Thursday, August 13, 2009

Credits and Debits

The topic at hand continues to be "The Hurt Locker" and its chances of winning Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards next February.

I've been thinking about the movie's advantages (credits) and disadvantages (debits) in that regard. Here's the breakdown as I see it:


Critical Acclaim - not only does Roger Ebert call "The Hurt Locker" a leading contender for Academy Awards, critical reaction has been generally very positive across the board. I haven't seen any critical drubbings or pans; there may have been a few reviews that aren't as gushing as others, like The New Yorker's, but The New Yorker is too fucking proper to gush. That magazine has never met a movie, book, or even painting that it couldn't damn with faint praise.

Awards so far - there have been a few smaller awards and award noms; I don't have the complete list, but anytime a movie has any sort of awards resume prior to the main event, it can't help but be a plus in my opinion.

The director - Kathryn Bigelow has primarily been known as an action-oriented cultish director for much of her career. As much as I loved "Point Break" and "Near Dark," Oscar material they ain't. But neither was much of Danny Boyle's filmography until last year, and look at him now: entitled to put "Academy Award winner" before his name for evermore.

Also, the Academy does love to appear progressive at times, and now that the ranks of African American actor winners has grown significantly in recent years (once appallingly low, the total is now merely pathetic), isn't it high time a woman director was at least nominated again? The critical applause for this movie means the Academy won't have any need to justify a nomination for her; and, of course, a directing nod would seem to increase the chances for at least a shot at the big prize.

Subject matter - Best Picture nominees and winners are usually on the heavier side. A lighter-hearted picture might make the list, but it's usually a token nomination to acknowledge popularity and appear hip. A lot of people are slobbering about "(500) Days of Summer" right now, but does that stand a snowball's chance at a Best Picture? No. Nobody really thought "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Juno" were gonna win, did they?

Also, the fact that a more lighthearted picture like "Slumdog Millionaire" (yeah, I know it was about life in the slums, but it was a musical love story at heart) won last year all but guarantees that this year's winner is probably gonna trend a bit darker.

Timeliness - now that the page has officially been turned on the Bush era, maybe America is ready for a Best Picture that takes place in Iraq. M-m-m-maybe. We had to be at least a few years out of Vietnam before people could watch "The Deer Hunter," "Apocalypse Now," and "Platoon." Of course, we're not out of Iraq yet, but you also hardly hear about it anymore. And "The Deer Hunter" (undeservedly) won Best Picture; so did "Platoon" in '86; "Apocalypse Now" probably didn't because of the craziness attending its creation and also because Francis Ford Coppola already had two Best Pictures to his name. But it could have. The ending's a mess and it's too long-winded at times, but there are plenty of Best Picture winners that have committed worse sins. And "The Hurt Locker" is neither as hallucinogenic as "Apocalypse," as ponderous and self-important as "The Deer Hunter," or as downright sermonistic as "Platoon."

Number of nominees - and finally, there's the far-from-insignificant fact that the Academy increased the number of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 this year. The front half of '09 hasn't exactly been loaded with cinematic achievement; "Up" got a ton of great reviews and people loved it (I didn't see it), but it's still a cartoon and there's a separate category for that. Critics really seemed to dig the new "Star Trek," and it was fun and cool and cool to see a "Star Trek" that didn't suck, but Good Lord, we're not ready for a world where a "Star Trek" movie can be the Best Picture of the Year. I mean, the first non-white President and a "Star Trek" Best Picture in roughly the same year is probably too much change for America to handle.

Will there be ten better films with more positive critical reaction released between now and the end of December? Of course, it's hard to say.

There's not really that much on the radar* - I'm sure December will bring the usual slew of calculated-for-prestige star turns, but all I really know about is Scorsese's "Shutter Island," but Scorsese already won, it's a glorified B movie, and the book sucked. I don't know what Clint Eastwood is doing, so there's always that threat -- the guy works so damn fast in his bland-but-loveable way that he could probably start from nothing and get a nominee in the can by Christmas. But Eastwood also has two awards now and a number of nominations; the fact that "Gran Torino" didn't make much of an awards splash last year means that maybe the Academy is saying enough's enough and he should just retire already.

I was originally intending to do all of the pluses and minuses in one post, but I'm getting too into it and I should be working. So I'm gonna break this into two parts. Part two coming soon...

* and I totally forgot about "The Lovely Bones" when I first wrote this. Dammit! That's gotta be the 500-lb gorilla in the Best Picture conversation at this point.

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