Ahhh, the Oscars. Once again somehow overshadowing the Razzies in their quest for pop-culture dominance. But while others are content to simply list the Oscar nominations, here we're going to take a look at each nominee, what their strong points and weak points are for winning, and the odds of their actually taking home one of those naked golden guys.
Personal qualifications? Nothing different than the Tom O'Neils and Dave Kargers of the world, other than we're not insufferable boobs. We've seen the same movies, watched the same ceremonies over the years, and still can't figure out whether Marisa Tomei really won that Oscar or not.
And so, on to the preposterously long Best Picture category...
It may be filled with plot holes (not for nothing did it fail to get a screenplay nod), it may glorify the deaths of U.S. Marines, it may even boil down to little more than a very Smurfy remake of Ferngully, but when youâ€™ve made the most expensive movie in history which, in turn, has grossed more money than anything ever, youâ€™re getting a nomination for Best Picture. Can anything stop Avatar from conquering Oscar, along with everything else? Probably not.
PROS: Definitely eye-popping, sold untold mountains of popcorn, and should make up to most movie geeks for the fact that The Dark Knight didnâ€™t even get a nomination, man!
CONS: Excessively silly story, cardboard characters, and in a sane world, shouldnâ€™t this be in the Best Animated Film category? Also, lingering animus against mastermind James â€œKing of the Worldâ€ Cameron.
ODDS OF WINNING: Even.
The Hurt Locker
The best-reviewed film of the year, already the winner of a boatload of criticsâ€™ awards (including nods from the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics, and the crucial Kansas City Film Critics Circle), people have been raving about The Hurt Locker since what seems like years before it opened. A serious film about a serious time in a serious situation â€“ always a positive when it comes to Oscars.
PROS: In case you hadnâ€™t heard, directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow; the only Iraq War film so far to make even the slightest impression at the box office; all those criticsâ€™ awards. Also, Bigelow was once married to Cameron, which should help the film with the anti-Avatar crowd.
CONS: The Iraq War is still going on â€“ the Academy prefers to reward war films after the fact (see: Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Bridge on the River Kwai, etc.). Not a huge box-office performer, which shouldnâ€™t matter but does.
ODDS: 2 to 1.
Rude, crude, and more than a little ridiculous, Basterds proved that Quentin Tarantino hadnâ€™t in fact gone up in a puff of Colombian smoke, as Death Proof and long stretches of the Kill Bill flicks suggested. Still, the days of a QT film under two hours are apparently gone forever. A solid hit with audiences, and surprisingly well-received by most critics.
PROS: Silly fun, even if the story at times doesnâ€™t make a lot of sense. The â€œcontroversyâ€ over the history-rewriting ending never occurred. A war film that doesnâ€™t make you feel bad.
CONS: Sometimes silly beyond belief, not to mention confusing. (I still donâ€™t know what happened to Samm Levineâ€™s character.) Tarantino still rubs plenty of people the wrong way. And he still hasnâ€™t made a film as good as his first two.
ODDS: 25 to 1.
Precious: Based on the Novel â€˜Pushâ€™ by Sapphire
Initially believed to be a strong front-runner, the sheer relentless downward spiral of its narrative, along with questions about just how self-empowering a picture it was given how much it wallows in its core themes of molestation, rape, abuse, obesity, etc. etc. has left Precious feeling very much like an also-ran. Kudos for the acting abound, but nobodyâ€™s talking â€“ positively, at least â€“ about much else.
PROS: An African-American themed picture with a predominantly African-American cast, directed by an African-American and based on a much-awarded novel by an African-American? You donâ€™t get much more prestigious in todayâ€™s climate than that.
CONS: The general sense of unease that lies over the picture, which sometimes tips over, as did Monsterâ€™s Ball, into unintentional comedy. The fantasy sequences fall flat. And why, exactly, does the title need to be that long?
ODDS: 30 to 1.
Up in the Air
Before Up in the Air opened, it was believed by many to be the film to beat come awards time. Then it opened. Neither the perfect picture for our times as the pre-release hype had it, nor the misguided, entirely affectless bore that its backlashers say, this is the type of generally well-reviewed film that usually walks away with a screenplay award â€“ not Best Picture.
PROS: People love them some Clooney, and the timeliness of its firing-people-for-a-living plot is admittedly hard to ignore. Enough well-produced â€œsmallâ€ scenes to fill reel clips for years to come.
CONS: Possible Clooney overload, what with this, the not-as-dire-as-reported Men Who Stare At Goats, and Fantastic Mr. Fox (which got more notice for its animation and director Wes Anderson anyway). Jason Reitman as Hot New Director left a sour taste in some mouths. Overall, thereâ€™s a feeling this movie missed being something truly special, either by an inch or a mile depending on oneâ€™s point of view.
ODDS: 20 to 1.
This well-received coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London (Carey Mulligan) whose life is changed by an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) is a nice little picture thatâ€™s definitely benefitted from the Academyâ€™s allowing 10 titles in. Everyone whoâ€™s seen it likes it; problem is, very few have seen it.
PROS: Terrific word of mouth, especially for Mulligan; its director, Lone Scherfig, is not only a woman but a Dane to boot; its screenwriter, Nick Hornby, is a Hollywood fave.
CONS: That unmemorable title, and the fact that, although nominated for dozens of criticsâ€™ awards, itâ€™s yet to win any actual awards for anything beyond Mulliganâ€™s performance. Good bet for screenwriting, though.
ODDS: 150 to 1.
A Serious Man
The Coen Brothersâ€™ shaggy meditation on Midwestern Jewry in the 1960s was something of a surprise hit with critics, even if many of them couldnâ€™t quite figure out the connection between the 19th century-set prologue and the rest of the film. (Fyvush Finkelâ€™s credit as â€œDybbuk?â€ didnâ€™t help matters.) Following a mid-career slump (Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers) the brothers have rebounded nicely with three winners in a row (No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, and this).
PROS: Initially dismissed by many as all style/no substance, the Coens have become the rule-breaking filmmakers that Hollywood can enjoy (as opposed to Tarantino). And despite a no-name cast, A Serious Man succeeded at pretty much everything it attempted, from comedy and drama to sociopolitics.
CONS: For all that, itâ€™s still viewed as a minor work (e.g., no Fargo or Old Country), and people are still debating whether its take on Jewishness is meant to be warm-hearted or cruel. Others are still wrestling with which film is A Serious Man and which oneâ€™s A Single Man.
ODDS: 175 to 1.
Animation finally hits the big time, Oscar-wise, with this instant Pixar classic. As was the case with the studioâ€™s previous effort, Wall-E, Up garnered most of its kudos for its opening, silent-film-like sequence (this time, without any help from Hello, Dolly!). The meat of the story may not have been a patch on Wall-Eâ€™s pro-green message, but it was still another winner with kids and parents alike.
PROS: That almost unbearably poignant opening is the kind of tear-jerking that the Academy loves; the spectacle on display of that airborne house is a magical image that will endure for ages.
CONS: If it took this long to get another animated film into the Best Picture category (the only other one was Beauty and the Beast), itâ€™ll probably take twice as long for one to actually win the prize. Thereâ€™s also a growing suspicion that Pixar makes this all look too easy.
ODDS: 65 to 1.
The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock's crowd-pleaser wouldn't have stood a chance of a Best Picture nomination if there'd only been five slots. The film's plot -- well-meaning white character helps beatific African-American character realize his dreams -- would have been a real slam-dunk in 1950. As it is, this is a sop to middlebrows who feel the Academy only rewards art-house fare instead of "normal" movies. And you don't get much more normal than this.
PROS: Fondness for Bullock, and that box office take. Beyond that, not much.
CONS: Too many other more worthy nominees. If this wins Best Picture, we'll all be blind-sided all right.
ODDS: 175 to 1.
Science fiction doesn't usually fare too well at Oscar-time, so this nomination has to be viewed by Fanboy Nation as a good thing ... even if, again, it wouldn't have stood a chance if this was a five-nominations-only year. Its muddled thematic metaphor -- apartheid is, you know, a bad thing -- convinced some that it had more on its mind than simply being a decent popcorn picture. At least co-producer Peter Jackson has something to show for his 2009 efforts, after The Lovely Bones' near total shut-out.
PROS: Proof that the Academy does too care about science fiction, although for all the times they've trotted out those 2001: A Space Odyssey clips during the ceremonies, they didn't exactly trip over themselves giving that film awards.
CONS: A film that actually reads better on paper than it plays onscreen, District 9 is still in the process of being discovered by its presumed core fan base, who didn't bother with it when it was in theaters. Its oozy grossness precludes any serious consideration.
ODDS: 200 to 1.