Across the Stage

Our Critic Handicaps the 2010 Oscar Race

You can practically hear Academy Award producers shouting, after the fact, “Whose idea was this?” about changes in the ceremony that are doomed to be

criticized. Following Hugh Jackman’s stellar performance hosting last year’s Oscars, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin have been chosen to dispel the adage that “less is more.” The most glaring change in the program is the addition of five Best Picture nominees, for a total of 10, in an attempt to broaden the show’s mainstream appeal.

For a notoriously overlong awards show, you might imagine that a little sacrifice would be in order. Deleting the widely reviled song-and-dance numbers seems like a no-brainer. But no such trade-off is in store. Prepare yourself for a very, very

long program.

Academy President Sid Ganis defends the switch as a “return to the past”—by which he means back to the Depression era, when Americans camped out in movie theaters for a warm place to sleep. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea in that light, but the real impetus seems to come from last year’s exclusion of The Dark Knight, a movie that fanboys got their panties in a twist over its exclusion from the nominations. Such obvious pandering to a 14-year-old boy’s mentality might get a pass if the adjustment weren’t an 100 percent increase. Why not add one new slot, and see how that goes before turning the category into a marathon?

Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, and Up in the Air are the 10 films nominated for Best Picture. Although no one in Hollywood will admit it, I argue that District 9 gains the most advantage from the modification because it’s better than Avatar.

But the Oscars are about politics, and that frequently comes down to whose turn it is to finally receive the heavy little statue and precious seconds of career-invigorating limelight. For example, seven years of war has put a past-due stamp on the Academy to shine a light in the direction of the battlefield. For that reason—coupled with the fact that no woman has ever received an Oscar for Best Director—Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a heavy shoe-in for both Best Picture and a Best Director honors. Inglourious Basterds is a better movie, but we’re not talking about what should win a statue, only what the Academy is most likely to do.

Jeff Bridges is long behind schedule for an Oscar win. His mesmerizing performance in Crazy Heart means that he’s due for an “it’s time” Best Actor win.

Of the five women in the Best Actress category (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Helen Mirren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious; and Meryl Streep, Julia & Julia), the deck is heavily stacked in Carey Mulligan’s favor in the Academy’s “kid with a future” way of thinking. With a record 16 nominations, and two Oscars under her belt, Streep has already won plenty. Bullock’s performance in The Blind Side is strong, but she takes a hit for two crappy films that preceded it (The Proposal and All About Steve). The Last Station wasn’t a solid enough movie to lock in Mirren, and Sidibe’s muted character in Precious didn’t allow her to express enough range.

Christoph Waltz blew the roof off cinemas with his gleefully diabolical performance in Inglourious Basterds. That kind of virtuosity is money in the bank for a Best Supporting Actor win.

The Best Supporting Actress category is tough, but I’d put my money on Maggie Gyllenhaal for her terrific work in Crazy Heart. Over the course of her nearly 20-year career, she’s proven that she consistently creates complex characters and makes very smart choices about the roles she chooses. However, Mo’Nique could take the prize for her fearless performance in Precious.

Up has it sewn up for Best Animated Feature Film.

Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet should narrowly edge out Michael Haneke’s impressive The White Ribbon in the Best Foreign Film category.

Crazy Heart’s “The Weary Kind” will get the trophy for Best Original Song.

Original Screenplay is a toss-up between Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) and Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds).

Jason Reitman (Up In the Air) will pick up a consolation Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

James Cameron will lock up Best Cinematography and Best Editing awards for Avatar—if enough years have passed for Academy members to have forgotten his ridiculous “I’m the king of the world” proclamation for his Titanic win. In a perfect world, statues would rightfully go to Inglourious Basterds for Best Editing and to The White Ribbon for Best Cinematography. But the Oscars are far from a perfect world.

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