[Note: This series includes scattered thoughts on various movie-related topics. I was looking for a word that started with the letter "g" that means collection or assortment, but lest you think I'm some elitist wordsmith, know that I'd never heard of "gallimaufry" and I don't even know how to say it, but it was the only other option the thesaurus provided aside from "goulash" (too foody) and "garbage" (no).]
I scoffed at the decision to expand the Best Picture field six months ago, and I'm scoffing at it again now. To summarize: because The Dark Knight was not nominated for Best Picture last year and the Oscar telecast was again watched by a fraction of the population, the decision was made by AMPAS and the show's producers to nominate ten films instead of five, making the ceremony more appealing to Joe and Jane Public, who see 3-5 movies year, at least one of which is directed by Michael Bay and at least 2-4 of which star Brendan Fraser, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Lopez, or Sandra Bullock.
And so in a year where so much went wrong at the movie theater (in my opinion, of course, and for the first time I didn't even bother with predicting the nominations), we have five stereotypical Best Picture nominees (Avatar, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, Up in the Air, and Inglourious Basterds), three passable Best Picture nominees (Up, An Education, Precious), and two tacked-on popular hits (District 9, The Blind Side; that The Hangover was somehow not nominated for Best Picture surprised me more than anything else in the nomination announcements). I'm not saying the wrong films were nominated - that's a given every year. I'm just saying that the expanded field only made room for more wrongly chosen films.
Of course the irony is that the inclusion of Avatar alone would have been enough to get people to watch the telecast, so the expanded field turned out to be completely unnecessary. Worse, the first-ever Pixar film to be nominated for Best Picture is arguably not even one of the best Pixar films. There was a case to be made for WALL-E last year, but not so with Up this year. Besides, it will win Best Animated Feature without any problem - wouldn't that have been "enough" without what is now a somewhat meaningless Best Picture nomination?
The Oscar telecast on March 7 will undoubtedly be the most widely viewed since 2003, when The Return of the King swept the awards. But will people be watching this year because Avatar will get a lot of airtime, or because they are just so excited that The Blind Side and District 9 were nominated? Do they truly believe either of those two will even be considered by academy members filling out their ballots over the next few weeks? This diluted field is a complete joke - the award is between The Hurt Locker and Avatar, and it would have been only with five nominees, too. Consequently, I'm not sure how an awards ceremony already struggling for credibility has done anything but taken a major step backwards this year.
Back when I wrote about The Battle for Algiers I mentioned that I was inspired to see it after Rick Olson's take at Coosa Creek Cinema. As impressed as I was by that film, and as ignorant as I am about nearly every classic film, I had to of course follow up on another post of Rick's about Henri-George Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.
What a gripping masterpiece this is on first viewing (and no, I haven't seen the Roy Scheider-starring remake). I experienced The Wages of Fear almost as two movies in one - a harrowing thriller about an explosive truck on one hand, and a comedic cultural commentary on Big Oil and occupied territories in far-off lands on the other. It goes without saying that I loved it and need to add additional Clouzot films to my impossibly long must-see list. Thanks for sparking the interest, Rick.
Against all odds I found myself actually tapping my feet along with the country music as Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) twanged along on stage. By the end of the movie I'd fallen for Bad's charm almost as improbably as Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal); for me the movie offered more than just an impressive acting performance. I found it to be an unflinching yet nuanced portrayal of the debilitating effects of alcoholism (as opposed to a somewhat underdeveloped character completely going off the rails, a la Leaving Las Vegas), and, much in the same way as last year's The Wrestler, I thought it moved along briskly with just the right touches of humor, drama, and sure, even melodrama.
Then I read this review by the ever-illuminating Jason Bellamy, where he perfectly articulated everything that didn't quite work in Crazy Heart, including a great comparison to The Wrestler and a keen observation about how the film lags in between Bad's performances. Despite Jason's reservations, I still would have taken Crazy Heart as a legitimate Best Picture nominee over something like The Blind Side, though the important thing about this movie - Bridges' performance - will get its due recognition anyway.
The 4th Annual Muriel Awards
For the second year in a row I have the great honor of voting in the Muriel Awards, otherwise known as the only awards that matter (what else would you expect me to say?). Beginning on Sunday and continuing through February 28th, check in at Steve Carlson's blog to see the winners in each category announced, including Best Body of Work in 2009 (for anyone - actor, director, composer, etc.), Best Cinematic Breakthrough, Best Ensemble, and one of my personal favorites (hint: here were my votes): Best Cinematic Moment. Also stop over at voting member Craig Kennedy's place for some outstanding poster art in honor of the last year in film. If you're curious about the awards, take a look at last year's winners.
Top 10 Sundance Documentaries of the Decade
Recently I was contacted on behalf of the Sundance Channel (following up on my two-part list of the Best Documentaries of the Decade), informing me of their festival coverage and 31 Days of Sundance programming, as well as some fun lists they have on their website, including the Top 10 Sundance Documentaries of the Decade as chosen by Dennis Lim. I have to say he has excellent taste - I've seen six of the 10 he selected, three of which (No End in Sight, Grizzly Man, & The Weather Underground) were on my own list. Sounds like it's time for me to catch up on the four I haven't seen - Biggie & Tupac, Dig!, Zoo & The Unforeseen.
On a somewhat related note, the first documentary I mentioned in my 2010 Movie Forecast, Restrepo, last week won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at Sundance. Keep an eye out for that title when Oscar nominations are announced next January.