Oscars’ 2010 Expanded Best Picture List: an Opinion on Too Many Opinions

Oscars have expanded the best picture category

You know the “opinions are like assholes” analogy? Or the “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong” quote? Popularity of opinion is no arbiter of quality.

The Academy Awards do not signify anything about which films or actors or directors are “good.” Like all major awards programs, perhaps all awards programs, it’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, it’s the one show among those shows that I tend to pay a little attention to, for no particularly good reason. Unless I’m invited to “an Oscar party” where there is a contest to handicap the winners, I don’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), “Oscar season” 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 “say” and not be perennially “scooped.”

And this year, to further the attempt at stimulating attention, the Academy has expanded the selection from five potential “Best Pictures” 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 Selick’s “Coraline,” which wasn’t even in the Academy’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 Academy’s legacy. Some of the omissions have attained classic status, such as in 1989 when Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” lost out to “Driving Miss Daisy” or the following year when Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” lost out to Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves.”

The Expanded List

So, this year’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.”

It’s unsurprising that Pixar’s film “Up” is in there, but ironic in the sense that I would consider it not even as high as fourth-best amongst “animated” films from last year. Besides “Coraline,” Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” are probably better, more original, more fascinating films. I mean, “Up” is good … not to be overly down on “Up,” but come on!

And for live action films, I actually thought that Jane Campion’s film, “Bright Star,” about the last few years of the poet John Keats, was a lovely, lovely film. It didn’t make the cut either. And heck, I know that I see a lot of films, but I hardly saw them all. So, I’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, I’ve seen 7 of the 10. Though I haven’t see it, I’ve been interested in catching “An Education”, about which I’ve read a number of good things. I’m not particularly drawn to “Precious” but would watch it in the right circumstances. But I really have to call “Sandra Bullock” on “The Blind Side” 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, “Avatar”. My prediction is that time shall not be kind to that film, though I don’t want to try to predict Oscar.

If anything, throwing “Avatar” up there, alongside “District 9” which was a decent sci-fi film, is sort of like saying “See? It’s not just about serious art anymore!” It’s not that genre films cannot be serious art. But popular genre films that are nominated aren’t really cut from the same cloth as their more “actorly” brethren, those lofty pictures that most often jockey for position on the “Best Picture” list.

So, what does that leave us? “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “A Serious Man,” “Up” and “Up in the Air”

“A Serious Man”, the Coen brothers’ 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.

“Inglourious Basterds” 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, “You know, I think that this just might be my masterpiece,” while staring down onto the audience, I’ve got to think that he’s probably not quite right there in his personal self-assessment.

“Up in the Air” was the film that I have seen now the most recently of this group, one that I’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 wasn’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 I’m still pondering it.

Which leaves me, somewhat through deduction, reduction, and subtraction with “The Hurt Locker.” Despite the handful naysayers that I’ve heard criticizing the film, I have to say is by far the meatiest, most “cinematic” of the films that are on the “Best Picture” 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, I’ve read that if this film does win, it could be painted as director Kathryn Bigelow beating her ex-husband (self-proclaimed “King of the World,” definitely “King of the Box Office”) James Cameron and his bloated, over-worked extravaganza “Avatar.”

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 you’re reading this and looking for a way of handicapping your own Oscar party tournament, don’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.


2 comments for “Oscars’ 2010 Expanded Best Picture List: an Opinion on Too Many Opinions

  1. February 3, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    loved reading your assessment. thanks for the excellent write up ken. wish there was one that stood out and i hope kathryn kicks her ex-husband’s ass with the hurt locker. she deserves it.

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