Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Update on the Oscars.

Back in the summer, the Academy surprised virtually everybody by announcing that the number of nominations for the best picture Oscar was to go up from five to ten. The strategy was not hard to discern: as less mainstream films …

Sun, Dec 13, 2009, 22:23


Back in the summer, the Academy surprised virtually everybody by announcing that the number of nominations for the best picture Oscar was to go up from five to ten. The strategy was not hard to discern: as less mainstream films dominated recent award seasons — flicks such as No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire — viewing figures for the ceremony plummeted. Punters want their movie stars.  With 10 films in the running, voters were sure to plump for a few mainstream releases featuring men with chiselled jaws and ladies in nice dresses.


Mr Imhotep, one of the younger Oscar voters, seems unmoved by Bride Wars.

Well, the plan doesn’t appear to be working out too well. Soundings of Oscar voters have so far detected few psephological surges for mainstream critics’ favourites such as the smashing Star Trek or the splendid District 9. Worse still for the Academy, many of the supposed early front-runners — fat films based on Oprah-friendly books — have crashed badly with the reviewers. Some weeks ago, writing in this place, I ventured the 10 films I felt likely to receive  nominations. The following phrase appeared in the introduction: “It all could change if The Lovely Bones gets a kicking or Nine lives down to the standards of director Rob Marshall’s distinctly iffy back catalogue.” Well, what do you know? Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Alice Sebold book received just such a hammering from US critics. (To put things in perspective, it currently rates below 2012 and The Box on Metacritic.) Nine has only been reviewed in a few places, but the early notices are not exactly stellar. Elsewhere, The Road — which, toying with review embargoes, I’ll own up to liking very much — did just about okay with the scribes, but seems too grim for sentimentally minded Academy voters. Only one of the late finishers exceeded critical expectations: Avatar, which had been generating some negative buzz, got more than a few thumbs up from the trade papers.

All this means that the game is very much up for grabs. The Road is still just about in the running, but it will require some nifty work by the brothers Weinstein — remember their masterpiece of manipulation for the largely unloved The Reader — to crowbar John Hillcoat’s picture into the top 10. Inglourious Basterds, the Weinsteins’ more commercial, more critically admired picture, now moves from mere hopeful to certain nominee. The favourites for ultimate victory are The Hurt Locker, Precious and Up in the Air.

And a degree of uncertainty has now become, well, certain. That is to say at least one film in the final list will cause Oscarologists to stare disbelievingly at Variety and drop their monocle into the cereal bowl. Could Couple’s Retreat make the final grade? Or Bride Wars? Hey, worse films have won the blasted thing.

Anyway, here’s my revised final 10. Once again, I offer the usual qualification: this is nothing like my own list of favourite films; it’s what I think the Academy will like.

Up in the Air
Clooney, Clooney, Clooney. Appeals to many demographics.

The Hurt Locker
Serious subject. Very well reviewed.

May have peaked too early. But greatly adored.

The pick of visitors to Screenwriter, anyway. In this weird year it might (just) have an outside chance of becoming the first animated feature to grab top prize.

Did all that whinging on the internet lower expectations enough to make the eventual film seem like a masterpiece? I’ll tell you on Friday.

Inglourious Basterds
Got some awful reviews on this side of the pond, but, in American terms, it’s a rare combination of critical and commerical hit.

Weren’t you listening last time? It’s a Clint Eastwood film starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela.

Still in with a chance of a nom, I think. Daniel Day Lewis is, as ever, a cert for an acting nod.

An Education
Nobody went to see it in America, but it has that classy, foreign look the Academy loves.

The Messenger
Coming up on the rails. The sort of serious, actorly picture the performance wing will gladly vote for.

Out: The Lovely Bones, The Road, and (alas) A Serious Man.

In: Avatar, Inglourious Basterds and The Messenger.

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