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Oscars 2010 Predictions: Avatar vs The Hurt Locker

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.

OscarSupporting 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.

An Oscar a Day?

Apologies for the short downtime this morning due to problems with some behind-the-scenes upgrades. Typically the start of the year features several films that might legitimately be described as Oscar bait, the idea being that they will remain fresh in the Academy’s mind when it comes to that pesky system of actually selecting the winners. This year things have gotten a little ridiculous with virtually nothing of that callibre being released throughout the year as if everything has been saved until now. Is Hollywood’s memory really that short-term? The studios and distributors certainly seem to think so. This has caused a sudden flood of releases I’m keen to see, with the result that I’m quite likely to miss a few. In a vain bid to rectify the problem, this week has almost turned into an Oscar a day, with The Wrestler (last night), Frost/Nixon (tonight) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (maybe Friday) all down for viewings. The downside is at that rate I almost certainly won’t have time to write reviews for everything I would like to. We shall see.

Mostly today’s post is another catch-up with things I’ve been meaning to mention:

  • With its rapidly growing popularity, and celebrity users making the service mainstream, c|net gives a Twitter masterclass that discusses the full range of features. I’m endeavouring to make better use of it without it degrading into spam — Goldilocks tweeting: not to much and not too little…
  • Lifehacker advises on cheap upgrades to your Home Theatre setup.
  • Top 10 sights on on Google Street View.
  • MIR-12 is an ARG advertising campaign that got off to an impressive start with its supposedly leaked footage of a foiled assassination in Russia that many mistook for real (although given the news reporter in the video that’s slightly surprising). It’s getting underway now, and is thought to be for Activision’s upcoming Singularity.
  • GiantBomb highlighted a brilliant recent Videogame Classics trend of redesigning boxart in the style of classic books (think the abstract artwork of Penguine Classics). And it’s not restricted to gaming either, with classic films getting the treatment too.
  • Apple has made noises about the new Palm Pre and their intention to defend their IP rights, no doubt referring specifically to their recently acquired multitouch patent. However interesting articles from BNET and RCRWireless muse on whether this would be a wise move, and whether Apple’s patent will really stand up to close scrutiny. In particular they note Apple failed to mention prior art published by University of Delaware academics (now employed by Apple) which may invalidate their claims. This is not to mention the fact Palm has been in the mopile industry far longer, building up its own stack of patents, several of which the iPhone itself may infringe.
  • With February 14 rapidly approaching, nothing says “love” like a stylish Left4Dead Valentine’s Day card (scroll halfway down) for that special zombie/survivor in your life.

Intergalactic Oscar Takeover

Law school exams are over which gives me a week or so respite before the electives course begins. This also means we are being divided into new classes so the gang I’ve got to know over the last six months has been split up. I’m sure we’ll still see a great deal of each other, particularly with our usual ‘spoons hangout still just 30 seconds away from school.

Puzzle Quest: GalactrixGDC is supposedly a convention for game developers to share ideas and innovative solutions to challenges they have faced but, perhaps fuelled by the demise of the old-style E3, it is becoming more of a media circus. Marketing has clearly come to the fore with announcements of several new titles. One of these is Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. The original Puzzle Quest was one of the few games that successfully bridged the divide between the casual gamer and the more hardcore, with its basic puzzle game heart coupled with some deeper RPG elements. The end result was that Kirsten and I were both hooked for quite some time. I am pleased to see the sci-fi themed follow-up is not simply the same Bejewelled clone with a new skin. While not quite a sequel (one of the devs described it as a “cousin” to the original) it mixes things up with a hexagonal board and an interesting approach to gravity — when you match gems, new ones drop in along that axis rather than vertically downwards. Hopefully it will again appear on a plethora of platforms so that everyone can enjoy.

I have grown bored with the Oscars so while I still take a cursory glance at the nominations and winners, actually watching the ceremony is totally out of the question. Part of the problem is that from the list of nominees I can usually pick the big four (best actor, actress, director and picture) straight off even if I haven’t seen the films in question. This year was no exception. This makes it somewhat difficult to get excited about a ceremony that supposedly derives its tension from the winners being announced. Of course it’s always a pleasant surprise when there is an unexpected winner (like Crash) but those are certainly the exception.

It must be the season for massive acquisition offers. Yahoo!’s board is currently facing the possibility of being sued by shareholders for rejecting Microsoft’s high profile advances. Meanwhile Electronic Arts, now the 2nd largest game publisher in the world, has offered $2 billion for the troubled Take Two. The smaller publisher holds a host of developers including Rockstar and the Grand Theft Auto franchise. With its fourth instalment due for imminent release it stands to make very large profits to smooth its recent turbulence, and will likely wait until afterwards to consider offers. However the mainstream press has ignored the fact EA probably has its sights on the publisher’s wide range of sports titles which, while snubbed by many for their incremental improvements in annual releases, sell in the millions each year and are the chief rivals to EA’s own sports games.

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2021 Priyan Meewella

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