Oscar Predictions

Last week, instead of my usual reviews, I posted about the Academy Awards, that land of mediocre excess, and squirmily embarrassing endless thank you speeches, of kowtowing, false modesty, and some genuine tears of joy. I did very short explanations and reviews of almost all the movies nominated for best picture, and made a few predictions about who I think would win. And now I’ve added a comment on my (generally wrong) predictions.

In alphabetical order:

“Avatar” as everyone and his sister already knows is a partially animated 3-D movie about Jake, a disabled soldier who is sent to another planet to secure its resources for a big multinational, and to pacify the angry giant blue, cat-like locals called the Na’vi who stand in their way. Though normally in a wheel chair, whenever he gets locked into a coffin-like machine, he can inhabit a giant blue body, an avatar, that can live in that planet’s ecosystem. Jake becomes accepted by the Na’vi, especially a woman who he grows to love, but has to decide whether to stand by his new family who’s way of life is threatened, or the military-industrial consortium who brought him there, and also allowed him to walk again.

Avatar is a fun, science fiction adventure epic cartoon that cost half a billion to make, but made back two.

“District 9” is a South African, ET-like drama, about ugly-cute Aliens from another planet who look like the undersea extras from Pirates of the Caribbean, and live in a decrepit refugee camp near Johannesburg.

Wikus, a wimpy, sweater vest-wearing guy working for a multinational corporation, is asked to go with the paramilitary soldiers to evict the “Prawns” — their derogatory term for the kind aliens, who speak an unintelligible language. But when he gets accidentally sprayed with a black substance that starts to turn him into one of them, he has to decide whether to continue to help the military-industrial consortium, or to aid his new friends to accomplish their goals.

"District 9" is an OK action/drama that addresses the problems of refugees in South Africa and elsewhere. The aliens, unfortunately, look so similar you can only tell them apart by their clothing, and the masks they wear are so stiff they make the ones in the original Planet of the Apes look natural and expressive, by comparison.

“An Education” is a drama adapted from a memoir about a smart and pretty16-year-old English girl in the early 1960’s who is trying to get into Oxford, but whose plans are upset by a sophisticated but sleazy man in his 30’s whom she falls for.

It’s an enjoyable and very well-acted, but soft, tame and nostalgic look back at a teenage girl’s coming of age.

“The Hurt Locker” is a drama about Sgt James, an American soldier in Iraq who adopts a devil-may-care attitude toward defusing insurgents’ roadside bombs. But it’s his life back home with his family that’s harder to handle. How will he resolve his military heroics with his own life?

“The Hurt Locker” is a simplistic, but sharp and tightly-done picture about an alienated American soldier inured to the death and destruction; but it’s also a movie which tiptoes around assigning blame for the war itself.

“Inglourious Basterds” is a multi-plotted, revisionist war movie about occupied France during WWII, where an evil genius Nazi Colonel is pitted against a blood-thirsty team of British, Jewish-American, and sympathetic German soldiers and spies who are out to turn the tide in the war. It’s also about a romantic woman with a hidden past and a vendetta who now runs a cinema in Paris, who tries to keep her romantic life while playing her role with all the opposing forces in France, as they head toward a Battle Royal climax. Who will prevail? Hint: I don’t want to give it away, but for those who don’t know… the Nazis lost the war.

While "Inglourious Basterds" is as excessive and bombastic as any of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, it was almost restrained in its level of gratuitous blood and gore. In other words, excessive, but not excessively excessive, if that makes sense. And he even included some good slapstick comedy and sweet, melodramatic romance in this long movie.

“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is a great weeper about a fat, illiterate, and pregnant but kind-hearted high-school drop-out who uses her imagination to escape to a better world. She tries to turn her life around when placed in an alternate school writing class, but must deal with her monster of a mother and her miserable home life.

Precious is a good movie with two surprisingly good actresses I had never seen before, that dealt with difficult topics without succumbing to mawkishness.

“A Serious Man” is a comic drama about a middle class, middle aged, University prof in the midwest 40 years ago who faces a moral dilemma at work, and instability in all directions. He turns to a series of rabbis for help with his marriage, his brother, his neighbours, his children, and the meaning of life.

"A Serious Man" is a funny and uncomfortable movie by the Coen Brothers, but seems unsure whether it wants to be a stupid shaggy dog tale or a vortex of existential angst. It ends up being both.

“Up” is a cartoon about a grumpy old man who makes a rash decision to fulfill his and his late wife’s dream of visiting a remote mountaintop, but, who accidentally floats off in his balloon-powered house, with a boy scout on board. Later the two of them encounter the old man’s hero – a Charles Lindberg-type with his own private domain filled with trained, talking dogs – but soon discover their hero is not what they expected. Now it’s up to the old man and the little boy to make things right.

"Up" is an OK animated movie with some funny lines and hilarious talking dogs.

“Up in the Air” is a so-so comedy about a man (who strangely looks and sounds exactly like George Clooney) who travels corporate America firing strangers from their jobs. But is his world of airports, convention centres, offices, and furtive relationships in hotel rooms worthwhile? Or is the unfashionable, slow and homey life of his estranged relatives more “real”?

(The Blind Side was also nominated but I can’t review it, because I haven’t seen it.)

Predictions:

Best Actor: definitely Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”. WRONG: Jeff Bridges

Best Supporting Actor: (strangely enough, they were all great) it’s a real toss up, I think Stanley Tucci as the creepy neighbour in The Lovely Bones did the best job, but I have a feeling Cristoph Waltz will win. RIGHT

Best Actress: The two young Actresses Gabby Sidibe in Precious and Carey Mulligan in An Eduucation were both outstanding but I think Precious was more dramatic so it’ll probably go to her. WRONG Sandra Bullock (I haven’t seen The Blind Side)

Supporting Actress – I’m pretty sure it’ll go to Mo’nique in Precious. RIGHT

Bets animated feature: I haven’t seen Book of Kells, but of those I saw I thought "The Fantastic Mr Fox" was the best. "Coraline" had a great story. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure "Up" will win. RIGHT

(I’m also surprised that the excellent Japanese movie "Ponyo", about a fish that turns human, wasn’t even in the running.)

Best Original Script: I hope it’s "The Messenger", a heart-wrenching new drama about war vets who’s job is to tell families that a soldier is dead. NO PREDICTION ("Hurt Locker")

Best adapted script: I hope it’ll be In the Loop, a brilliant British political comic satire about how misinformation and disinformation can lead to war. NO PREDICTION ( "Precious")

Best director will probably go to Catherine Bigelow. RIGHT

Best Picture: Avatar WRONG! (Hurt Locker).

Final score: 4 out of 7 — slightly better than flipping coins.

Another Movie About the Iraq War That’s Not About Iraq: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker, a US wartime drama directed by Catherine Bigelow has garnered an impressive number of Oscar nominations. I saw it last summer and thought it was a good drama, and then thought nothing more about it. So it’s a bit of a shock that it’s suddenly back in the public eye. Let me give you a bit of background. The Director has a mixed record. She was riding high for a while with her tense psychological thriller Blue Steel (1989), about a rookie cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) who freezes up at an armed robbery, and enters into a sort of a sexual battle with the killer. But Bigelow’s career crashed to a halt with the meandering and pointlessly long science fiction drama Strange Days. Not coincidentally, it was written by her then husband, James Cameron. Yeah, him.

So here she is, back again, directing a tense drama.

The Hurt Locker is about Sergeant James, a new replacement in a US squadron that meticulously defuses bombs set by insurgents in Iraq. To the horror and dismay of his fellow soldiers, James behaves like a sort of a superhero, shrugging off the padded suits and headgear, brazenly walking right into the middle of things, picking up bombs and pulling them apart – seemingly unaware, or unwilling to admit that he could get his head blown off in a second. When you gotta go, you gotta go, is his attitude.

He gets along better with an Iraqi kid who plays with a soccer ball near the bass camp – he calls him Beckham – than with his teammates. The danger and violence wear him down, but his true fear comes when he sheds his uniform and is forced to deal with the mundane reality of his life at home, back in America.

The Hurt Locker is one of a long stream of American movies about the war in Iraq – Jarhead (2005), Redacted (2007), Stop-Loss (2008), and the very good documentary Gunner Palace (2004)– but they all have the same problem: they all take the point of view of US soldiers who, seemingly through no fault of their own, find themselves in a strange country engaged in a senseless war filled with violence, death, and murder. Very much like US movies about the war in Vietnam. But you almost never see a scene in any of these movies, including The Hurt Locker, that is told through the eyes of the Iraqis.

Now American movies, or movies from any country for that matter, are going to take the viewpoint of people the viewer can identify with, and it’s always easier to identify with the people who look or sound like you.

But it’s almost disingenuous to portray the US military in general as finding itself there in Iraq — just coincidentally —  as opposed to being part of the same army that invaded it on false pretenses.

The one exception to this is documentary maker Nick Broomfield’s great, unreleased feature drama Battle for Haditha, made in 2008, in which he shifts back and forth between Iraqi civilians, insurgents, US soldiers on the ground, and officers far away at computer consoles pressing buttons and giving orders. It’s one of the few Iraq war movies that lets the audience see the war the way some Iraqi civilians see it, from inside their own homes.

The Hurt Locker is a good, tense, drama, with great acting – especially unknown Jeremy Renner in the main role. It has some interesting details – the soldiers spend their off hours playing the video game Call of Duty, shooting up the enemy for fun. But it also reduces an actual shootout – like one stalemate in the desert where they shoot at snipers poking up their heads in different windows of an abandoned house on a hill – to what seems like nothing more than a game of whak-a-mole.

– Daniel Garber, February 5, 2010

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