine

7. Nine, directed by Rob Marshall. And speaking of haters, so many US crix have decided this film is the one to destroy this year. And if you read many of the reviews, the reason is more because Rob Marshall did not direct the film they wanted made. Well so far SAG, the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Broadcast Film Critics have nominated it for major awards (including Best Picture). Nine is a dazzling, mesmerizing musical homage to Fellini and to all artists who have trouble living in the real world because his/her bubble world is where they truly feel alive. Daniel Day-Lewis’ remarkable performance (another intrepid immersion for him) anchors the work while the sensational Marion Cotillard leads the supporting cast of lovelies. Yes, the movie could have been more psychologically complex (perhaps if the market research-happy Harvey wasn’t the producer) and yes, it should have been longer and included more musical numbers (see Harvey again), but as it stands it’s a fascinating tale of a megalomaniacal, sex-obsessed man (can you say Tiger Woods?) who is searching for inspiration…and it’s a damn good one!


The White Ribbon

6. The White Ribbon, directed by Michael Haneke. This incredibly riveting and horrifying film warns viewers that what they are about to see may go a long way in explaining some of the atrocious behavior by the German people in the decades that will follow. The perfect ensemble and mosaic plot blend together to create a striking tale of just how impressionable children can be and how we should truly be careful what we ‘teach’ them—especially since, more often than not, they learn by example. The film also has an important warning about how dangerous extreme religious righteousness can truly be.

5. Inglourious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarantino. He’s everyone’s favorite appropriator and this time Quentin Tarantino’s love of movies and the World War II era have blended splendiferously and created a cheekily audacious and wonderfully cathartic motion picture. Tarantino has earned his right to allow his scenes to simmer and stew until they’re ready to explode. He doesn’t feel the necessity to fall back on pyrotechnic camera movements and cuts. He lets his actors take their time and deliver his crisp and (sometimes anachronistically) smart dialogue as it fits the scene. And the payoff in this masterblend of hilarious insanity, demented violence and stirring drama may be shocking and ridiculous but it is also bracing and brilliant!


Viggo Mortensen in The Road

4. The Road, directed by John Hillcoat. Had The Road been released in 2007 when mind-numbingly depressing and nihilistic films were AMPAS-and-critic-popular (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Atonement) perhaps it would have been heralded as the bold and gutsy work that it is. Hillcoat faithfully adapts the Cormac McCarthy novel and digs deep into the dark areas of human nature depicting just how far people are willing to go to survive. Critics of the film have said that it’s too damning of our race. Perhaps they should visit the Holocaust museum and remind themselves just how heinously humans can behave.


George Clooney in Up in the Air

3. Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman. Imagine a film that gets everything right, from it’s clever and crackling script to the pitch perfect performances to fantastic photography and production design that gives you the sensation of traveling to direction that never over-or-underwhelmes but guides and allows. Up in the Air boasts George Clooney’s most accomplished work to date. Watching the cinematic sparks fly when he is opposite Vera Farmiga is a delight. They are the celluloid couple of the year—unless you count Avatar's Jake and Neytiri! Explaining the film’s plot, however, does not make this film sound appealing. Simply go see it, unless you want to miss out on experiencing sheer joy at the movies.


The Hurt Locker

2. The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. If war is a drug can tripping on war lead to a soldier’s salvation or his damnation? Bigelow knows how to create suspense and the Iraq war is the backdrop for just how far guys are willing to go to get their thrill fix. The Hurt Locker is exhilarating filmmaking; a visceral cinematic thrill, but it’s also one of the most frightening and intelligent “war” films of our time.

1. Avatar, directed by James Cameron. So much has been written and so much said already about this extraordinary achievement that echoing all the superlatives and positives (and I do) seems redundant. I will only say that I cannot remember the last time I was transported--visually and aurally as well as intellectually and spiritually—by a motion picture that I craved seeing it again as badly as I did. And it not only holds up a second viewing but I want to see it again! Call him what you will but James Cameron is fearless and that’s a grand compliment in the entertainment industry. He has managed to combine so many genres while making important statements about current environmental, social and political situations…oh, look, there I go writing stuff that’s already been written. Suffice to say that like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Avatar is a film that will influence other films and filmmakers for decades to come—and not only for its groundbreaking technical aspects but for the audacity of it’s story.

A note:

I realize that in some of my musings it may appear that I have some ax to grind with other film writers. The truth is I feel so many have become so jaded, taking themselves way too seriously and seeing themselves as the friggin’ herald angels—but instead of singing, they whine and complain and HATE. They can’t wait to hate! Taking demonic glee in tearing a film to shreds (especially when they are the first to do so). I wish the ones who no longer enjoy films would just stop writing.

At a recent screening of It’s Complicated where half the audience was made up of press and the others were from the NYC mayor’s office (sitting in the back and left of the theatre), you knew right away where the critics were. All the laughter and cheers were coming from the back and left. The ‘serious journalists’ appeared to be daring the film to be funny and the few times they couldn’t help themselves and released a laugh or two, they pulled back in immediately. Now, I realize I seem to be indicting the entire group and that isn’t fair, but trust me I found the reactions (or deliberate lack thereof) to be fascinating. Now I would not call It’s Complicated a comic masterpiece but it very funny. So let yourself go a little. Laugh. Stop loving to hate. And stop taking yourself so seriously. No one critical voice is that important. It’s the films that matter.

Lead Actress:

Honorable Mentions to:
Robin Wright-Penn in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
Zoe Saldana in Avatar
Abbie Cornish in Bright Star
Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist

5. Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria
4. Carey Mulligan in An Education
3. Helen Mirren in The Last Station
2. Tilda Swinton in Julia
1. Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia and It’s Complicated


Lead Actor:

Honorable Mentions to:
Sam Worthington in Avatar
Tahar Rahim in A Prophet
Morgan Freeman in Invictus
Tom Hardy in Bronson
Viggo Mortensen in The Road

5. Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
4. Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
3. Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine
2. Colin Firth in A Single Man
1. George Clooney in Up in the Air

Supporting Actress:

Honorable Mentions to:
Jessica Haines in Disgrace
Rosamund Pike in An Education
Melanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds
Julianne Moore in A Single Man
Penelope Cruz in Nine

5. Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
4. Sigourney Weaver in Avatar
3. Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
2. Mo’Nique in Precious
1. Marion Cotillard in Nine and Public Enemies

Supporting Actor:

Honorable Mentions to:
Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker
Brian Geraghty in The Hurt Locker
Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road
Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones and Julie and Julia
Christopher Plummer in The Last Station

5. Matt Damon in Invictus
4. Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
3. Christian McKay in Me and Orson Welles
2. Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
1. Peter Capaldi in In the Loop

Director:

With Honorable Mentions to:
Rob Marshall for Nine
Tom Ford for A Single Man
Clint Eastwood for Invictus
Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon
Lars Von Trier for Antichrist


5. Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
4. Jason Reitman for Up in the Air
3. John Hillcoat for The Road
2. Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
1. James Cameron for Avatar

Original Screenplay
5. Joel and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man
4. Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
3. Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon
2. James Cameron for Avatar
1. Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker

Adapted Screenplay
5. Vincent Palmo. Jr. and Holly Gent Palmo for Me and Orson Welles
4. Joe Penhall for The Road
3. Tom Ford & David Scearce for A Single Man
2. Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche for In the Loop
1. Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for Up in the Air


BEST OF THE NOUGHTIES

Choosing the best of the decade is ridiculously impossible ergo it’s grand fun--especially for cinephiles. But let’s clarify one thing. Technically the decade began on January 1, 2001 (tell THAT to all the new millennium-doomsayers out there who were crapping in their geekboots on December 31, 1999!) so that means the real decade isn’t over yet…but since sooo many others are feeding into the erroneous new decade frenzy, allow me to add my 2 cents. Actually, my 13 cents. Since I did it with my fave films of 2009, I may as well be consistent. Here with NO explanation and no reason other than the fact that these were the films that stayed with me the most and that I cherish the most. I would argue that a handful represent a significant step forward for cinema, otherwise they’re just my best!


Honorable Mentions to:

Bad Education, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Dancer in the Dark, The Departed, A History of Violence, The Hours, Little Children, Lost in Translation, Million Dollar Baby, Mulholland Drive, Munich, The Royal Tennanbaums, Y Tu Mama Tambien

My TOP 13 FILMS of the DECADE are as follows:

13. Revolutionary Road, directed by Sam Mendes
12. Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant
11. Avatar, directed by James Cameron
10. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, directed by Sidney Lumet
9. Traffic, directed by Steven Soderbergh
8. Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee
7. Best of Youth (La Meglio Goventu’), directed by Marco Tullio Giordana
6. Gosford Park, directed by Robert Altman
5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson
4. Letters from Iwo Jima, directed by Clint Eastwood
3. There Will Be Blood, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
2. Requiem for a Dream, directed by Darren Aronofsky
1. Dogville, directed by Lars von Trier

ACTRESS OF THE DECADE
Meryl Streep
Kate Winslet
Cate Blanchett
Marion Cotillard
Helen Mirren

ACTOR OF THE DECADE
Daniel Day-Lewis
Sean Penn
Heath Ledger
Leonardo DiCaprio
George Clooney

DIRECTOR OF THE DECADE
Lars von Trier
Clint Eastwood
David Fincher
Steven Soderbergh
Pedro Almodovar

SPECIAL MENTION:
The Master: Robert Altman

December 13, 2009:

2009 is proving to be quite an exciting year for the Academy Awards with each major category bubbling with a slew of potential nominees. What strikes me as most fascinating is how, with each new day as awards season blooms full, nothing is certain. No sure thing has yet emerged. And even the surer things feel less than absolute. Example, after seeing Avatar and The Lovely Bones, one leaps to the top of my Best Picture list, the other nosedives. Avatar is quite simply one of most astonishing and exhilarating cinematic experiences I have ever had.

There has been much written, of late, about whether the Oscars “matter” today. The fact that so MUCH is, indeed, being written proves they matter since what is truly vital is the dialoguing about film and currently that dialogue is absolutely deafening. More writers, in print and online, seem to be focused on the Oscars than ever before.

More importantly, the movies themselves ‘matter’ and the Oscars have always been, and still are, a celebration of cinema. The best celebration of cinema.
There do seem to be too many opinions. Too many bloggers wanting to be the first to herald the latest “sure thing” or announce the film that they feel is no longer a contender. The latter, in particular, is disheartening and angering. In the last few weeks, Nine and The Lovely Bones have fallen victim to a rash of immediate judgments against each and while I LOVE one and have major issues with the other—neither should be discounted since they both represent singular visions by two exciting directors.

Attempting to analyze the race this early is much like playing baseball blindfolded, you might enjoy swinging the bat several times but you might also get hit dab-smack in the face with the ball! No matter, I’m ready to step up to the plate, put on my blindfold and swing!

It’s easy to blur the lines between favorites and predictions. Anyone who says they can be completely objective is either a liar, delusional or on crack. That said I plan on specifying when I am more taken with a film or performance that doesn’t seem to truly have traction.


Penelope Cruz in Nine

This year there’s a special kind of lunacy since the Best Picture race will feature ten films instead of five. I applaud this oddly controversial decision. I had hoped for years that AMPAS would return to the tradition of nominating 10 (and even 12) films in the 30s and early 40s, but I never really thought it would happen. I even called for it last year—in the Best Actor race!

I don’t feel upping the number to ten takes anything away from the prestige or the exclusivity of Oscar; I think it simply makes (rightful) room to honor films that go overlooked each year. Last year Revolutionary Road and The Dark Knight may have made a Best Pic 10 list. The bottom line is that the Academy is showing a refreshing ability to grow and change and try out new ideas (regardless of the reasons behind it) and that’s always a good thing. Always.

Besides the handful of celebrated films that have been predicted as shoo-ins across the blog-boards--and remember Dreamgirls and The Dark Knight were also on the shoo-in list--no one really knows whether the Academy will decide to honor blockbusters (Star Trek, District 9), comedies (500 Days of Summer, A Serious Man), serious fare (The Road, A Single Man), foreign-language films (A Prophet, The White Ribbon), Brit pics (An Education, The Young Victoria), a docu (Capitalism: A Love Story), an animated feature (Up) or enjoyable popcorn flicks (Inglourious Basterds, Julie and Julia).

I am pretty confident that the following six films will make the final cut:


Avatar

James Cameron spent fifteen years and only-the-movie-gods-know how much money working on making certain his vision of Avatar was realized the way he wanted it to be and the result is one of the most extraordinary films I have experienced in years. It’s an absolute stunner that is both incredibly moving and technically brilliant. AMPAS won’t be able to deny the power (as well as the filmic importance) of this wonder.


The Hurt Locker

One of the best-reviewed films from early in the year is Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker with Jeremy Renner’s powerful performance making him a solid Best Actor contender (that was until Jeff Bridges’ eleven o’clock entry into the race). More certain is Bigelow’s nomination for telling an old story in a new and exciting way.

I originally saw Nine twice in rough-cut, and even then it felt like a lock for Best Picture, Actor, Director, Supporting Actress and techies galore. After seeing the finished film I feel Nine is better than Chicago in many ways and Rob Marshall works some true cinematic magic. Daniel Day Lewis is not only a believable Italian but also a good singer. He delivers a multi-faceted, nuanced performance (it’s DDL, so that can’t come as a surprise). There may be a backlash against so many songs being cut from the original show but I still feel the Academy will embrace it.

It disheartened me to learn The Weinstein Company is pushing Marion Cotillard for Best Lead Actress for Nine, when her supporting performance is the best female turn in the film and she would most certainly be nominated in that category. I am hoping the Academy rights that wrong come nominations. Penelope Cruz is right behind her, continuing to add to what is becoming a terrific body of work onscreen. (If Nine doesn’t get her a nod, Broken Embraces should). Of the other women, no one is really onscreen long enough to snag attention, but perennial fave Judi Dench should never been discounted. And don’t completely rule out Fergie simply for dazzling us with the best musical number in the film: "Be Italian" (okay that one’s beyond long shot, but what the hell!!) Nine, by the way, boasts the best cast since Altman was alive to gather the greats together. And they’re ALL wonderful—even Kate Hudson!

Forget the handful of online bloggers who seem to have no concept of the “concept” film musical and no respect for an amazing director and two gifted screenwriters (Michael Tolkin and the late great Anthony Minghella) who ingeniously found a way to use the visual medium in their adaptation while paying homage to the original Fellini masterpiece.



Mo’Nique in Precious

Precious will make the Best Picture cut and Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe and Mo’Nique will probably both be nominated despite the fact that Mo’Nique seems to have pissed off the planet with her anti-Oscar ramblings. Someone must have recently ‘spoken’ to her because she’s changing her tune. And while she’s no George C. Scott or Marlon Brando, she does delivers one of the most indelible performances of the year and—unless she murders a small child—will be recognized.


Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in Invictus

Clint Eastwood’s talents, like a fine wine, get better with age and while his new entry, Invictus, is not the masterwork Letters from Iwo Jima is, it’s a terrific, straightforward, no-frills movie that is incredibly powerful and entertaining. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are good bets for nominations as is the film for Best Picture.


George Clooney in Up in the Air


Finally, Up in the Air lives up to its hype. It’s great filmmaking and George Clooney’s performance is a career best. Look for multiple nominations including one for Anna Kendrick who near steals every scene she’s in. The trailers and commercials do not to this film the justice it deserves and I’ve noticed that when I try to explain to people what the film is about, it never sounds as compelling as it actually is. But trust me, Up in the Air, is one of the most insightful and exhilarating motion pictures of the year!

So we have Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Nine, Precious, Invictus and Up in the Air. The remaining four will come from the following:


Carey Mulligan in An Education


Emily Blunt and Jim Broadbent in The Young Victoria

An Education is a delight from Lone Scherfig and boasts this year’s acting discovery: the ebullient Carey Mulligan. Does the film have enough support to go the distance? Or will some of that support go to the underrated and thoroughly delightful costume drama The Young Victoria? Directed by John Mark Vallee, the pic has Oscar written all over it and features a winning ensemble led by Emily Blunt.



Saorise Ronan and Ray Singh in The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson’s highly personal and deeply disappointing screen adaptation of The Lovely Bones does boast Stanley Tucci’s indelible portrait of sweet Susie Salmon’s creepy murderer. I would also give a loud shout to Susan Sarandon’s memorable 70s boozebabe, Grandma Lynn.

Two of my favorite American films of the year are two of the most divisive (big surprise there!) Each has support but both have a tough road ahead (oh, forgive me!!).



Viggo Mortensen in The Road

John Hillcoat’s stunning cinematic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s devastating novel, The Road, should sweep the nominations in a perfect world. Viggo Mortensen gives his best performance and in a less crowded year would be a cinch for Best Actor. And can someone tell me why Kodi Smit-McPhee’s astonishing turn as his son isn’t being talked about for a Supporting nod? I am hoping against the odds that The Road does not fall the way Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead did two years ago and Revolutionary Road did last year. My only hope is that it does have big Harvey behind it. And it’s one of the most extraordinary film achievements of the year!


Colin Firth and Julianne Moore in A Single Man


Tom Ford’s incredible directorial debut, A Single Man, may fare better since Colin Firth’s genius portrayal of a man crippled by loss is getting loud buzz. But will it be enough to insure a Best Pic nom?


And speaking of Weinstein (above), Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is getting quite a push. It’s certainly a crowd pleaser even if it rewrites history, Tarantino-style!


Helen Mirren and James McAvoy in The Last Station


Helen Mirren tears up the screen in The Last Station, a film about the final days in the life of Leo Tolstoy. She’s already a Best Actress front-runner. In addition, Christopher Plummer (who has insanely NEVER been Oscar nominated) could grab a Supporting spot. Does it have the power to climb onto the Best Pic pile?


Tahar Rahim in A Prophet

Germany’s Oscar entry, The White Ribbon, and France’s submission, A Prophet, are two of the finest films of 2009. But the Foreign-Language category will most likely be where those titles will be competing.


Vincere


And speaking of Foreign films, Vincere, Marco Bellocchio’s masterwork about Mussolini’s first real wife, should have had a 2009 release but since Italy fumbled badly and chose to overlook this gem as their Foreign-Language Film entry, the film will not qualify until 2010. I only pray it’s remembered at next year’s awards.

Best Picture
Most Likely:

Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air
Precious
Invictus
Nine


Probable:
An Education
Inglourious Basterds

Possible:
The Messenger
A Serious Man
A Single Man
The Road
Star Trek
The Young Victoria
Julie and Julia
The Last Station
Up
Capitalism: A Love Story
500 Days of Summer
The White Ribbon
The Lovely Bones
Crazy Heart


Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in It's Complicated

My shake-things-up candidate: It’s Complicated

The Directing category is more intriguing this year because of the number of female possibilities as well as the fact that the number of Best Pic candidates have doubled. Kathryn Bigelow’s helming of The Hurt Locker is the most assured female nod with Lone Scherfig a long shot for her work on An Education. Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) has a smashing chance at a nomination as does master Clint. Rob Marshall will have a bit of a battle to sqeak in and Lee Daniel’s direction of Precious is one of the weakest aspects of that film, but he could ride the wave if the film is as popular with AMPAS as many believe it will be. As far as James Cameron goes, it would be tragic if he was overlooked since Avatar is one of the most amazing follow-ups to an Oscar winning film (Titanic, of course) ever.

BEST DIRECTOR:
Likely:

James Cameron for Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air

Probable:
Clint Eastwood for Invictus

Possible:
Rob Marshall for Nine
Lee Daniels for Precious
Lone Scherfig for An Education
Tom Ford for A Single Man
Joel & Ethan Coen for A Serious Man
John Hillcoat for The Road
Pedro Almodovar for Broken Embraces
Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon
Peter Jackson for The Lovely Bones

My shake-things-up candidate: Lars Von Trier for Antichrist (And big blue birds are going to fly out of my ass!)

Four Best Actress nominees now seem inevitable: Carey Mulligan, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep (when is she going to win her long overdue third Oscar???). Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe probably takes spot number four—although I’m not that convinced. I think Emily Blunt, Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) or Marion Cotillard (if she’s sold as lead) could take it from her. I believe Robin Wright Penn (is she still Penn?) could receive a surprise nomination for her sublime portrayal in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. She’s never been nominated. It’s an excellent performance. And she has divorce-sympathy on her side. The other surprise here would be Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. I fought seeing it but finally did and I have to grudgingly admit that if she made the list, I would not be that upset.
What I want to know is how is it that hardly anyone is discussing Tilda Swinton who gave an electrifying performance in Erick Zonca’s highly underrated Julia. No one is talking Swinton and it puzzles me. I can’t remember the last time an acting triumph of this caliber went completely overlooked!

Best Actress


Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia

Likely:
Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia
Helen Mirren in The Last Station
Carey Mulligan in An Education

Probable:
Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe in Precious

Possible:
Robin Wright in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
Marion Cotillard in Nine
Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria
Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely Bones
Abbie Cornish in Bright Star
Melanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds
Michelle Pfeiffer in Cheri
Audrey Tautou in Coco Before Chanel


My shake-things-up candidate: (You guessed it,) Tilda Swinton in Julia

Like last year, the Best Actor possibilities are absurd in their abundance.
And Fox Searchlight didn’t help by announcing they are releasing Crazy Heart to qualify. Good news for four-time nominee, never-winner Jeff Bridges who is remarkable in it. Bad news for up-till-the-announcement-favorites George Clooney and Colin Firth!


Matt Damon in The Informant


With Bridges, Clooney, Firth, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Renner, Daniel Day-Lewis, Viggo Mortensen and Matt Damon (The Informant) all worthy of a nomination, this is going to be another year where some of the year’s best work is left off the short list (can you say Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road? Or Benicio Del Toro in Che!)

Best Actor
Likely:


George Clooney in Up in the Air
Colin Firth in A Single Man

Probable:
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
Morgan Freeman in Invictus

Possible:
Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Viggo Mortensen in The Road
Matt Damon in The Informant
Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man
Hal Holbrook in That Evening Sun
Tahar Rahim in A Prophet
Ben Foster in The Messenger
Sam Rockwell in Moon
Hugh Dancy in Adam
Michael Sheen in The Damned United
Sharlto Copley in District 9
James McAvoy in The Last Station
Clive Owen in The Boys are Back
Robert DeNiro in Everybody’s Fine
Johnny Depp in Public Enemies

My shake-things-up candidate: Tom Hardy in Bronson.

In my Tribeca review of In The Loop, I wrote, “Someone get this guy a gold statue” about Peter Capaldi’s brash and relentless performance. I only hope he isn’t lost in the Supporting Actor shuffle.

No clear front-runner has emerged but bet on Christopher Plummer to harpoon his very first nomination and Christoph Waltz’s frightening “Jew Hunter” to make the list.

One of great treats of the year was watching Christian McKay’s virtuoso impersonation of Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles and I truly hope he is rewarded with a nod.

For the record, this would have been the perfect year for one of the best actors on the planet, eight time nominee Peter O’Toole, to finally win his longgggg overdue Oscar if only a distributor had picked up Dean Spanley. This excellent film, which features another outstanding performance by O’Toole, played at last year’s Toronto Film Fest and has been released in Britain. But why not here??

Best Supporting Actor
Likely:

Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

Probable:
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
Matt Damon in Invictus

Possible:
Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
Alfred Molina in An Education
Christian McKay in Me and Orson Welles
Alec Baldwin in It’s Complicated
Peter Sarsgaard in An Education
Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker
Brian Geraghty in The Hurt Locker
Rupert Friend in The Young Victoria
Stanley Tucci in Julie and Julia
Peter Capaldi in In the Loop
Paul Schneider in Bright Star
Jim Broadbent in The Young Victoria
Tobey Maguire in Brothers

My shake-things-up candidate: Christian McKay

Supporting Actress. Blah-blah, Mo’Nique. Blah-blah shoo-in.

Two films might produce two nominations in this category.
Up in the Air could not have two more different yet splendiferous gals competing with the hilarious Anna Kendrick and the compelling Vera Farmiga.
And Nine has a slew of potential candidates beginning with the dazzling Marion Cotillard and sexsational Penelope Cruz. And if Julianne Moore had a little more screen time in A Single Man she could have given the Mo-gal a run for the gold.

Best Supporting Actress
Likely:


Mo’Nique in Precious
Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
Penélope Cruz in Nine

Probable: (if AMPAS proves savvy and place her in Support)
Marion Cotillard in Nine

Possible:
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
Julianne Moore in A Single Man
Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
Sigourney Weaver in Avatar
Judi Dench in Nine
Susan Sarandon in The Lovely Bones
Rosamund Pike in An Education
Charlize Theron in The Road
Patricia Clarkson in Whatever Works
Ellen Burstyn in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
Paula Patton in Precious
Cara Seymour in An Education
Samantha Morton in The Messenger
Natalie Portman in Brothers


My shake-things-up candidate: Jessica Haines in Disgrace (it’s incredible that this was her very first film and she sears the screen in it!)

It’s too early to predict the best picture winner. Before Toronto, The Hurt Locker had the lead. Two months ago Precious (good but NOT deserving of the top honors) and Up in the Air seemed to be the pics to beat. Last week Invictus was gaining ground. This week, Avatar seems more than possible (and deserving, I might add!) These next few weeks leading up to the nominations—with critics awards, and Guild choices --that will probably change too. Probably.

Lead actor is a crapshoot—looking like Clooney vs. Bridges vs. Firth, but let’s see who is nominated first! Lead actress could finally be Streep since she’s delivered two of the best performances of the year in Julie and Julia and the Nancy Meyers hilarious It’s Complicated. But Carey Mulligan is a strong contender as well.

As far as Best Director, I have been saying all along that a female helmer would finally take home the gold. I really thought no matter what film won Best Picture, Kathryn Bigelow would win Best Director. That was until I saw Avatar. Looks like the self-proclaimed “King of the World” may very well reclaim his throne. We shall see…

 

 

 

 


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