Oscars: the ones behind the camera

* = didn’t see it

Animated Feature
Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells*
Up

Should Win: Even having grown up in an era that saw both the Disney Renaissance and the advent of Pixar, 2009 stands out as a singularly incredible year for animated films. Any one of these four could make a critics Top 10 list. Any one of these four could win this award and be deserving. I’ve already raved about Coraline here. Fox is a joy, with its clever script and diorama-esque visuals. And Frog represents a rousing return to form for Disney, their first traditionally animated film since 2005, and their best since 1999’s Tarzan (interestingly, it was Frog that recieved the biggest applause of any film I saw this year, and not Avatar as one might expect). But it’s Pixar’s latest that stands head and shoulders above them all. Up in a walk.

If Not, Then: Take your pick; you can’t go wrong.

Where the Hell Was: Astro Boy? It’s a homogeneous blend of about 50 other movies, but it’s got heart to spare and a sly intelligence about it, and damn if I wasn’t smiling for 90 minutes straight. A real shame this flick went ignored.

Writing (Adapted)
District 9
An Education
In the Loop
Precious
Up in the Air

Should Win: In the Loop. In the Loop, In the Loop, In the Loop. For reasons already explained. This is one of the best comedic scripts ever penned.

If Not, Then: Up in the Air. There’s been something of a backlash going on with this movie, and I don’t quite get it. It’s fun, funny, timely and sweet in its own pseudo-cynical way.

Where the Cuss Was: Fantastic Mr. Fox?

Writing (Original)
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger*
A Serious Man
Up

Should Win: Up. Too often I think people make the terms “writing” and “dialogue” synonymous when it comes to film. They aren’t. Up‘s dialogue isn’t flashy or even memorable, but it serves its story perfectly. A story that’s touching, funny, thrilling, expertly paced and original as all hell. Great writing needn’t be showy. It can be setting up a world, bringing characters to life, economy of storytelling. Up is great writing.

If Not, Then: Basterds. Though somewhat in love with the sound of its own voice, as most of Tarantino’s stuff is, it’s likewise original and genre-defying with no shortage of memorable scenes and characters, which is also as most of his stuff is.

Where the Hell Were: 500 Days of Summer and World’s Greatest Dad? The former is Annie Hall minus the neuroses and plus the hipsterism; that may not sound like a compliment, but I mean it that way. And Dad is unflinching and cutting as it plays for laughs (to great effect) the way society deals with death and grief.

Director
James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Should Win: When Titanic passed Star Wars to become the highest grossing film ever in the United States, George Lucas took out a newspaper ad congratulating Cameron on his success. It was only slightly surprising to me that when Avatar passed Titanic on the same chart that Cameron didn’t take out a similar ad congratulating himself on his own success. The guy’s ego simply knows no bounds, and if he doesn’t win this it will be because his own big mouth put him in that position. It certainly won’t be because he didn’t deserve it; the man directed the shit out of his movie, having spent years developing the technology he would use to bring us the first fully immersive, non-gimmicky use of 3D in a live action film. Scores of upcomers aspiring to blockbuster status will be trying to capitalize on Avatar’s success with post-filiming conversion to the third dimension, and the results will be utterly terrible. No one wants to put the considerable effort in from the beginning to the end of the filmmaking process that results in 3D done as well as this. No one except James Cameron.

If Not, Then: Tarantino.

Where the Hell Was: Pete Docter, Up? Directing the best movie of the year really should be enough to get in here.

Picture
Avatar
The Blind Side*
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air

Should Win: The Blind Side. The one benefit of this shameless attempt at kowtowing to popular sentiment and attracting new viewers by expanding this category to ten nominees is the inclusion of Up, which now stands alongside Beauty and the Beast as the only animated films ever given this distinction (which says much more about the qualifications of the voters than it does the genre). Up is not only the best movie of the year, but one of the best ever made. In terms of balancing disparate elements (action, adventure, camaraderie, thrills, laughs, etc.) it is second only to Jaws in my mind. It’s just about as close to a perfect movie as I’ve ever seen, and if other filmmakers put in half the effort that Pixar does for every one of their releases, well, we’d have a fuckton more great movies, wouldn’t we?

If Not, Then: Avatar. I know it’s unoriginal. I know it can be trite. But dammit if it isn’t one of the most incredible experiences in a movie theater I’ve ever had.

Where the Hell Were: Moon? Antichrist? Bruno? Adventureland? Taking Woodstock? World’s Greatest Dad? In the Loop? Drag Me to Hell?

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