Well, they announced this year's Academy Award nominations and, for the first time in many years (perhaps ever), I'm not impressed. It's not the quality of the films nominated (a few are always disappointing because they're nominated more for politics than merit), it's because the Academy has doubled the number of nominees for Best Picture. How anti-climactic. I mean, c'mon... Top ten lists are for critics!
I understand the thinking behind it. Once in a while, there's definitely a year where at least ten films are deserving of Best Picture nominations. However, 2009 was not one of them. This is clearly evidenced by the nominations themselves. Sure enough, I'd say only five of the ten truly deserve to be nominated. Not that the other five films aren't good, it's just that there's definitely a line that has to be crossed in order for a best picture nod to be justified -at least by my standards - and half of these films didn't cross that line.
For my money, the current nominations that deserve their place (or, shall we say, the ones that would not be removed had the Academy stuck to their five-picture line-up) are as follows:
"Avatar" - A movie I personally didn't really care for, but undeniably a ground-breaking and influential film of epic proportions (and it doesn't hurt to be a massive crowd-pleaser, too) just like Cameron's previous swan-song, "Titanic".
"An Education" - I haven't seen this one (and don't particularly want to), but the Oscars always have at least one retro period drama with European-accented actors in some kind of star-crossed love story nominated. If you don't believe me, go check the nominations of any previous year - I bet you'll find one every time. Given the widespread critical acclaim this film received, it seems the most worthy of being the obligatory chick flick nomination.
"The Hurt Locker" - Frankly, I thought this film was a bit over-rated. It's good, no doubt about it, but I don't understand why it has stood out so much this year above certain others as "A NEAR-PERFECT MOVIE". Still, I'm willing to include it here as a one of the five because it has already won too many other highly respected filmmaking awards to be ignored.
"Inglourious Basterds" - A simultaneously beautifully and brutally crafted love-letter to old movies with a masterfully written script and brilliant performances throughout. Tarantino finally returns to the high-calibre kind of filmmaking that "Pulp Fiction" inspired 15 years ago.
"Precious" - Beginning with Sundance (when the movie was called "Push"), the critical buzz surrounding this movie has only grown exponentially. I can't really comment further because I haven't seen it yet, but I can tell just from the trailers that this is one emotionally powerful tour de force (and the Academy loves those).
Now, in any given year, there's almost always a dark horse nominee for best picture. An underdog or, as I like to call 'em, a Cinderella Nomination. These are the films you're surprised (but pleased) to have gotten a Best Picture nomination. Consequently, you know they don't stand a chance in hell of winning. This year, instead of just one, we have five. Let's go through them, shall we?
"The Blind Side" - We all find sports movies inspiring. I'm sure this one's good, too. Best film of the year, though? Maybe to the individual. I feel like this movie got its Oscar accolade by having Sandra Bullock nominated for Best Actress.
"District 9" - Really? I had to double-check the list something like three times to make sure I wasn't misreading it. This is undoubtedly a very original movie and a great allegory for apartheid (among other things) and I think I probably admired it more than I liked it, but when you break it down, it's really just a well-made geek-boy cult film. This is a perfect example as to why ten nominees is too many: The inclusion of this film makes me think they ran out of ideas.
"A Serious Man" - Big Coen Brothers fan here. Huge. Was a big cheerleader for "Fargo" when it was nominated and was stoked when "No Country For Old Men" won. But even I don't think this one deserves to be a Best Picture contender. I didn't even think that when I saw it - and I liked it a lot. On principle, though, I hafta applaud the Academy for giving such a dry and unconventional film (which was obviously a labor of love) a shot at Best Picture - even if it doesn't really deserve it.
"Up" - I have mixed feelings about this nomination because (second only to "Inglourious Basterds"), it's by far my favorite film out of these ten. Ultimately though, I don't think it deserves to be a Best Picture nominee because it's already nominated (and a shoo-in) for Best Animated Feature. When a film is nominated for Best Picture in more than one category, you know two things for sure: #1 - It definitely will not win Best Picture. #2 - It definitely will win the alternative Best Picture category. Remember "Life Is Beautiful"? Nobody was surprised when it won Best Foreign Language Film and they were even less surprised when it didn't win Best Picture of the year.
"Up in the Air" - This one actually is your quint-essential Cinderella Nomination. They're usually light-hearted, charming, modest dramedies with small casts and smaller budgets. To give you an example (and to illustrate how "Up in the Air" fits right in) here are some Cinderella Nominations from the past decade: "Juno", "Little Miss Sunshine", "Sideways", "Lost In Translation", "Gosford Park" and "Chocolat". So, I guess in conclusion, this one does deserve to be nominated based on the dark horse principle, but one other provision of the dark horse principle is that it must bump a more-deserving nominee. So, pick which one of my first five that "Up in the Air" should replace and there you have it.
If this article seems cynical, let me just say that I'm all for the appreciation of good movies and giving credit where credit is due, but let's face it, it's so much more interesting when the competition's tighter. Next thing you know, the 2010 Olympics will issue not only Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals, but Steel, Aluminum, Copper, Wood, Leather, Cotton and Paper Medals as well.