Monday Morning Critic – 2.1

On tap this week:
— My Annual Oscar Nomination Predictions
— Going up, up, Up and away!
— This week’s moment of zen

Your moment of zen, courtesy of the brilliance of Youtube.

Random Thought of The Week
With little time between now and the unveiling of Oscar nominations, figuring who will and will not get nominated for Hollywood’s top awards is the subject of much speculation. And as such, I’ve decided to throw my hat into this arena again and speculate on who will pick up the coveted Oscar nomination. With much ado, here are Kubryk’s 2010 Oscar Predictions. As always, I’ve left out the silly technical awards (like writing) to focus on best picture, acting and best animated feature.

Each nomination category is broken up into four parts: Locked In (those that are reasonably assured to be picked), Probable (enough doubts but wouldn’t be a shocker), Maybe (slight shock, but enough to make it seem worth it) and Outside Shot (Would be rare).

Best Picture

There are 10 potential nominees this year, instead of five, so the usual rules don’t really apply this year. The Academy is aware of the Dark Knight backlash from a year ago so look for this year to be one in which a couple films that normally wouldn’t be nominated for an Oscar pick one up. It’ll be business as usual next year, when probably the Academy goes back to five nominees that no one has seen.

Locked in: Up in the Air, Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious

These five films have been sweeping up the awards podium so far and are virtual locks to get nominations. It would be major surprise if any of these aren’t revealed as nominated, especially considering that the field has been expanded to 10 films. In any other year, one or two of these would be squeezed out but with ten to choose from you can almost guarantee spots for these five. The probable winner will come from this group, most likely, as well.

Probable: District 9, An Education, Invictus, The Blind Side, Up

In a normal year, one or two of these would be spoilers. However, with a larger field I think two or three of these will find a way onto the field. The Academy does tend to try to reward foreign film-makers on a semi-regular basis. Out of all of these I could see The Blind Side being the odd-man out, despite it earning nearly $250 million, because it doesn’t have that “prestige” label attached to it. Up might be in the same boat, if only because it’s a Pixar film and nearly every Pixar flick doesn’t get boosted from the Best Animated Feature category even if it’s good enough to be in the Top Five.

Maybe: Star Trek, Public Enemies, Julie & Julia, A Serious Man, Where the Wild Things Are, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson’s stop animation film, another kid’s film that was severely overlooked, a pair of summer blockbusters, a sleeper hit, and the Coens rumination on Minnesota Jews in the 1960s remain. If District 9 gets nominated you can figure Trek won’t, and vice versa, as it’s rare to see two genre films in the same genre get nominated in the same year. Not much love for the Coens this year, as A Serious Man got rave reviews but was a box office bomb. Spike Jonze look at the classic children’s book was critically praised but didn’t set the box office on fire.

Outside Shot: The Hangover, It’s Complicated, Skin, Me and Orson Welles, Capitalism: A Love Story, Moon, Trucker, Crazy Heart, A Single Man, The Road, The Messenger, Bat Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

The only one out of this group with any shot would be The Hangover, mostly based on a Golden Globe win out of nowhere. But then again sex comedies aren’t exactly Oscar material, despite how well it was done, and I can only imagine that if The Hangover gets a nomination that it’ll be the last time more than five films will ever get nominated.

The rest are actor’s films which will be rewarded in that category, but it isn’t out of question that a mediocre film with a great lead performance gets an Oscar nomination based on that alone. That’s what mainly propelled The Wrestler a year ago and there is precedent to it all. And finally Michael Moore’s assault on capitalism plays to the politics of most of the Academy, thus you can’t count it completely out. Look for it to be rewarded in the Best Documentary category, though.

Best Director:

The odd thing this year about the direction nominee is that there will be 10 films nominated but only five directors. Usually the directors and films match up, so to get a nomination for direction this year is going to be tougher.

Locked in: Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), James Cameron (Avatar), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)

Every major awards ceremony has shown some love to all three of these films, so you can almost pencil them in at this point. The two most likely to win are the divorced couple (Bigelow and Cameron), with Reitman’s nomination being his reward as he begins a slow ascent to a Scorsese like career of being the also-ran for decades.

Probable: Quentino Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Lee Daniels (Precious), Clint Eastwood (Invictus)

One or two of these guys will fit in to the final five. Tarantino should be a lock but he’s never been given the sort of Academy respect that a director of his status usually does. So it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that he walks away with just his film being nominated. Eastwood has hit the part of his career that he could make a film about Lindsey Lohan breaking wind and get a nomination, so he might get one just because he’s Clint and not because Invictus was anything special as a film (which it wasn’t). Daniels is a possibility, as well, because it is this year’s little indie that could.

Maybe: Joel & Ethan Coen (A Serious Man), Neil Blomkamp (District 9)

Blomkamp would be a surprise, but District 9 was an unexpected hit so Oscar nominations for picture and director aren’t completely out of the possibility. The Coens haven’t been getting a lot of buzz lately and it’s not surprising, given the wildly varying reviews and poor box office.

Outside Shot: The Guy (Moon), Warner Herzog (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes), J.J Abrams (Star Trek)

The former suffered from a lack of promotion in theatres, as well as during awards season. The latter had such wildly mixed reviews and mediocre gains at the box office that I would imagine Herzog continues to maintain the status of “best established director to never win an Oscar.” Ritchie might be one of those “what the hell’ kind of nominations, as would be Abrams.

Best Actor

This is the hardest one to call as this is perhaps the most loaded category in recent history. You could have any of probably a half dozen winners and argue convincingly enough for them.

Locked in: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Colin Firth (A Single Man), George Clooney (Up in the Air)

The three best performances of the year, without a doubt, and the ones to consistently win or be nominated for Best Actor in every awards show. Bridges ends up being the slight favorite at this point to win the Oscar and shed the label of most under-appreciated actor in Hollywood.

Probable: Peter Skarsgaard (An Education), Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds), Matt Damon (The Informant!), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

It’ll probably be one out of those assembled that actually gets nominated, with the others looking in.

Maybe: Robert DeNiro (Everybody’s Fine), Robert Downey Jr. (The Soloist / Sherlock Holmes), Ben Foster (The Messenger), Sam Rockwell (Moon).

DeNiro was surprisingly good in a return to drama, instead of poking fun at his tough guy image, and might come out of nowhere to snag yet another nomination. Downey won a Golden Globe out of nowhere for Guy Ritchie’s biggest hit ever, yet was also terrific in a prestige picture from 2008 shunted to the beginning of 2009. The Globe win might be a sign that he’s getting nominated for an Oscar; it wouldn’t be surprising. Foster was great in a film no one saw, especially considering its source material stemmed from the Iraq War. Rockwell was incredible for what really was a one man play in Moon, but no one saw it and “For your consideration” screeners for the film never went out.

Outside Shot: Jake Gyllenhaal (Brothers), Russell Crowe (State of Play), Sam Worthington (Avatar), Clive Owen (The Boys Are Back)

Strong performances for Crowe and Gyllenhaal, but it’d be a miracle if either got nominations. This was a great year in this category and Gyllenhaal has this on his acting resume as further proof of his dramatic bona fides. Crowe was great in the film version of the BBC serial but the film underperformed both commercially and critically. Owen’s film just screamed “give me an Oscar” and usually small, unsuccessful films that pander to the Academy rarely get honored.

Best Actress

This is usually the category that is easiest to call and this year isn’t different. What will be interesting is that for the most part either the nominees will be actresses just establishing themselves or veterans of the industry; nothing between.

Locked in: Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Carey Mulligan (An Education)

The two candidates most likely to win, the most hyped during awards season as well.

Probable: Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia), Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Abbie Cornish (Bright Star)

Streep gets Oscar nominations like Angelina Jolie adopts kids, at least once a year, while Bullock gets rewarded for breaking a glass ceiling amongst women actors. It seems the most likely of scenarios, but stranger things have happened. Cornish was brilliant in a film no one saw, but should get nominated.

Maybe: Emily Blunt (The Youth Victoria), Hilary Swank (Amelia)

Blunt was great in the role, but there’s usually one nomination for a costume drama and Cornish looks to be the one to get it. Swank is like Streep in that when she does a role she usually gets a nomination, and has two wins to her credit already, but the film (and her) is most likely going to be overlooked.

Outside Shot: Zoe Saldana (Avatar), Maya Rudolph (Away We Go)

Though she was mainly a voice actor, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that the Academy goes Avatar crazy in terms of nominations. Rudolph would be an inspired pick, as she was the glue in that film that kept it together.

Best Supporting Actor

This is where the Academy usually goes a little nutty, as almost anything can happen. Coming after a year in which a man in blackface gets nominated (Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder) and another won in clown makeup (Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight), this year should be interesting to see to say the least.

Locked in: Christoph Waltz (Basterds), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)

It’ll be one of these three that walks away with the hardware, probably Waltz.

Probable: Billy Crudup (Public Enemies), Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles)

The only truly great acting performance from Mann’s Depression-era crime flick, it would be a nice nod to the film if Crudup was rewarded. Especially after not being rewarded for his brilliant turn in Almost Famous. McKay channeled Orson Welles brilliantly in what was mainly a vehicle for Zac Efron. It’s also rife to be overlooked, as well.

Maybe: Colin Farrell (Crazy Heart), Ben Affleck (State of Play), Jackie Earl Haley (Watchmen)

Farrell and Affleck were good for what they had to do. Best Supporting Actor is usually where the Academy takes a risk so one or two of these gentlemen might end up as a nominee. Haley would be a quirky choice, and deserved too, but with Ledger’s win last year you can expect comic book films to be shut out for a while in acting categories.

Outside Shot: Jason Schwartzmann (Fantastic Mr. Fox), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker)

Voice actors never have gotten recognized for their work, but Schwartzmann was dynamite as Mr. Fox’s son. Mackie was very underrated in Bigelow’s Iraq war film and might sneak onto the awards podium.

Best Supporting Actress

This is a real weak category this year, which makes it rife for someone to win an Oscar and pull a Cuba Gooding Jr. after.

Locked in: Mo’Nique (Precious)

The only category that seems to be locked up, the headliner of Phat Girls looks to be a foregone conclusion.

Probable: Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), Zooey Deschenal (500 days of Summer), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)

Following how Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei both wound up with nominations for The Wrestler, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Gyllenhaal get yet another nomination. Some part of me thinks that Marc Webb’s little indie that could might get an acting nomination to go with a probable writing one, and Deschanel seems to be the likely suspect. Farmiga and Kendrick are both great in the film, but probably will split the vote to get onto the podium or to win the award.

Maybe: Natalie Portman (Brothers), Diane Krueger (Inglourious Basterds), Marion Cotillard (Nine)

If one of these three are up on the podium, you can almost guarantee Mo’Nique is walking away with an Oscar.

Outside Shot: Sigourney Weaver (Avatar), Leslie Mann (Funny People)

Weaver might end up with a “lifetime achievement” style of nomination and Avatar is the biggest grossing film ever. Judd Apatow’s wife was great in the film and there has been a substantial backlash by people upset with how comedy has been shut out of the Oscars. Her nomination might be the breakthrough.

Best Animated Feature

Up will win. It’s the only guarantee of the night. And speaking of….

The DVD that used to be collecting dust in my library of the Week

This Week’s Film – Up

Pixar has not made a bad movie. Ever. I’m not an animation fan but even a film like Finding Nemo, which I ruthlessly made fun of to my young cousins at the time of release, was still really good. Pixar has the golden touch when it comes to quality in a way no modern studio has ever had. There is no stinker or even average film. Every film they do is good to excellent, no exceptions. It’s an insane streak ever since Toy Story graced screens and every time out that it looks like they might have misfired they come through.

I think it’s because Pixar views every film they do as a story, first, and then figures out how to animate and market it next. When Toy Story came out, CGI was such a new and rare thing that an animated film needed to be perfect (or close to it) to make sure that it didn’t fall flat as a new medium. This was a game-changer and as such Pixar made the best possible film. And they kept doing it, as every film has a great story to go along with terrific animation, et al. I think Pixar knows that their brand is so well-regarded that one bad film could potentially kill it. Not that it would, as children’s films always kill at the box office regardless of their quality, but Pixar views their films like no other studio does. They are a niche, specializing in animation and releasing one film a year, but they play for keeps. But usually they stick with talking dogs and stuff like that; Up fascinated me because it was about an old guy.

The film is at its heart the story of a man (Ed Asner) who wants to fulfill the dream he and his dead wife had to live down in South America. Flying his house via helium balloons, it turns into the adventure of a lifetime. Going into the theatrical release I wasn’t expecting much and was floored by one thing: the film’s opening act.

The first 15 minutes of Up are the best film-making of the past two decades. Using mostly silence, the tale of a lifetime together sets up the film’s tone in a perfect way. This is a man at the end of his life, looking to do one last thing before he dies. The film can’t hold up to this sheer perfection of this opening stanza, but it gets awfully close as it is a film that nearly made its way on to both my Top 10 of 2009 and of the decade.

Highest recommendation possible.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Dear John – Channing Tatum and the blonde chick with the great rack from Mamma Mia! fall in love via letters as he serves in Iraq.

See it – Sometimes a good romance story comes from the unlikeliest of sources and there’s something about this that seems like it might not completely suck.

From Paris with Love – John Travolta saves the world with a wicked goatee.

See it – It’s from the same guy who did Taken, which was one of the more fun cinema experiences of 2009. Make it 2 for 2 as John Travolta gets to be Tequila from Hard Boiled, which is the goal of every aging 1970s star. Next year you’ll see Robert De Niro in Last Train To Clarksville as an aging hitman who comes out of retirement for one last score, using machine guns with both hands at the same time because it looks good.

District 13B: Ultimatum – Two French dudes save the Paris Ghetto with crazy stunts. Again.

See It – The first one was pure “action porn” and this will be more of the same. Which means it’ll be great.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

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