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"The Hurt Locker"

The Year of Bombs, Bridges and Big Blue Men: Oscar Predictions 2010

(Originally posted on the blog “Drop Frame.”)

Let us state right out our allegiances. It will save time later.

I saw “The Hurt Locker” in February 2009 as the closing night selection of Film Comment Selects. I thought it the best war movie I have ever seen, let alone best movie of the year.

Jeremy Renner in Oscar frontrunner "The Hurt Locker" (Kathryn Bigelow, dir.)

Bigelow and Co. deserve almost any award granted to them, and it would be a fully satisfying benchmark for Kathryn Bigelow (a personal favorite from “Point Break” on) to earn the first Best Director Oscar awarded to a woman.

The odds, they are against it, as another film reportedly has much of the competition sewn up. The only Oscar-night drama may be whether “Avatar” pulls a “LotR” and sweeps its categories.

“Avatar” is a fine enough film, but for all of its vaunted dimension–virtual and technological–it would have been a nice, hell, even moderately engaging touch to add some dimension to the characters themselves. Left with just a sympathetic other, gun-toatin’ generalissimo, money-grubbing corporate shill, compassionate scientist, weirdly unwary natives and a mystery commodity (is it an energy source, a building material, food, a precious stone, what?), you wonder if Cameron has a finite amount of creative capital to spend on any given film, and what that amount could be.

“Dances with Wolves/Pocahontas 2” notwithstanding, the year included several exceptional films–“Up,” “Crazy Heart” and “A Single Man” also spring to mind–filling out the Oscar pool and offering some real challenges to this year’s predictions.

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Actor

Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart” — will win
George Clooney, “Up in the Air”
Colin Firth, “A Single Man” — should win
Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”
Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”

All that said about “The Hurt Locker” and its first category does not even warrant a should-win. The Dude abides.

Bridges has been a top-tier favorite since “Tron” and “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” let alone “Lebowski.” His performance as the hard-drinking Bad Blake making good made a molehill story feel like a mountain, resulting in a poignant and engaging journey, a road movie minus the great distances covered (but with a car wreck). Adding a generous amount of humor to a burnout’s tale, a particular specialty of Bridges’s, made his work all the more impressive, and he wins as he rightly should, at the top of his game.

Even without such a masterstroke, Renner falls to third, behind Colin Firth’s worthy efforts as a compassionate English professor whose personal struggles have convinced him to give it all up. The incredibly subtle performance strikes as only slightly more difficult to pull off than Bridges’s role (hence the should-win). Firth is captivating less for the intelligence he brings to his character’s final hours than for what he lets only his body say. Two masterful performances end in a dead heat. Either deserves the award.

Keep Renner in your sights for future accolades. After recent memorable bit roles in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and, of all things, “House,” as well as a commanding breakthrough in “Locker,” he joins a small handful of powerful young acting talents actually getting work. Amy Adams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Carey Mulligan. Anyone else?

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Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon, “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”
Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”
Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds” — should win, will win

Can’t stand Tarantino. Haven’t seen “Basterds.” Don’t know why so much hay has been made out of a title lifted from a ’70s Italian war film (It WAS a great title, back then). But give the director credit as a master caster, a skill whose absence can destroy a film before the first day of shooting. Following the buzz, give a nod to Tarantino’s latest revival.

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Actress

Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”  — will win
Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”  — should win

Meryl Streep is divine. She is marvelous. I paraphrase the writers of “Modern Family” and say she could be cast as Willy Wonka, Hannibal Lecter or Michael Corleone and pull off the part (I’d especially like to see Willy Wonka). To hear Hollywood tell it, they’re tired of Streep, or at least her unrelenting succession of record-breaking nominations, thus giving the award to the next likeliest candidate, Sandra Bullock.

“The Blind Side” is undeniably–I would say unfortunately–a movie that will never stop being made. In fact, it’s two such movies: the world-bitten coach driving a troublesome and/or disrespected underdog to unexpected levels of achievement and the rich white person helping the disadvantaged black person find his way. Outdated though the latter plot seems to me to be, the film, its crew and Bullock have garnered reviews rave enough to be taken seriously.

Incidentally, both Streep and Bullock (and Mirren) allow the Academy to continue the trend of honoring actors who portray real-life characters. Sean Penn, Marion Cotillard, Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Jaime Foxx, Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron and Cate Blanchett, to name a few, have all done so in recent years.

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Actress in a Supporting Role

Penelope Cruz, “Nine”
Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Crazy Heart”
Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
Mo’Nique “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” — should win, will win

In another demonstration of the need for better writing of female parts, the only distinct and dissimilar role walks away with an Oscar. No fault to Mo’Nique: her power performance within a very difficult story is deserving of recognition.

Just, the other four capable actresses here worked very capably as almost the same person: tag-alongs representing various shades of love. Gyllenhaal was delightful but overshadowed. In truth, Kendrick is the only other contender, for charming with her range while branching out from “Twilight.”

And can I just say I thought I was done typing out that “Precious” title when I left the Film Society.

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Animated Feature

“Coraline”
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
“The Princess and the Frog”
“The Secret of Kells”
“Up” — should win, will win

Any other year I’d say the Academy would jump at the chance to undermine Pixar’s dominance and give the Oscar to an acclaimed filmmaker dabbling in animation at the same time. Sorry Wes, you picked the wrong year.

“Up” is not just Pixar, it’s exceptional Pixar, with a dynamic, emotional story even with its flights of fancy, not to mention one of film’s single most effective introductions. No movie has better or more quickly inspired the audiences’ sympathy for an elderly character. Add the balls-out brilliance of the writing for the talking dogs and Pixar widens its lead.

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Art Direction

“Avatar” — will win
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus”
“Nine”
“Sherlock Holmes” — should win
“The Young Victoria”

The beginning of “Avatar”s run, alphabetically at least.

“Sherlock Holmes” was a surprising delight mostly in the spirit of the original stories, and the art direction went a long way in keeping rock star director Guy Ritchie tied to that base. Moreover, Art Direction has generated surprises in the past–“Sweeney Todd” beating out “There Will Be Blood.”

Still, two points.

1) the Academy gives ties to the film that will ultimately win Best Picture.
2) “Avatar,” whose remarkable success is so inseparable from its visual accomplishments, won’t likely lose a visual award.

With a nod to the accomplishments of “Imaginarium” and “Victoria,” “Avatar” steals a tight race.

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Cinematography

Mauro Fiore, “Avatar” — will win
Bruno Delbonnel, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
Barry Ackroyd, “The Hurt Locker” — should win
Robert Richardson, “Inglourious Basterds”
Christian Berger, “The White Ribbon”

What, no Roger Deakins? The Oscar stalwart and frequent Coen-collaborator has been left out of a roster of very worthy colleagues, both familiar (Richardson) and far-afield (“Amelie” veteran Delbonnel). Only the three first-time nominees compete for an award that likely foreshadows Best Picture.

In short, don’t over-think.

“Avatar” may seem to be more computer than camera, but a CGI-heavy film takes no mean amount of planning and skill on the part of the cinematographer. While immeasurable credit must be given to Ackroyd’s provocative shot selections in desert locations, Fiore gets the nod on technical merit alone.

Undermining that little point made two paragraphs ago, if “Avatar” loses on Oscar night, it loses here. So don’t be surprised if Berger gets called to the stage: black-and-white photography in the digital age presents an artistic challenge all its own. Having passed over the beauty of “Good Night, and Good Luck.” a few years ago and generally awarding vibrant, fantastical films over the past decade, the Academy may be looking for an intellectual option heavy on artistry. “The White Ribbon” is a superb–and already highly lauded–example.

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Costume Design

“Bright Star”
“Coco before Chanel”
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus”
“Nine”
“The Young Victoria” — should win, will win

Sure, you say, the movie’s about a fashion designer. But did Chanel need girdles capable of reinforcing concrete before she left her room in the morning?

Yes, the musical just happens to feature nine of the world’s most attractive women. But that would reduce the TFR (total fabric required), not push it toward amounts otherwise used to set records in landmass coverage.

And the imagination lets a costume designer create just about anything. But, with all the red coats and flowing dresses, who needs imagination to correct what history and Victorian taste already got right?

The category that faultlessly leans–downright falls into–the specific craft over the broad composition continues a grand tradition: “Marie Antoinette,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” “The Duchess,” and “Young Victoria.” That said, Campion’s Keats-Brawne period romance “Bright Star” has quite a lot going for it and could mount a late charge, making this a tight race between two films released by newcomer Apparition.

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Directing

James Cameron, “Avatar” — will win
Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker” — should win
Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”
Lee Daniels, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”

You cannot knock a guy who disappeared for more than a decade and returned with creative spark enough to upend his own ridiculous box office records. Sure, money is not supposed to factor into this race, but as much as you’d like to see a woman, a black man, or an up-and-comer with legacy to burn win an Oscar (yes, there’s that other guy; he loses points for spelling), a $707 million gross says it’s Cameron’s to lose.

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Documentary Feature

“Burma VJ”
“The Cove” — should win, will win
“Food, Inc.”
“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”
“Which Way Home”

Notable this year for the films left out (Sundance award-winner “We Live in Public,” New Wave pioneer Agnes Varda’s “The Beaches of Agnes,” Cannes pic “My Neighbor My Killer”), Documentary offers up some provocative titles but one real choice. Louie Psihoyos’s “The Cove” is a wrenching environmental call-to-arms about the tragic fate of untrainable dolphins, whose social message far outpaces the in-your-backyard engagement created by “Food, Inc.” Its qualities as slash investigative journalism, as well as Psihoyos’s “National Geographic”-trained eye at the camera, make it a virtual lock.

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Documentary Short

“China’s Unnatural Disaster: the Tears of Sichuan Province” — will win
“The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner”
“The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”
“Music by Prudence”
“Rabbit a la Berlin”

Common logic in tight documentary races says to err toward current events. But which is more current: election reform, disaster relief or the recession? A toss-up, given how little play these films get; the recent vogue of arthouse theaters screening Oscar-nominated shorts often excludes these deserving selections. With little to no basis for a comparison of craft or confidence, the subject will have to do, and China’s hot enough to bring in the award the Academy most likes to bestow on controversial themes.

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Editing

“Avatar” — will win
“District 9”
“The Hurt Locker” — should win
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

Say it with me now: don’t over-think.

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Foreign Language

“Ajami”
“El Secreto de Sus Ojos”
“The Milk of Sorrow”
“Un Prophete”
“The White Ribbon” — should win, will win

The category that generated last year’s biggest upset seems poised to offer no drama whatsoever. Haneke’s vivid, pre-WWI crime drama is among the most talked-about films of the year, and with the Cannes Palme d’Or and Golden Globe already on his mantle, the “Cache” and “Funny Games” veteran edges toward all-time great status, let alone a fully deserving Oscar here. Only a recent surge by “A Prophet” thanks to a timely American release figures to upset “The White Ribbon.” Don’t sweat it: the German work is an exemplar for how much better the best European directors can be.

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Makeup

“Il Divo”
“Star Trek” — should win, will win
“The Young Victoria”

Ever tricky, this category gets downright weird with its traditional split–aliens v. period–compounded by a foreign film chronicling the decades-long career of post-war Italian political magnate Giulio Andreotti, played with ingenuity by the great Toni Servillo. Normally you should keep an eye on the makeup that makes a beautiful person ugly, but Servillo isn’t really all that beautiful. The aliens have it, Romulans,  unnamed green alien species, Zoe Saldana’s extensions and all.

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Original Score

James Horner, “Avatar”
Alexandre Desplat, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, “The Hurt Locker”
Hans Zimmer, “Sherlock Holmes”
Michael Giacchino, “Up” — should win, will win

Three out of the past four years for Desplat and still the big ohfer. Meanwhile, a good year for Giacchino, who also composed the music for “Star Trek,” gets better.

This well deserved award goes to the year’s most suitable film score: airy, light, charming, playful, inventive and, like all great scores, in no way overpowering the film story. Horner needs to take down the lesson: his Native American pipes and drumming were just plain ridiculous.

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Original Song

“Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog”
“Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog”
“Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36”
“Take It All” from “Nine”
“The Weary Kind (theme from ‘Crazy Heart’)” from “Crazy Heart” — should win, will win

Seriously, do we need to talk about this? Have you heard “The Weary Kind?” Brilliant. Old School. And it’s written by a guy named T Bone. Moving on…

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Picture

“Avatar” — will win
“The Blind Side”
“District 9”
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker” — should win
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

The point on the winner has been made, so let me lend my voice to another argument. Ten nominees? What is this, a grade school talent show? Is there a minimum box office threshold? Clearly you have to speak English.

While parity can be a stabilizing force, ten nominees has had next to no effect on the discussion around this year’s Best Picture nominees: two real hopefuls. So parity gives way to a cluttered list of unlikely winners clogging up the awards presentations and, worse, minimizing the import of the nominations themselves.

Example: some have mentioned with pride that “Up” is only the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. No stretch is required to think that it could have made the top five of this list, truly equating “Up” with the accomplishments of “Beauty and the Beast.” Instead, it enjoys a status shared by uninspired sci-fi selections and the Coens at their most eclectic.

Even more odd is the absence, despite twice the nominees, of the international v. American film argument familiar from recent Oscars (“The Departed” over “Babel,” “Slumdog Millionaire” over the field). British Sundance darling “An Education” figures to be an also-ran, and the universally acclaimed “The White Ribbon” is served a non-consideration that simply does not compute.

Remember, I’ve only gotten one Best Picture right in the last five years…

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Short, Animated

“French Roast”
“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty”
“The Lady and the Reaper / La Dama y la Muerte”
“Logorama”
“A Matter of Loaf and Death” — will win

Heavy is the crown of any Oscar pool champion who would bet against Wallace and Gromit.

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Short, Live Action

“The Door” — will win
“Instead of Abracadabra”
“Kavi”
“Miracle Fish”
“The New Tenants”

With no Holocaust story to define a clear winner, this hardest of categories to predict devolves into a battle of extremes. The emotional resonance of Juanita Wilson’s fearless Chernobyl survivor story “The Door” is set up against the artistic fantasy of Patrik Eklund’s romantic comedy “Instead of Abracadabra.” When in doubt, pull on the heartstrings.

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Sound Editing

“Avatar” — will win
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Star Trek” — should win
“Up”

Sound Mixing

“Avatar” — will win
“The Hurt Locker” — should win
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Star Trek”
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

Visual Effects

“Avatar” — should win, will win
“District 9”
“Star Trek”

The action movie categories contain the few (okay, one) award “Avatar” rightly deserves. As much as I’d like to give further thought and support for “Locker” or the first-rate action film that is “Star Trek”–given the undeniable challenge of effectively blending war sounds or inventing an alien harmonic landscape–let’s stick to the message: don’t over-think.

For their part, Cameron and crew did invent an entire world, with an evocative diversity of life and danger. No question “Avatar” features some of filmmaking’s more inspired visuals. So it’s a great film, if you don’t care about being challenged with a story you haven’t heard before. Or, y’know, with logic: he’s the first warrior we have ever seen…let’s let him hang around for a while…

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Adapted Screenplay

“District 9”
“An Education”
“In the Loop”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” — will win
“Up in the Air” — should win

Every year I say the screenplay awards are the real Best Picture, a concept truer than ever with the top prize field expanded and a certain film missing from the writing competition. Superior airs aside, Adapted offers a real wire-to-wire challenge. Little-known “In the Loop” is an easy scratch, and “District 9” seems too derivative of pseudo-documentary sci fi (“Blair Witch,” “Cloverfield,” “The Host,” “Children of Men”) to warrant broad consideration. Any of the remaining three, including a Nick Hornby script in “An Education,” could fittingly earn the award.

To that end, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner’s work for “Up in the Air” was the surprise of the Awards-season releases. It converted a concept that appeared too built to capitalize on recession woes into a humorous and nimble take on simply getting by, which in turn created one of the better films of the year.

Screenplay is occasionally a venue for the Academy to honor a breakthrough without allowing one to actually happen (think Sofia Coppola winning here, but being shorted a directing Oscar). As such, the force of the support behind director Lee Daniel and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher’s “Precious” should be enough to honor this vital, if difficult-to-watch, story, keeping its accolades on a level low enough not to raise eyebrows.

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Original Screenplay

“The Hurt Locker” — should win, will win
“Inglourious Basterds”
“The Messenger”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”

The should win/will win confidence here belies a very tight category. The Coens are now old Oscar hands, but “A Serious Man” is more for their fans than for critical prestige. “The Messenger”s home-bound warrior story would be more of a contender if it had a wider release and/or garnered more nominations, while “Up” should already have all the awards the Academy is willing to give an animated feature, even one so accomplished. Again, Tarantino is too abrasive to consider, leaving the real Best Picture of the year to the highest ranking award it’s likely to see.

No question writer Mark Boal, a one-time embedded journalist, deserves the Oscar. Just the amplification of tension from start to finish is enough to make “The Hurt Locker” unforgettable. The result: one of the more accomplished screenplays of the new century and the finest film of the past five years.

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My Oscar Batting Average since 2004: .715 (103/144)

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The 82nd annual Academy Awards
Sunday, March 7, 2010
8 pm ET
ABC

This entry was published on 3 March 2010 at 1:11 pm. It’s filed under OLD OSCAR PICKS and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

6 thoughts on “The Year of Bombs, Bridges and Big Blue Men: Oscar Predictions 2010

  1. Jenny on said:

    why are you so freakin’ brilliant? sometimes i hate you a little bit. and then i remember that i don’t. not really.

  2. Justin on said:

    Would love to hear a followup now.

  3. Aunt Diana on said:

    Arthur! I’m woefully behind, as usual but fun to read after the fact and find comfort that your “should wins” persevered!

  4. Pingback: The Year of Speeches, Reaches and Men of True Grit: Oscar Predictions 2011 « Art On Everything

  5. Pingback: The Year of Eras, ERAs, and the Rest is Silence: Oscar Predictions 2012 « Art On Everything

  6. Pingback: The Year of the CIA and Making Men Free: Oscar Predictions 2013 « Art On Edge

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