The annual Academy Awards extravaganza will be showcased again this weekend (Sunday night on ABC), but this year’s broadcast will feature a new element that may or may not add some viewer appeal to the festivities.
The categories (24 in all) are unchanged. The usual yawners, e.g., Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing (do we really need two awards for sound?), Best Makeup, Best Costumes, will hopefully take as little time as possible. (Note to winners in these categories: we don’t want to know who was on your staff or how many children you have.)
The obligatory “thank you” speeches are one of the many reasons to wince while watching the show. But the main reason the awards broadcast is so often derided by knowledgeable observers is that the films that win the big awards are often far less deserving than those that don’t. Indeed, in the best picture category, many of the best films in any given year are often not even nominated, let alone chosen as the winner.
Perhaps with that thought in mind, the Academy’s Board of Governors decided after last year’s event to expand the number of nominees for the coveted top award from five to ten. (Cynics claim the change was made to increase advertising opportunities, while purists deride the decision for watering down the significance of receiving a nomination.)
Of course, that decision gave rise to the strong likelihood that a less deserving film might end up winning, with as little as eleven percent of the total vote. (I’ll spare everyone the mathematical explanation: trust me on this one.)
And so, the Academy higher-ups added a new element to the voting procedure. Instead of just voting for one film, academy members were told this year to rank all ten films, from one to ten, with the voting then to be tabulated on a power basis (presumably with ten points for a number one pick, nine for a number two and so on).
Thus, the best picture will be the film with the highest point total, rather than the highest vote total. That change may not mean much to the viewing public, but it certainly provides a new way to approach a best-films-of-the-year column.
With that thought in mind, here’s the way I would have filled out my ballot, had the Academy given me one. I’ve ranked the ten nominated films from least to most worthy, the ranking based entirely on my personal appreciation for the complete artistic effort involved in the creation of the movie.
10. “An Education” – The critics loved this movie, which made my disappointment about it all the more resonant. The story is odd from the start (a sixteen-year-old gal in London is pursued by a mid-30s-year-old guy), and the ending is so pat that it feels more like a Hollywood script re-write than the truly original one the critics wrote about.
9. “The Blind Side” – This one is pleasant enough, as movies based on allegedly true stories go, and it features a nice turn by Sandra Bullock in a more-or-less dramatic role. But it isn’t a substantial enough film to merit an Oscar nomination and, for that reason, doesn’t merit much more comment here.
8. “Up” – The opening sequence in this otherwise fairly typical Disney animated feature (complete with talking dogs) is poignant and inspired. And that sequence might be enough to vault the film to an Oscar in the Best Animated Film category. But it’s hard to imagine it would have gotten a nomination in a five-film Best Picture category.
7. “Avatar” – James Cameron’s mega-successful follow-up to “Titanic” has similar amounts of audience appeal, but once again that appeal is largely built around technical achievements the likes of which have never been seen before. Unfortunately, the actual story those achievements support is not nearly as impressive.
6. “District Nine” – This one is the oddball in the bunch. It certainly wouldn’t have garnered a nomination in the old five-film format. As it is, it’s a decent sci-fi flick, complete with a none-too-subtle theme that the excessive violence doesn’t completely hide. It’s an imperfect effort, to be sure, but not without redeeming aspects.
5. “Precious” – Talk about dark subjects, this film explores subjects about as dark as you can get (child abuse, incest and inner-city depravation). Yet, for all the controversy that it has created, it deserves attention, both for its artistic excellence (including great performances by Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’nique) and for its surprisingly upbeat message of hope. I applaud the effort and the result.
4. “Up in the Air” – Almost anything with George Clooney is probably worthy of attention these days (“Michael Clayton” being the most recent previous example). This film says a lot about modern life, both in the obvious play to the damaged economy and in the more nuanced presentation of the uncommitted lifestyle that Clooney’s character portrays. It’s an excellent film.
3. “Inglourious Basterds” – Quintin Tarantino’s latest shock-filled homage to film-making is loaded with cinematic moments-to-remember. Sadly, they all involve graphic displays of violence. I’m still waiting for this excellent director to put his considerable talents behind a venture that shows some humanity. Still, give the devil his due; this is one hell of a movie.
2. “A Serious Man” – The Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan) are always inventive and interesting, and in this film, they get philosophical as well. It isn’t so much a deep film as it is a thoughtful one. That it is also abundantly entertaining makes it one of their best ever.
1. “The Hurt Locker” – It begins with a quote from Chris Hedges’ insightful book, “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” and builds that basic theme into its central character. The film makes a strong statement about the reality of war and the psyche of those who need to feel that reality. It succeeds in being both a small film and a large one.
Of course, my pick has almost no chance of winning. “Avatar” will get that honor. Why? It made the most money.