Sunday, 15 November 2009


With the expansion of the Best Picture category to 10 nominees, the race for Best Picture is more open than ever, especially given the rather lean year for truly standout films (well, those that have actually been seen and reviewed) so far.

Many believe this expansion comes from the Academy's belief that falling television ratings in recent years is a direct result of their failure to acknowledge more "popular" films. Case in point: While most critics and pundits predicted The Dark Knight, the highest grossing film of 2008, would score a Best Picture nod, the Academy just couldn't bring itself to nominate a “superhero movie” for the Big One.

Ironically, the most recent highest rating Oscar years were when Titanic (1997) and Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003) won Best Picture; two films that brought a little art to the blockbuster.

Of course, no-one believes that a soulless blockbuster like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will or should be nominated for BP just to get the kids to watch. On the other hand, this new direction could see films such as Star Trek or Harry Potter 6 in the mix. Certainly Pixar's Up has a better than expected chance of making the BP nominations list, remembering Wall-E was also championed as a worthy BP contender last year.

The change also means foreign language films may feature more prominently in the race for Best Picture.

Whether having 10 contenders instead of 5 cheapens the Oscars, reducing it even more so to a popularity contest with a much more deliberate focus on commerce as opposed to art, remains to be seen. But based on what movies I've seen (*), reviews I've read and my powers of Oscar prognostication, here are just some of the films that could make the final 10:

A SERIOUS MAN* – Perhaps the Coen brothers' most personal film, this 1960s set comedy with its no-name cast is bolstered by its critical praise. Winning BP two years ago also has the Coens fresh in the Academy's mind.

A SINGLE MAN* – The directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford looks likely to give Colin Firth his first Oscar nomination. But will the Academy be sympathetic to this story of a professor mourning the loss of his gay lover?

AN EDUCATION* – This coming of age tale in pre-Beatles '60s London is a deceptively small film with a breakout performance by Carey Mulligan. And Lone Sherfig could become just the fourth woman nominated for Best Director.

AVATAR* – James Cameron's first film since Titanic has fanboys and other geeks in a frenzy due to its cutting edge use of animation and 3D technology. The second trailer was more impressive than the first but I'm still to be sold.

BRIGHT STAR* – Jane Campion's best reviewed film since the Oscar-winning The Piano is one that is helped by the expanded field. Abbie Cornish's likely Best Actress nod also helps. And what chance three women being nominated for Best Director? (see 2 above and 3 below)

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER* – An Original Screenplay nod wouldn't be a surprise but with 10 films, this charming, clever non-rom-com could get in on the feel good factor a la Little Miss Sunshine.

DISTRICT 9* – In a '5 nominees' year this film wouldn't stand a chance but with rave reviews, excellent box office and for point of difference alone, this South African sci-fi actioner has much in its favour.

THE HURT LOCKER* – One of the best reviewed films of the year, it leaves you shell-shocked. Kathryn Bigelow (once married to James Cameron) has perhaps the best chance of the three mentioned women to be nominated for (and win) Best Director.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS* – Tarantino's alternate history WWII pic has had mostly positive reviews and surpassed $100m at the US box office. Hey, it helps! It's certainly one of the most memorable films of the year, thanks in no small part to Christoph Waltz.

INVICTUS – Directed by Clint Eastwood, which automatically puts it on the Academy's radar, the story focuses on Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) and the Rugby World Cup held in South Africa in 1995.

JULIE & JULIA* – Not a great film but a crowd pleaser with impressive box office and a sure-to-be-nominated performance by Meryl Streep. And another film directed by a woman, Nora Ephron.

THE LOVELY BONES* – Peter Jackson's adaptation of the bestselling novel is the “straightest” film he's done since 1994's Heavenly Creatures. There are elements of the spiritual and supernatural but essentially it is the story of a grieving family.

NINE* – An all-star cast (Day-Lewis, Kidman, Cruz, Cotillard, Dench) has been assembled for the latest musical from Rob Marshall, director of the 2002 BP winner, Chicago.

PRECIOUS* – A tough but ultimately hopeful story of a pregnant teenager, Juno it ain't! But with Oprah behind it and universal critical acclaim this is a diamond in the rough, with Gabourey Sidibe an Mo'Nique almost certain acting nominees.

THE ROAD* – Set in a post-apocalyptic America, John Hillcoat's adaptation of the prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy (of No Country For Old Men fame) will either prove too bleak for the Academy or be embraced as a story of hope against the odds.

STAR TREK* – The first and best blockbuster of 2009, this re-boot of the tired franchise pleased fans and converted non-believers by being smart as well as entertaining. Will it boldly go where The Dark Knight couldn't?

UP* – The latest Pixar “masterpiece” is the only film here with more universal praise than The Hurt Locker. Can it be the first animated film since Beauty and the Beast in 1991 to make the grade?

UP IN THE AIR* – Directed by Juno's Jason Reitman and starring the impossible-not-to-like George Clooney, this film has taken on frontrunner status following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, the same place Juno's Oscars run began in '07.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE* – Based on the much loved children's book, this is Spike Jonze's first film since 2002's Adaptation. Perhaps an 'alternative to animation' choice for the Academy?

THE WHITE RIBBON – Austrian director Michael Haneke's Cannes-prizewinner could be the first foreign language contender since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), if you don't count Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima (2006). But methinks Haneke has a better shot at a Directing nod.

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