Although I’ve not had the benefit of seeing all the nominated films yet, I’m ready to talk Oscar predictions. You probably know I take these awards with a sizeable pinch of salt given the Academy’s various prejudices, and I certainly don’t watch the ceremony. Many suspect the expanded list of 10 titles for best picture is an attempt to retain mainstream attention, knowing they hurt their credibility by, unsurprisingly, failing to recognise The Dark Knight last year. The longer list allows Up to become the second ever animated film to be nominated for best picture (after Beauty and the Beast, though I argued Wall-E deserved to make the shortlist last year) but I suspect the continuing existence of an “animated feature film” category will prevent one winning for some time.
At any rate the nominations still provide a reference point to look back at the past year’s releases. The politics make some awards easy to predict and some incredibly difficult. There is no doubt, however, that the big fight is between Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Here is the full list of nominations.
Supporting Actor: Easiest of the lot. It has to be Christoph Waltz as the deliciously villainous Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. That said, I agree with many who wish Peter Capaldi had at least been nominated for In The Loop.
Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique’s turn in Precious has been such a surprise that it’s almost certain to win.
Lead Actor: Although it’s only about to open in the UK, smart money is clearly on Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart.
Lead Actress: Hard to call, with no clear standout for me. I’d quite like to see Carey Mulligan pick it up for An Education, but I think Meryl Streep will take it.
Animated Feature Film: the best selection for a long time, and I’ll be pretty happy no matter what. I’d love to see a stop-motion feature take the crown (Coraline or Fantastic Mr Fox) or Disney rewarded for a strong return to traditional hand-drawn animation, but I suspect Up will win, not undeservedly.
Adapted screenplay: Difficult, but maybe this is where Up In The Air will pull through. Another category where I’d be happy with any result.
Original screenplay: While I’m pleased to see Inglourious Basterds nominated for best picture, Tarantino has no chance of winning and I think his reward will be here.
Director: I think this may be one of those very rare years when the awards for best picture and best director go in different directions. I was totally behind Avatar until I saw The Hurt Locker and now it’s going to be a fascinating competition. For Cameron and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow to be releasing such strong films in the same year is an interesting coincidence, and both deserve these awards. I think Bigelow will take the directing crown and Avatar best picture, but it could easily be the other way around. I hate to think it would influence voting but a female winner would be fantastic. On the other hand Cameron’s sheer creative force and involvement perhaps suggest the right outcome is the reverse. There is an outside chance The Hurt Locker could win both.
Best Picture: See above.
Of the rest I initially thought Avatar would mop up and come home with the most awards even if The Hurt Locker took the big ones. However on closer inspection, cinematography, editing and sound editing probably are deserved by The Hurt Locker, while visual effects and art direction are clearly Avatar’s greatest strengths.
Although the film was on my radar, I was surprised by how much a last-minute viewing of The Hurt Locker changed my opinion (despite the fact I’m rather fond of Bigelow: back in 1987 she directed one of my favourite vampire flicks, Near Dark, which never actually uses the word “vampire”). Not only is it an intelligent, non-exploitative view of US military presence in Iraq, but its brief denouement provides an excellent modern musing on military life too, without which it would not have resonated nearly so well. As James stares in confusion at a wall of cereal boxes in a supermarket, we feel the intimidatingly oppressive choice of civilian life.
Above all though, its non-judgemental tone seems to reflect my view on the military which is that it’s a job people choose like any other. Those who make a career of it are not any more or less patriotic or to be held in any higher or lower regard. All those whom I know who have chosen that route have done so for the same reason I became a lawyer: they found something at which they were good, and an environment in which they thrive.