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A hurtin' lockerful of flicks: Oscar nominees part 2
Last time around I looked at four of the contenders for Best Picture in this Sunday's Academy Awards (The Blind Side, Precious, District 9, and Avatar) and deemed only Precious worthy of serious contention (ahem). I was able to pair those films into groupings around racial morality plays and human-hatin' moral parables. The remaining films (The Hurt Locker, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man, Up, and Up in the Air) are a more eclectic bunch, so let's look at them and their chances of winning one by one.
The Hurt Locker will probably win. It's a very effective film about soldiers defusing bombs in Baghdad: the tension is extreme and its moral (America is becoming too militarized) a 'correct' one. That said, while I liked the film I didn't love it. It's a pretty cold film where character takes a back seat to pretty much everything else. I can't remember, having seen it last summer, who the main characters or anything that happened that didn't involve imminent explosions. If The Hurt Locker wins, as it probably will, it will belong to the same category as Crash and Slumdog Millionaire--'correct' films that won't stand the test of time. Sigh.
An Education is a lovely but kind of dumb little film based on a script by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, etc). It's very well-acted and filmed and the premise (precocious schoolgirl learns of love from a somewhat 'dangerous' older man) is interesting. However, as the movie plays out the plot falls apart until all we're left with at the climax is the shocking revelation (close your eyes now if you haven't seen the flick!) that he's married. This revelation taken care of, our heroine (who had been showing signs of rejecting the narrow life Britain had to offer a young woman in the late 50s) decides to shape up and...go back to school. As noted, previously, kind of dumb. But cute. Not a serious contender.
Inglourious Basterds. Not even on the map. Except for the first ten minutes, a mess. It's a little late in the millennium for anyone this side of your granny or mine to be shocked or...stimulated...by anything Quentin Tarentino does with a camera. At his best he's bracing, at his worst (and that's here) he's just a little too desperate for your attention.
A Serious Man. Ah, the Cohen brothers. I love these guys. They are the only directors for whom I'll drive to Spokane to see a new release that isn't likely to make it to theatres in the West Kootenay. They are the only directors whose films I'll see without question or complaint. Even their crappy films are great. But this one won't win and doesn't really deserve to. It's a comedy-drama about growing up Jewish in the mid-western United States, said to be based on the brothers' own childhoods. In terms of the Cohen brothers' canon, it's safely in Barton Fink territory—pretty cool, but not zeitgeist-embracing stuff. And not that funny either. Kind of smug-funny. Give me O Brother Where Art Thou or Fargo or No Country for Old Men, or even Burn After Reading any day. But see it anyway. That's an order.
Up. What? It's a kids' cartoon! I watched ten minutes, which is about all a man of my age can be expected to devote to such unrewarding enterprises. A crotchety old guy floats off with a fat boy scout in search of edifying, life-embracing adventure. What can I say? This is the world we live in, a place where adults read Harry Potter novels and films like this get nominated for Best Picture. Absurd--and it will never win—the people who vote for this award are too full of themselves to pick a silly cartoon. Whew!
Up in the Air. George Clooney reprises (for the 20th time) his role as 'a guy who's surprisingly friendly and down-to-earth for being so good lookin' and all'. A comedy but not funny. A message, but a dumb one: an overburdened metaphor about a guy who flies around the country firing people for a living and dreaming of receiving some sort of Air Miles reward. This turns out, in the end, to be a kind of hollow life. Sorry to blow the ending for you. Probably won't win, but given the 'correct message' aspect and how popular Clooney is in Horrorwood, I wouldn't rule it out.
So there you go.
I'd say either Precious or The Hurt Locker (okay, The Hurt Locker: it ties in better to America's obsession with itself and was directed by a...girl!). I don't much care which, as neither will go down in history as a great film. Neither, however, is so bad that it will shame our children and our children's children.
What was the best film of the year? If I had to pick in terms of the sort of mainstream film that has a real chance at an Oscar, I'd probably choose the Star Trek movie. It had real warmth and amazing energy. A class act, in its genre, all the way.
All in all, though, 2009 wasn't, in my humble opinion, a banner year for mainstream film. Want to get out of the mainstream...that's a whole other story for a whole other time.
Any other suggestions for Best Film of the year out there? Post as a comment to this story.