Pop Theology’s Oscar Conversation

Like Punxsutawney Phil, Ernest Myers usually makes an appearance at Pop Theology around this time of year.  This year, Ernest and I have a quick conversation about the Oscar nominations announced yesterday, what we think should win, what we think will win, and what we didn’t see.  EM: I think Avatar is clearly winning this. If it was only five nominations, The Hurt Locker would have a better chance (and I think it wins Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow), but I fear many of it’s potential votes (from the, for lack of a better word, “serious” film goers) will be siphoned away from Inglorious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, An Education and a still significant Up in the Air contingent.

Avatar is hurt a little by the inclusion of The Blind Side and Up as those are the films most likely to be seen and liked by the more casual voter and the voters impressed by box office numbers. District 9 doesn’t hurt Avatar too much as people voting for Avatar will be to reward the technological achievements and all the cash it’s made and not it’s sci-fi elements.

Personally I’d probably vote for A Serious Man. If only because it would remind me of my vote for Nader in 2000.

RP: Thanks for your thoughts on this category Ernest and giving at least one angle of insight into what might play out in the voting process. I think you make a strong case for Avatar winning this one. However, I feel like the Academy voters might not be as obsessed with the tinsel and lights that blinded the Hollywood Foreign Press two weekends ago. I’m thinking it might swing to the Up In the Air contingent that you mentioned. While I enjoyed this film, I still don’t think it’s the best. As I mentioned to you before, I think it’s hands down Inglorious Basterds, which won’t win this one, but might take home a couple others (more later). Again, I just think the ballooning of this category is just ridiculous. Of the ten, I have yet to see three (The Blind Side, An Education, and Precious), but from what I know of them and the little I know about the voters, I doubt they’ll seriously contend.

I’ll jump to perhaps the easiest category this year, best supporting actor. This is Christoph Waltz with everyone else light years behind. I re-watched Inglorious Basterds again last night and his performance just gets more and more entertaining and impressive. His next to last scene at the negotiating table as he moves from incredulity to excitement to…well…a scheming basterd is brilliant. The other nominees aren’t really worth mentioning!

Your thoughts and this category and where the conversation goes next.

EM: Agreed on Waltz. His performance is the only thing that everyone who has seen that movie seems to agree upon. I don’t know if any of the other nominees are worth mentioning because, to be quite honest, I haven’t seen any of them and nothing I have seen or heard has really compelled me to check them out. Though I thought Woody Harrelson was quite good in Zombieland.

Out of the Best Pictures nominees, I haven’t seen two (Precious and The Blind Side) so it’s going to be hard for me to talk with any sort of insight into the two front runners in the actress categories. Of the remaining Supporting Actress nominees, I would discount Maggie Gyllenhaal who I thought was nice but not overly impressive in Crazy Heart (sort of like the movie as a whole). It’s hard to pick from the Up In The Air ladies because they both executed their roles so well. I probably give my vote to Vera Farmiga, through no fault of Anna Kendrick, who is superb, but Farmiga’s character, as written, I think is a trickier, more complex role to undertake. I’d be hard pressed to think of any actress who could of come in and matched how well she went toe-to-toe, or laptop-to-laptop (hey-o!), with Clooney.

RP: I have only seen one of the films in the Best Actress category (though I hope to see more of them before March 7th) so I’ll be brief here as well. The one performance I did see was Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia. Unfortunately, I felt about her performance there about the same as you did with Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart. If I was a betting man (and I know you are), it’ll probably be between Streep and Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side.

So Supporting Actress? I haven’t seen Precious, but it seems like I need to. Again, I agree with you on Gyllenhaal, though not necessarily on Crazy Heart. Kendrick annoyed me, which, come to think of it, might be part of the reason she was nominated. I just think Vera Farmiga is gorgeous (although is that a quality that voters consider?) and gave a great performance which, in large part, was thanks to a well-written character. It almost seems like all she had to do was not screw it up. In the end, I might have to side with Penelope Cruz in Nine although I really didn’t care for that performance. True, Cruz has won an Academy Award for playing a similar role, but there’s good reason for it. She’s damn good at what she does…and beautiful to boot.

On to Best Actor. Aside from Jeff Bridges, no one in this category blows me away. They all strike me as too safe. I thought Bridges was completely believable as Bad Blake whereas I thought George Clooney was simply banking on Clooney. The disappointment here for me, and I think you might agree, is that Michael Stuhlbarg didn’t get included in this list for his performance in A Serious Man.

Your thoughts and the next category.

EM: Only additional thought on Best Actress: Carey Mulligan was quite good in An Education as were all the actors in the cast, though ultimately I found the movie underwhelming. Not much more than a cautionary tale to show teenage daughters if they start becoming uninterested in their studies.

Best Actor: I can’t quite agree on your dismissal of “Clooney banking on Clooney” but praising Bridges when from what I can tell about the man, his performance is just as much Bridges banking on Bridges. Not that there is anything wrong with either one. There are a lot of similarities in the performances, both playing slightly stripped down versions of their personas whose best years seem to be behind them. Clooney the charmer and Bridges the “Dude”. While I’d probably vote for Bridges, I think it’s a very close call. Free of some of the more gimmicky roles he’s had in his recent Soderberg and Coen collaborations, this might be the best performance of Clooney’s career. Danny Ocean who doesn’t have it quite all together, a guy who coasted on his smooth talking likability but never stuck around to see the consequences and now is faced with both professional and personal changes that makes him reevaluate everything about how he lives his life. In the unlikely event that Clooney beats Bridges, no great injustice will have been done.

I don’t think there is much in the major categories to go on about except possible Animated Feature (Fantastic Mr. Fox > Up) and Screenplays (Basterds and Up In The Air) so maybe we should end with some alternative nominations:

Best Supporting Actress: Diane Kruger Inglorious Basterds – the tavern scene, man…the tavern scene.

Best Supporting Actor: Bill Murray Zombieland – C’mon!  He got robbed for Rushmore over ten years ago. I’m still bitter.

Best Actress: Alison Lohman Drag Me to Hell – one of my favorite popcorn films (and performances) last year.

Best Actor: Michael Sheen The Damned United – another astonishingly accurate historical impersonation by Sheen, this time playing the infamous British football (soccer) manager, Brian Clough. But more than just mimicry, Sheen gives a great portrayal of a man a little too confident of his genius for his own good.

Best Picture: Where the Wild Things Are – probably the most polarizing film that everyone seems to have now forgotten. It wasn’t the best movie I saw last year but it certainly affected me the most and I’m fairly confident that the film’s reputation will only grow over time.

RP: Way to call me out on my Bridges/Clooney take!  I liked Fantastic Mr. Fox more than I did, and I think, given its old-school animation, it deserves consideration over Up, if we are indeed talking Animated Feature category here, but Up has a better story.  I’ll go with Basterds for Screenplay.  I also think Crazy Heart should be up for Cinematography (that probably has more to do with attraction to Ford films than anything else) as well.

As far as other should-have-been’s are concerned, the only other additions or changes I’d make to yours are Cazy Heart for Best Picture along with The Young Victoria (how did that miss!) and Stuhlbarg and Sharlto Copley for Best Actor.  Nothing in either actress category really jumps out at me.

Let’s check back on Oscar night to see how we did.