Oscars postmortem

Oscaraward In no particular order, here are some random thoughts and observations on tonight's Oscar telecast (you can check out the list of winners here):

- I am really happy The Hurt Locker won - not only because I wasn't a huge fan of Avatar, but also because the war movie really was the most deserving nominee of the bunch by a wide margin. OK, mostly because I just wasn't a huge fan of Avatar.

- This was the first Oscar telecast I can remember seeing - like, ever - in which Jack Nicholson was not seated in the front row, leering at everybody.


- Without question, Precious star Gabourey Sidibe was the happiest and most excited celebrity to be there. She made me believe in the whole "It's an honor just to be nominated" thing.


- Sandra Bullock's acceptance speech for the Best Actress Oscar was the best of the night. Everyone expected her to win - even she probably did - and it still felt like a surprise.

 - The Paranomal Activity skit, which aired about two hours into the show, was the first time co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin got a real laugh out of me. That was followed by a way-cool tribute to horror movies, which rarely get much Oscar love. Who'd ever think you'd see Leatherface, Friday the 13th and Night of the Living Dead on the Academy Awards? Too many clips from The Shining, though - and that's coming from me.


- You know how nice and modest and humble Kathryn Bigelow came off in her acceptance speech for the Best Director Oscar? She really is like that - the mirror opposite of her ex-husband, Avatar director James Cameron.Seriously, this could not have happened to a sweeter, more gracious person. And she makes such tough films! I wonder what movie she will direct next.

- I really dug the idea of having five presenters, each of them a former co-star, introduce each of the nominees in the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars. By the time Michelle Pfeiffer was done giving props to Jeff Bridges, she had the actor in tears, and he hadn't even received the award yet.


- Wasn't it awesome watching The Dude get an Oscar, man?


- The oddball pairing of Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino to present the Foreign Language Film Oscar was inspired. Forget different countries: These two hail from different universes.

- The surprise win in that category by Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes guarantees the closing night festivities at the Miami Film Festival next weekend will sell out.


- James Cameron may be a very, very rich man. But you know the lack of Oscar love for Avatar has to be eating away at him. Sorry, Jim. You'll have to settle for being the guy who directed the two highest-grossing films of all time, back to back. Also, Aliens.

- Every time the cameras cut away to The Hurt Locker team, they still seemed so grateful just to be there - even after the movie had started racking up Oscars.

- Meanwhile, George Clooney looked annoyed or impatient every time the cameras looked his way.


- That exuberant red-haired woman in the purple dress who interrupted Music By Prudence director Roger Ross Williams while he was accepting the Best Documentary Short Oscar (video clip here) was former Herald features writer Elinor Burkett. She was a producer on the movie and used to behave exactly the same way in the newsroom. Congrats, Elinor! (Update: The incident is already known as the Oscars' Kanye moment. Read Williams' and Burkett's accounts of the bizarre moment here.)


- Both of the screenwriting Oscar winners - Precious' Geoffrey Fletcher (Best Adapted) and The Hurt Locker's Mark Boal (Best Original) - appeared to have been caught off-guard by their wins. I interviewed each of them last year for stories about their respective films, and both seemed surprised by the attention their movies were getting at the time. Now they're Oscar winners.


- The Ben Stiller as a Na'Vi bit could have easily bombed, but the actor kept it alive much more than it deserved.

- The cynic in me knows the John Hughes tribute was a bit much and went on a bit long - a sop to the Generation Xers watching the show. But I, too, grew up in the 1980s watching Hughes' films, so I got a little lump in the throat anyway when that informal Breakfast Club reunion took place onstage (Emilio Estevez, where were you?) 


- This was the first year I can remember in which I actually enjoyed the presentation of the five nominees for Best Original Score - proof that everything in life goes better with a little interpretive dance.

- Robert Downey, Jr. continues to get weirdly cooler, even when he's just handing out the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. On actors and writers working together: "A collaboration between handsome, gifted people and sickly, little mole people.''


 - I know that Christoph Waltz has been winning awards for his portrayal of a cunning Nazi colonel in Inglourious Basterds since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May. But I wish Waltz had tried to be a tiny bit genuine when he won, or come up with a better acceptance speech other than just kissing up to Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Weinstein. Up director Pete Docter probably knew he was going to win too, but he seemed honestly excited when he got his hands on his statuette. Even Mo'Nique managed to seem a little overwhelmed, and she was the safest bet of the night.


- Opening the show by having the Best Actor and Actress nominees standing awkwardly onstage as they basked in the applause of the crowd got the night started on a way-too reverential note. Fortunately, Neil Patrick Harris showed up a few moments later to deflate some of the pretension out of the show. And then co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did their best to try to get everyone to shut off their TV sets.

- I went 16 for 21 in my predictions. Not my best showing, but not my worst.

Fearless Oscar predictions

Here is my rundown on the major Oscar races to be decided tonight, and below you'll find a ballot with my predictions in all the categories except short films. We'll find out in a few hours how I and The Hurt Locker fared. Click on the ballot to make it bigger and readable.


Best Picture Oscar nominees get new posters

In honor of the impending Academy Awards, the jokesters at collegehumor.com have photoshopped their versions of what the posters for several of this year's Best Pictures nominees should have looked like. I've posted a couple of my favorites below. Check out the rest here.





Oscar nominations spread the wealth


The mega-hit Avatar and the low-budget war drama scored nine Oscar nods apiece this morning, competing in practically every category they were nominated for, setting the stage for a David and Goliath showdown when the Academy Awards are handed out on Sunday. March 7th.

Quentin Tarantino's glorious Inglourious Basterds was no slouch either, racking up eight nominations.Up in the Air garnered the expected nods for writer/director Jason Reitman and actor George Clooney, but it was a pleasant surprise to see both of the film's female co-stars, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, snag Best Supporting Actress noms.


They'll both lose to the unstoppable Mo'Nique, whose film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, made an expected than stronger showing, with nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (for first timer Gabourey Sibide), Best Director (for Lee Daniels) and Best Adapted Screenplay.


I am thrilled that Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man got a Best Picture nom to go along with the expected Best Original Screenplay nod, and that the utterly hilarious script for the scathing British comedy In the Loop got its due recognition from Oscar voters. The expansion of the Best Picture category from the traditional five nominees to ten made room for movies like the little-seen charmer An Education, the Pixar smash Up (only the second animated feature film after Beauty and the Beast to make the race) and the sci-fi thriller District 9.

The Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow became the fourth woman ever to be nominated for Best Director. She'll be competing for the award with her ex-husband, Avatar's James Cameron. Both The Hurt Locker and Avatar are nominated in practically all the same categories. The fact that both happen to be war pictures - one in Iraq, the other in a far-flung planet - is also an interesting coincidence.


Meryl Streep racked up her 16th Best Actress nomination for Julie & Julia, but she'll have to fend off the surging popularity of Sandra Bullock, whose surprise hit The Blind Side also made the Best Picture cut. Two of the Best Foreign Language nominees, The Secret in their Eyes and The Milk of Sorrow, will be screening at the Miami International Film Festival next month, although the front-runner for the award is Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, which I have to run out to see right now.

Other surprises: Jeff Bridges landed the expected Best Actor nomination for his performance as a run-down country singer Crazy Heart, but his co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal also scored a Best Supporting Actress nod for her portrayal of a single mother who helps him right his life. The tiny drama The Messenger, about officers in the Army's Casualty Notification division, scored two major nominations, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Woody Harrelson). 

The dolphin-slaughter expose The Cove made the Best Documentary short list. Director Clint Eastwood's South African rugby drama Invictus put everyone to sleep except, apparently, for Academy voters, who rewarded actors Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon with acting nominations.

 I'll be back later for more Oscar musings. Here's a mostly-complete list of all the nominees. Go to oscars.com for more



The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

A Serious Man


Up in the Air


Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

George Clooney (Up in the Air)

Colin Firth (A Single Man)

Morgan Freeman (Invictus)

Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)


Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)

Helen Mirren (The Last Station)

Carey Mulligan (An Education)

Gabourey Sibide (Precious)

Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)


Matt Damon (Invictus)

Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)

Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)

Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)

Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)


Penelope Cruz (Nine)

Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)

Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)

Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)

Mo'Nique (Precious)


District 9

An Education

In the Loop


Up in the Air


The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

The Messenger

A Serious Man



Ajami (Israel)

The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina)

The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)

A Prophet (France)

The White Ribbon (Germany)


Burma VJ

The Cove

Food, Inc.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Which Way Home



Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Princess and the Frog

The Secret of Kells




Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds

The White Ribbon



The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Sherlock Holmes

Young Victoria


Bright Star

Coco Before Chanel

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Young Victoria


Il Divo

Star Trek

The Young Victoria



District 9

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds




District 9

Star Trek



The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Star Trek




The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds

Star Trek

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen




''Avatar,'' interrupted

Bigelow  A crack appeared in Avatar's shiny blue armor last night, when Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker won the big prize at the 21st annual Producers Guild Awards, a reliable (but not infallible) bellwether for the Best Picture Oscar winner.

Buoyed by the revenues earned from higher-than-usual IMAX ticket prices, Avatar has grossed an astounding $552 million and is poised to surpass the current all-time champ Titanic by the end of this week. Even though Avatar remains far behind Titanic in terms of actual admissions, Avatar will also eke past the former champ's $1.8 billion international haul sometime this week (although if you adjust the grosses for inflation, Avatar is only 26th on the all-time list.)

Obviously, I was more than a little wrong when I wrote "there's just no way this movie is going to come close to Titanic's grosses." Movie critics have no business trying to be box office prognosticators. I am genuinely baffled by the film's amazing success - I knew it would be big, but not this big - and I have tried to go back and see Avatar again, to see what it is about the film that has connected with so many people.

But although I saw Titanic three times in the theater, I haven't been able to muster up the energy to sit through Avatar again. I feel like there is nothing to be gained from a second viewing: The thin plot is certainly not going to reveal any new shadings, the 3D annoyed more than anything else, and my emotional engagement with the film was too remote to lure me back for seconds. I liked Avatar better the first time I saw it, when it was called Aliens.


Still, the film's phenomenal popularity seemed destined to be coronated by a Best Picture Oscar in March - at least until last night, when the PGA declared "We don't all love Avatar, either." I don't think James Cameron stands a chance of besting his ex-wife Bigelow for the Best Director prize, and suddenly Avatar is no longer a lock for Best Picture. The movie is still the front-runner, but it is not unbeatable.

This all helps make this year's Oscars a little more interesting, which is good, because the race is pretty boring. Even though the nominations won't be announced until Feb. 2, most of the major categories have already been decided (Jeff Bridges, Mo'Nique, Christoph Waltz, etc.) The only real question, other than Best Picture, is whether the Academy will finally give Meryl Streep another Oscar or allow Sandra Bullock into the winners' circle.

And then there were nine

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has whittled down the 65 entries for this year's Foreign-Language Oscar to a short list of nine films. They are:

- El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Argentina)

- Samson & Delilah (Australia)

- The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Bulgaria)

- Un Prophete (France)

- The White Ribbon (Germany)

- Ajami (Israel)

- Kelin (Kazakhstan)

- Winter in Wartime (The Netherlands)

- The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)

The final five nominees for the award will be announced along with the rest of this year's Oscar contenders on Feb. 2. I haven't seen any of these movies yet, although I'll finally be seeing Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon next week (Sony Pictures Classics is opening the movie in Miami on Feb. 5, a couple of days after the nominations).


 I've been a huge fan of Haneke ever since I unsuspectingly wandered into a screening of Funny Games at the Toronto Film Festival in 1997, knowing nothing whatsoever about the movie, and came out with my world completely rocked. Later that afternoon, I happened to be riding a hotel elevator and Haneke got on (I recognized him from his photo in the festival program book). Normally I would have said hello, but that movie had rattled me so much I was a little afraid of him.


I formally interviewed Haneke two years ago for his English-language Funny Games remake, which didn't get much love from most critics, but what the hell do they know? I am blindly guessing Haneke will win an Oscar this year, since The White Ribbon is supposed to be fantastic and he has earned so much respect from the international film community for his body of work.

Last week Roger Ebert wrote a fascinating, mammoth dissectation of Haneke's Cache (Hidden), which Martin Scorsese is planning to remake with Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of the husband. If you've seen Cache, check out Ebert's story here.

National Board of Review announces its 2009 winners

Up in the Air has been named Best Picture of the Year by the National Board Review. Founded in 1909, the group of film critics and historians is the oldest in the U.S. and is often dismissed for its supposedly safe and stodgy choices. But its last two Best Picture winners, No Country For Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire, have gone on to win big at the Oscars, too. And they put Star Trek on their list of the year's ten best, so maybe they are getting a little hipper.


Up in the Air's George Clooney shared the Best Actor award with Morgan Freeman, who plays Nelson Mandela in Invictus. Up in the Air also won the Best Supporting Actress (for Anna Kendrick) and Best Adapted Screenplay, for Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner.

The Best Director prize went to Invictus' Clint Eastwood. An Education's Carey Mulligan was named Best Actress. Other noteworthy winners: The Cove (Best Documentary), A Serious Man (Best Original Screenplay) and Best Foreign Language Film (A Prophet).

Notable omissions: The Road, Nine and The Lovely Bones, all of which are being pushed heavily for Oscar consideration.

The NBR awards will be handed out Jan. 12. With Golden Globe nominatins due on Dec. 15, the Oscar season has officially begun.Here is the complete list of NBR winners. They give out a lot of awards:

Best Film: Up in the Air
Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Best Actor(s): George Clooney (Up in the Air) and Morgan Freeman (Invictus)


Best Actress: Carey Mulligan (An Education)
Best Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
Best Supporting Actress: Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air)
Best Foreign Language Film: A Prophet
Best Documentary: The Cove
Best Animated Feature: Up
Best Ensemble Cast: It's Complicated
Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Gabourey Sibide, Precious


Spotlight Award for Best Directorial Debut:
Duncan Jones, Moon
Oren Moverman, The Messenger
Marc Webb, (500) Days of Summer

Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up In The Air
Special Filmmaking Achievement Award: Wes Anderson, The Fantastic Mr. Fox

The National Board of Review's Ten Best Films of 2009 (in alphabetical order):

An Education
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Where the Wild Things Are

Those Oscar betting pools just got a little more interesting

Oscars  The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced next year's Oscars will have ten - count 'em, ten - Best Picture nominees instead of the traditional five.

The number of Best Picture contenders used to vary from year to year in the Oscars' early days. For example, there were 12 nominees in 1934 and 1935.

Academy President Sid Gannis said that "having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize.”

  In other words, popular movies like The Dark Knight, which many people felt should have been a Best Picture contender, will no longer be shut out of the race. That will hopefully translate into higher ratings for the Oscar telecast, which airs March 7 next year.

Oscar Poll: Best Supporting Actor

"Slumdog Millionaire" wins at DGA awards

Danny_boyle Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle took home the big prize at last night's Directors Guild of America awards, the latest step in that movie's road to a big Oscar night showing.

Since 1948, when the group gave out its first awards, only 13 films have not gone on to snag the Best Picture Oscar after winning the DGA prize.

Here's the complete list of the evening's winners. It's great to see HBO's The Wire getting some recognition, something the bone-headed Emmy voters never managed to do.

Feature Film
Danny Boyle
Slumdog Millionaire

Movies for TV/Miniseries
Jay Roach

Ari Folman
Waltz With Bashir

Dramatic Series (Night)
Dan Attais
The Wire

Musical Variety

Brent (Bucky) Gunts
Opening Ceremony
Beijing 2008 Olympic Summer Games

Comedy Series

Paul Feig
The Office, ''Dinner Party"

Reality Series
Tony Croll
America's Next Top Model, "1002"

Daytime Serials
Larry Carpenter
One Life to Live, Episode #10,281: "So You Think You Can Be Shane Morasco's Father?"

Children's Programs
Amy Schatz
Classical Baby (I'm Grown Up Now), ''The Poetry Show''

Peter Thwaites
Production Company: Gorgeous Enterprises

Before and after

Spotted at Jeffrey Wells' site (a daily read for me):




Oscar poll: Best Supporting Actress

One step closer to Oscar glory

Last night's 15th annual Screen Actors Guild awards confirmed what everyone suspected: Sean Penn, Heath Ledger and Kate Winslet are practically locks to win in their respective categories when this year's Oscars are handed out Feb. 22. Slumdog Millionaire's win in the Best Ensemble category also translates into a likely victory in the Best Picture competition.

The only category that remains too close to call is Best Supporting Actress since last night's winner in that category (Winslet) is in the running for the Best Actress Oscar. Right now, I'm leaning towards Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Penelope Cruz, although Viola Davis makes an indelible impression in Doubt with only one scene, and Academy members obviously loved the movie, considering how many nominations it received.

So I don't know what to think, other than it's time for another Oscar poll!

Oscar poll: Best Picture

Analysis of this morning's Oscar nominations: Surprises, snubs and oddities

Announcement For every thing today's Oscar nominations got right - chief among them the two nods for Frozen River's Melissa Leo (Best Actress) and Courtney Hunt (Best Original Screenplay) - there were at least two things the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got wrong.

How, for example, could The Curious Case of Benjamin Button score a whopping 13 nominations (just one short of the record shared by Titanic and All About Eve) but not include Cate Blanchett, whose performance in the film was arguably more important to the drama than Brad Pitt's leading turn?

Heath-ledger-joker_l The wildly popular The Dark Knight, a movie that audiences and critics agreed transcended the comic-book genre and attained the stature of dramatic art, snagged eight nominations, including the anticipated Best Supporting Actor nod for the late Heath Ledger, whose performance as the villainous Joker is one for the ages.

But the rest of The Dark Knight's nominations were in technical categories: No Best Picture, Director or Screenplay recognition. The same went for Pixar's magnificent Wall*E, the guaranteed winner of the Best Animated Feature award, which at least managed to snag a Best Original Screenplay nod among its six nominations.

But Wall*E, too, was shut out of the Best Picture and Director races, replaced instead by Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon and Stephen Daldry's The Reader, two middling, Oscar-baiting dramas that landed five nominations apiece - and were driven primarily by Hollywood's desire to congratulate itself on making serious, "important" movies.

Richard Jenkins' Best Actor nomination for The Visitor was, like the Frozen River recognitions, a testament that Oscar voters are still willing to pay attention to small pictures made outside the behemoth studio machinery. But Jenkins' well-deserved nod knocked out of the race Clint Eastwood, whose swan song performance in Gran Torino deserved to have been commemorated by the Academy.

Gran Torino was completely shut out of the Oscars, although the Eastwood-directed Changeling fared better, scoring three nominations including Best Actress for Angelina Jolie and an Art Direction nod for its superb 1920s period setting.

The_wrestler Eastwood's acting snub was one of the biggest disappointments of the morning's announcements, although it was soothed by the inclusion of The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei in the Best Actor and Supporting Actress races. Rourke is the only one who stands a real chance of derailing Milk star Sean Penn's Best Actor chances: Theirs will be one of this year's most exciting competitions, although if Frost/Nixon's Frank Langella swoops in to steal it, I'm chucking my TV set out the window in protest.

Slumdog Millionaire's 10 nominations should help keep that movie chugging along on its path to mainstream-hit status. The film is also, at this moment, apparently the movie to beat for Best Picture. But how to explain the two Best Song nominations it received (for Jai Ho and O Saya), while Bruce Springsteen's moody, melancholy tune for The Wrestler got nada

Shannon Other surprising and/or bewildering Oscar calls: Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon was duly recognized for his electrifying performance in that film with a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but Kate Winslet's turn in the film as a frustrated housewife - easily the best work she's done to date - was ignored in favor of her more conventional turn in The Reader.

Rachel Getting Married's Anne Hathaway received a Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of a recovering addict wreaking havoc on her sister's wedding, but hers was the sole nomination in a film that was carried by an ensemble. Same went with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, whose Penelope Cruz got a Supporting Actress nod, but deserving co-stars Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall got zilch.

Viola At least everyone in Doubt received a nomination for their performance, including Supporting Actress contender Viola Davis, who grabbed Oscar's attention by appearing in just one scene, and Best Actress nominee Meryl Streep, who extended her lead as the most nominated actor in Oscar history with 15 in the bank (Katharine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson trail her with 12 apiece).

Perhaps the most surprising nomination of the day was the Best Supporting Actor mention for Tropic Thunder's Robert Downey Jr.  Although his performance in the film as a Method actor who alters his skin pigmentation in order to play a black man was admittedly brilliant, it isn't the kind of thing the Oscars usually pay attention to. Downey's success in Iron Man probably played a big part in bringing him the nomination, since between the two movies, the actor cemented his Hollywood comeback in a major way.

But Iron Man was a comic-book movie, so Academy members opted to celebrate Tropic Thunder instead, because we know how Oscar voters feel about superheroes. Just ask the makers of The Dark Knight.

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