Oscars’ 2010 Expanded Best Picture List: an Opinion on Too Many Opinions
You know the â€śopinions are like assholesâ€ť analogy? Or the â€ś50,000,000 Elvis Fans Canâ€™t Be Wrongâ€ť quote? Popularity of opinion is no arbiter of quality.
The Academy Awards do not signify anything about which films or actors or directors are â€śgood.â€ť Like all major awards programs, perhaps all awards programs, itâ€™s a popularity contest at best, and the significance of the whole thing amounts to an endorsement for the industry and a marketing coup for the films/actors.
That said, itâ€™s the one show among those shows that I tend to pay a little attention to, for no particularly good reason. Unless Iâ€™m invited to â€śan Oscar partyâ€ť where there is a contest to handicap the winners, I donâ€™t especially care about the outcome.
However, being that I read quite a bit about movies and such, I usually know more than is really worth knowing and probably harbor opinions of my own.
In recent years, to compete with the increasingly popular Golden Globes (among others), â€śOscar seasonâ€ť has been moved earlier on the calendar. It’s an effort to maintain its dominance in the field of movie awards, to have more significant â€śsayâ€ť and not be perennially â€śscooped.â€ť
And this year, to further the attempt at stimulating attention, the Academy has expanded the selection from five potential â€śBest Picturesâ€ť to 10. This further attempts to seem more populist by the Academy has earned it a lot of cynical ink.
In my opinion, the best film from last year was Henry Selickâ€™s â€śCoraline,â€ť which wasnâ€™t even in the Academyâ€™s top 10. Whether there are five or 10 or 20 films, the opportunity to still recognize a far weaker film (or performance) is part of the Academyâ€™s legacy. Some of the omissions have attained classic status, such as in 1989 when Spike Leeâ€™s â€śDo the Right Thingâ€ť lost out to â€śDriving Miss Daisyâ€ť or the following year when Martin Scorseseâ€™s â€śGoodfellasâ€ť lost out to Kevin Costnerâ€™s â€śDances with Wolves.â€ť
The Expanded List
So, this yearâ€™s entrants include: “Avatar,” “The Blind Side,” “District 9,” “An Education,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” “A Serious Man,” “Up” and “Up in the Air.”
Itâ€™s unsurprising that Pixarâ€™s film â€śUpâ€ť is in there, but ironic in the sense that I would consider it not even as high as fourth-best amongst â€śanimatedâ€ť films from last year. Besides â€śCoraline,â€ť Wes Andersonâ€™s â€śFantastic Mr. Foxâ€ť and Hayao Miyazakiâ€™s â€śPonyoâ€ť are probably better, more original, more fascinating films. I mean, â€śUpâ€ť is good … not to be overly down on â€śUp,â€ť but come on!
And for live action films, I actually thought that Jane Campionâ€™s film, â€śBright Star,â€ť about the last few years of the poet John Keats, was a lovely, lovely film. It didnâ€™t make the cut either. And heck, I know that I see a lot of films, but I hardly saw them all. So, Iâ€™m not trying to reconstruct a list of the issues of omission. Enough of my opinionating.
7 of 10
Now, of the list of films that did make the cut, Iâ€™ve seen 7 of the 10. Though I havenâ€™t see it, Iâ€™ve been interested in catching â€śAn Educationâ€ť, about which Iâ€™ve read a number of good things. Iâ€™m not particularly drawn to â€śPreciousâ€ť but would watch it in the right circumstances. But I really have to call â€śSandra Bullockâ€ť on â€śThe Blind Sideâ€ť and say that no matter what a commercially successful year the actress had, I have a very, very hard time believing that that film could be even quasi-decent.
Of the seven that I have seen, all seven were actually decent films, not an out-and-out bad one among them. The worst of them probably is the one that made the most money. Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, â€śAvatarâ€ť. My prediction is that time shall not be kind to that film, though I donâ€™t want to try to predict Oscar.
If anything, throwing â€śAvatarâ€ť up there, alongside â€śDistrict 9â€ť which was a decent sci-fi film, is sort of like saying â€śSee? Itâ€™s not just about serious art anymore!â€ť Itâ€™s not that genre films cannot be serious art. But popular genre films that are nominated arenâ€™t really cut from the same cloth as their more â€śactorlyâ€ť brethren, those lofty pictures that most often jockey for position on the â€śBest Pictureâ€ť list.
So, what does that leave us? “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “A Serious Man,” “Up” and “Up in the Air”
â€śA Serious Manâ€ť, the Coen brothersâ€™ most recent feature, is good but ponderous . . . and not probably one of their more important films, though would fit quite interestingly into a study of their work.
â€śInglourious Basterdsâ€ť is more fun than you might expect from Quentin Tarantino in this day and age, and certainly it is a hopeful signal that maybe he still has something to contribute to the world of cinema other than self-serving interviews and pretty good soundtracks. Even as a meta-moment in the film has Brad Pitt speaking the words, â€śYou know, I think that this just might be my masterpiece,â€ť while staring down onto the audience, Iâ€™ve got to think that heâ€™s probably not quite right there in his personal self-assessment.
â€śUp in the Airâ€ť was the film that I have seen now the most recently of this group, one that Iâ€™d been sort of interested in seeing for a few months. But when it came down this movie about a corporate downsizer who travels the country firing people and his mid-life crisis, I wasnâ€™t too enthralled. Nor could I beguile others into seeing it. However, it is a good film. Not a great film, I would say, but poignant, timely, and Iâ€™m still pondering it.
Which leaves me, somewhat through deduction, reduction, and subtraction with â€śThe Hurt Locker.â€ť Despite the handful naysayers that I’ve heard criticizing the film, I have to say is by far the meatiest, most â€ścinematicâ€ť of the films that are on the â€śBest Pictureâ€ť list. The film is gritty and visceral, politic and yet non-politic, a vivid, yet very subjective vision of the lives of men who live in a bomb-defusing squad in the Middle East.
Now, Iâ€™ve read that if this film does win, it could be painted as director Kathryn Bigelow beating her ex-husband (self-proclaimed â€śKing of the World,â€ť definitely â€śKing of the Box Officeâ€ť) James Cameron and his bloated, over-worked extravaganza â€śAvatar.â€ť
Given the politicking, promoting, advertising, writing, what-have-you, this narrative may end up much more being the deciding factor in who wins the little man. As opposed to the insane concept of one film being called “best” because of critical thought mixed with some voting. No, the winner comes down to arbitrary opinion.
So, if youâ€™re reading this and looking for a way of handicapping your own Oscar party tournament, donâ€™t take anything I say as promise. This is an assessment of the 2010 Best Picture brigade, entirely interpreted by my opinion, my opinion alone, which is not the only opinion with which I wind up in agreement, but the only one that I consistently do.