Oscar derby…Where we stand?

So for those of you who are looking to find some movies to go watch this holiday season, the Oscar derby has just made your laundry list a lot more difficult. After over fifty years, the Academy Awards have decided to increase their best picture line-up from five to ten nominees in an attempt to increase its viewership and include more “action” and “animated” films. After “The Dark Knight” and “Wall-E” failed to get a nomination last year, fans were up in a tizzy…and suddenly the fix is to increase the nomination total. Oddly, the other categories are staying at five, therefore only those five films who also have a director nominated have any chance of actually winning Best Picture…so who cares?

Either way, the derby has made the list of movies you have to see, a lot longer. This past week was a dizzying mix of critic’s awards (National Board of Review, New York, New York Online, and Los Angeles) and major precursor nominations (Broadcast Film Awards and Golden Globes). Therefore, I thought I’d take a moment before the holidays to access where we stand in the race and which films deserve your immediate viewing (before Malco drops them for some stupid no-brainer).

Rising Stock

A couple of films really gained some serious ground this week. In fact, Best Picture will likely come down to one of three films: “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Up in the Air.” Air recently led all nominees at the Golden Globes and won the National Board of Review award for Best Film of 2009. Locker managed the rare feet of winning both Los Angeles and New York Film Critics kudos. This has happened less than a dozen times and yet isn’t as much of a sure-bet as you might think. In fact, with the exception of “Schindler’s List,” no recent film that won both kudos actually won the Oscar. Finally, “Avatar” won the New York Online Critics award, which isn’t a huge pre-cursor. The biggest thing “Avatar” has going for it is the fact that it is apparently pretty good. In fact, it’s being touted as great. This comes as a shock to anyone who sat through one of the previews for this film. The little blue people looked very silly and the story seemed cheesy. But now, word is that the trailer did not do justice to the film and it is a near masterpiece. If “Avatar” starts to blow up the box office (like James Cameron’s other film…”Titanic),” it may be hard to ignore.

A few other films greatly raised their stock, and yet stand little to no chance of actually winning the Oscar. Rob Marshall’s blockbuster musical “Nine” got a slew of nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics and Golden Globes despite the fact that early word on the film was unfavorable. Recent reviews from Rolling Stone, however, would have us believe that the film is actually quite good. Perhaps “Nine” suffered the same early word as “Avatar.” Either way, the film that every gay man in the world is waiting for increased its stock by a mile. Past Oscar winners Marion Cotteliard and Penelope Cruz secured major nominations and seem to be holding this production up. Also, “Nine” is the sort of film that will get a ton of support from the technical categories like costumes and art direction.

The other film that has really shot up is “Inglourious Basterds.” The early fall release has risen from the back of the pack and actually stands an outside (albeit OUTSIDE) chance of winning Best Picture. Basterds received a slew of Golden Globe love and actually led all nominees (tied with “Nine”) at the Broadcast Film Critics nominations.

Other stock that has greatly risen includes Mo’Nique and Christophe Waltz. Mo’Nique has been receiving award after award after award for her blazing performance in “Precious.” I said it a few weeks ago…and I still say it now…unless buzz just dies and the front runner status bites her, I simply can’t see how she can loose. It is such an amazing performance that she should win that category by a landslide. Should doesn’t always match will though. Waltz has won his own share of accolades for his work in “Inglourious Basterds” and may continue, at least at the BFCA’s and Golden Globes. Another major star whose stock has greatly risen is Meryl Streep. Streep often wins Golden Globes and BFCA’s and SAGS and all that stuff (oddly only two Oscars) and yet normally doesn’t do so hot with the critics groups. However, this year, her fantastic work in “Julie and Julia” has made her a bit of a favorite. I would be delighted to watch her finally collect her third Oscar. For the record, she just received her 24th and 25th Golden Globe nominations.


A few films and performances haven’t really risen or fallen. Much to my dismay, “Precious” hasn’t been burning up the way its co-star Mo’Nique has. Lead Gabourey Sidibe has been nominated many times (and I still think has a chance of winning) and the film has been nominated, but the director has been mostly ignored. I find this very odd. Anyone who can get beautiful performances out of an unknown actress and a comedian should be credited. I think “Precious” will still make the line-up for best picture, but I wish it would get a little more steam besides just its leading ladies.

Another movie that has sort of flatlined is “Invictus.” The returns from this past weekend were not very promising. The movie didn’t seem to resonate the way theatre owners may have wanted when it went into national release. Sure, Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, and Clint Eastwood (YAWN) will probably all be nominated, but the surprising omission from the Golden Globe Best Picture line-up was somewhat shocking for an organization that votes for Clint Eastwood whether he has done anything in a given year or not.

Jeff Bridges has to be considered an early Oscar favorite for his little film “Crazy Heart” although the film itself hasn’t got any traction outside of his lead performance, which is a bit odd.

Up” has to be considered a favorite in the animated category (and will probably be nominated for best picture) but has oddly been loosing steam behind “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” “An Education” was a fall treat for movie go-ers, but only star Carrie Mulligan looks to have a chance at winning, let alone being nominated. Alfred Molina still has a chance at the Oscars for a nomination, but was oddly left off the Golden Globe list, as was the picture.

Falling Fast

Two high profile films has come out to luke warm (to down right bad) reviews and are watching their chances all but slip away. The first is Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers” which came out of the gate with lots of potential, but only seemed to manage to get a major nomination for star Tobey McGuire at the Golden Globes. Mr. McGuire was rumored to be campaigning pretty hard for this nomination, so it wasn’t really a surprise. The films absence in any other major category was a bit of a surprise.

The biggest omission has to be “The Lovely Bones.” Directed by “Lord of the Long…Rings” Peter Jackson, this film had such good early buzz generated. Then of course, it actually came out. It has been almost (with the exception of a few) universally panned. It is shocking in a way, because Jackson has been so successful at the Academy Awards. However, his “King Kong” didn’t really resonate and it doesn’t appear this film will either beyond a given nomination for Stanley Tucci and a very outside chance for Soirsee Ronan.

The final films that have really not done anything despite good reviews is “Where the Wild Things Are,” and “A Serious Man.” Many thought Wild had an outside chance, but it has been virtually ignored all season. “A Serious Man” comes to us from four time Oscar winners, Joel and Ethan Cohen, but hasn’t made an impression this season.

So where does this leave us at the end of the month? There are a few movies that you should put on the top of your list to go see. Whenever these films find your way to Northwest Arkansas, check them out. I would advocate that you put priority on “Up in the Air,” “Avatar,” “Precious,” and “Nine.” Also check out the already released DVDs of “Inglourious Basterds” and “Up.” “The Hurt Locker” will be out on DVD next month.

For those of you who follow the awards derby, remember the point behind all of this. The awards SHOULD draw attention to the finest films of the year. Those films are often small and need your viewership in order to maintain both their place in the theatre, and future similar projects prospects. The flag has been lowered and the season has started…the next three months are a time to celebrate a year that has actually given us a lot of film to be thankful for…if and when we get them.

Wayne Bell is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Masters Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.