Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s self-proclaimed masterpiece follows a covert military operative team that specializes in one thing and one thing only – killin’ Nat-sees.   It’s a brutal, intelligent and often hilarious beast of a movie that combines elements of exploitation to tell history as we all wish it would have happened, because we’re all vindictive animals that like to see tyrants get their faces splattered.

Why it Could Win: Tarantino is familiar to the Academy and from top to bottom, beginning to end there is no better constructed piece of film amongst this year’s contenders.  There are truly unforgettable sequences that come in the form of dialogue exchanges to shootouts, unforgettable characters that range from revenge-driven theater owners to sadistic Jew-hunting masterminds, unforgettable images that display a frightened family of Jewish farmers hiding under a kitchen floor and the face of a woman laughing maniacally being projected against a screen of smoke; and then Lieutenant Aldo Rains who is probably the most crowd-pleasing character of the year.

Why it Would Not Win: It might be considered too playful and gratuitously violent to be taken seriously enough to win, despite its technical prowess and well-structured story.  It’s most likely to make its splash in the Supporting Actor category and Original Screenplay.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire


The feature film debut of star Gabourey Sidibe and sophomore effort from director Lee Daniels is about a poor, morbidly obese, pregnant, uneducated sixteen year-old incest rape victim and mother of a child with down-syndrome trying to survive in the economically challenged neighborhoods of Manhattan; and against the daily physical, mental, and sexual abuse provided by her Mother (played powerfully by the probable best supporting actress winner Mo’Nique).

Why It Could Win: It’s not an easily forgettable movie and has more than a few powerful and emotional moments that may stick in the minds of voters regardless of how long it’s been since they’ve seen the movie.  Mo’Nique’s performance alone elevates the movie from falling into a state of unforgettability and like Crash (a prior Best Picture winner) it focuses on social issues that voters would consider daring.  The Academy may also be partial to a movie about the suffering of black people as long as it’s made by a black person.

Why it Would not Win: Elements of the movie feel sophomoric and it’s mainly the heavy content and lead performances of Sidibe and Mo’Nique that earned this nomination.  As a film it’s a really good ‘heavy’ movie, but possibly not substantial enough to match the heavy material.

A Serious Man


Joel and Ethan Coen tackle the complexities of meaning and answers to suffering, in both life and Judaism, in this darkly-humorous tale of a Jewish Math Professor who experiences what may be the absolute worst series of misfortunes in the history of human life on this planet for someone not named ‘Precious’.

Why It Could Win: it has a similar vibe to prior award winner American Beauty despite not sharing any content relation, not to mention that the Coens have reached the podium before.  Despite being a depressively sad oddity it’s also consistently humorous.  The Academy is also partial to films about the suffering of Jewish people as long as it’s made by Jewish people.

Why It Would Not Win: It’s way too much of a depressively sad oddity for a voter to want to consider it the year’s best movie – and I know the final two minutes must have left a lot of confused flavors on the mouths of many viewers.  It’s just too obscure to conceive it winning.

Up


Only the second animated feature in film history to receive a Best Picture nomination – the Pixar team adds another grand adventure masterpiece to what is becoming one of the most impressive libraries of films in the medium.  Carl Fredricksen is a retired elderly man trying to live his last days in solace in the home occupied by he and his deceased wife Ellie – the one and only true love of his life since childhood.  When his home is threatened by a local landowner looking to expand on the marketability of the neighborhood Carl decides to relocate — the entire home — by attaching hundreds of thousands of air balloons to it and lifting it off to embark on the journey he and Ellie had always dreamed of.

Why It Could Win: The first ten to fifteen minutes of Up is indubitably the greatest storytelling achievement of the year; and maybe any year.  In a dialogue-less montage we cover more than fifty years of an unconditionally loving relationship between what we can only imagine is the sweetest couple in the history of humanity, only to see it reach its devastatingly heartbreaking end. And it is devastating. Following the opening the film scores huge laughs during Carl’s adventures with Russell (the poor cub scout mistakenly taken along for the ride) in the exotic locales with talking dogs and huge dodo birds, but that opening sequence is something that lingers and hits home like nothing else.

Why it Would Not Win: It doesn’t star actual people.  One could also make the case that beyond the opening sequence the film doesn’t do much more than other Pixar films have done before, and some believe may have been done better by previous Pixar pictures.  That being said, I’d hate to be the one to tell Carl Fredricksen that his life story and grand adventure wasn’t good enough to beat a bunch of tall blue people.

Up in the Air

George Clooney stars in Jason Reitman’s third film (and already second Best Picture nominee) as Ryan Bingham, a professional in the field of firing people from their jobs.  Bingham is a field operative for a company hired by executives of other companies who are too passive to lay off employees themselves.  Bingham is flown on site to deliver the bad news to each individual person and give his best “it’s an opportunity” spiel before moving on to the next job.  When the integrity of the face-to-face confrontation is threatened by the ingenuity of a wunderkind (Anna Kendrick) Bingham is forced to fly around the country with her in order to both test her more cost-effective idea to laying people off and prove why it will fail.

Why It Could Win: George Clooney is one of the most beloved figures in Hollywood, Up in the Air focuses on subject matter that is most relevant and sensitive to modern American audiences, and it sticks its landing of balancing the seriousness of the unemployment issue with the frequent light-hearted laugh.  George Clooney’s smile alone gives it an automatic five vote padding.

Why It Would Not Win: It may be too slight of a film to compete with the hard-hitting gut punches of contenders like The Hurt Locker, and even though it fared well at the box-office it didn’t make the kind of humongous splash to make an impression on voters.  Though, these are probably the exact same comments someone would have made in 1999 when Shakespeare In Love took home the prize over Saving Private Ryan.

Final Prediction

What Will Win: Probably The Hurt Locker.  It can conceivably remain the most talked about movie of 2009 long after the effects-driven Avatar loses its appeal for future generations.

What Should Win: Again, probably The Hurt Locker, but Inglourious Basterds or An Education winning would also make me happy.

In other news, the last seventy-five percent of this write-up was typed with my toes.


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