2010 Oscar Picks

* = a movie I haven’t seen

Best Picture:

“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9″*
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

“A Serious Man” tells the story of Larry Gopnik, a Jewish professor from the suburbs of Minneapolis in the 1960s who suffers a series of abrupt setbacks in his life: his wife leaves him for his best friend, his brother gets in trouble with the law, the possibility of him getting tenure becomes doubtful, and a failing student threatens him. The movie also follows his son, who is studying for his Bar Mitzvah and developing a taste for marijuana.

It’s directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who made “Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski”, “No Country For Old Men”, “O Brother Where Art Thou”, and about a dozen other great movies. Like their other movies, “A Serious Man” has a dark sense of humor. The “best friend” who steals Gopnik’s wife insists on counseling him through his loss, embracing him whenever they meet. The look on Gopnik’s face during these hugs is funny and pathetic at the same time.

I’ve seen the movie twice. The first time, I realized there were deep themes behind the film, but I couldn’t grasp them. I thought about it a lot, then I saw it again. Then I thought about it again. It’s a complicated movie – one film critic said something like “it’s the kind of movie you get to make after you win an Oscar” (which the Coens got for “No Country for Old Men”). It has things to say about family, manhood, morality, and the pitfalls of life, as well as Jewish culture and the Jewish identity in America.

It doesn’t beat you over the head with an obvious message like “Avatar”, “The Blind Side”, “Precious” and “Up in the Air” (though all those except “The Blind Side” were good movies nonetheless). It’s not boring, though; I enjoyed seeing it a second time and I will probably watch it again. It’s like one of those deep, complicated books that’s entertaining at the same time.

Also – I can’t believe the schmaltzy feel-good race movie “The Blind Side” was nominated, but original, thoughtful movies like “The Messenger”, “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Crazy Heart”, and “The Road” were not.

Best Director:

Kathryn Bigelow – “The Hurt Locker”
James Cameron – “Avatar”
Lee Daniels – “Precious”
Jason Reitman – “Up in the Air”
Quentin Tarantino – “Inglourious Basterds”

“Avatar” may not be perfect, but it’s the most ground-breaking movie in terms of special effects I’ve seen in a long time, and I think most of that is due to Cameron’s direction. Cameron should get credit for being the first director to take full advantage of the 3-D medium, using it to bring me into a different world like no other movie has before.

Best Actor:

Jeff Bridges – “Crazy Heart”
George Clooney – “Up in the Air”
Colin Firth – “A Single Man”*
Morgan Freeman – “Invictus”
Jeremy Renner – “The Hurt Locker”

Bad Blake, the alcoholic country singer played by Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”, is brilliant but immature and consumed with guilt. The character could have been a cliche, but Bridges makes him nuanced and believeable. He created probably the most memorable character I saw in the movies this year.

Best Actress:

Sandra Bullock – “The Blind Side”
Helen Mirren – “The Last Station”*
Carey Mulligan – “An Education”
Gabourey Sidibe – “Precious”
Meryl Streep – “Julie and Julia”*

I watched “An Education” a few nights ago because I thought I should see as many Oscar-nominated movies as I could before I offerred my verdict in this blog post. The trailer for the film didn’t appeal to me much but I was surprised to find that I liked the movie a lot, especially Carey Mulligan’s performance as the intelligent but naive Jenny Miller.

Best Supporting Actor:

Matt Damon – “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson – “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer – “The Last Station”*
Stanley Tucci – “The Lovely Bones”*
Christopher Waltz – “Inglourious Basterds”

I invited my friend to see “The Messenger” with me because he is a big Woody Harrelson fan. I think he expected a comedic Woody Harrelson performance, like in “Kingpin.” There was some of that, like when he woke up hungover and mumbled “I need to call my sponsor.” But Harrelson also gave a great dramatic performance as an alcoholic Gulf War veteran who at first regrets not having seen combat, but changes his mind after getting to know his colleague, an Iraq War veteran who has seen too much of it.

Best Supporting Actress:

Penelope Cruz – “Nine”*
Vera Farmiga – “Up in the Air”
Maggie Gyllenhaal – “Crazy Heart”
Anna Kendrick – “Up in the Air”
Mo’nique – “Precious”

I didn’t know Mo’nique was such a good actress. I thought she was just a vulgar comedian. She played a cruel, miserable mother, but I, unlike the women I saw the movie with, ended up sympathizing with her (a little bit) at the end.

More on Avatar !

 

Heres another take on the movie Avatar. This article now points the finger at director James Cameron for possibly making a racist movie. PEOPLE, GET OVER IT ! So now we supposedly have a racist, liberal environmental movie with anti-military messages.

I come down on the side of Michelle who in this article says “can’t people just enjoy movies any more?”. I went to the Essence website and 47% voted the Avatar was racist with racial undertones that are ingrained in Hollywood and 53% said no Avatar was not racist and is just a movie with fictional characters.

Enough already, it’s a movie !

My Avatar Experience

Having read Uncle Jim’s unfavorable review of Avatar, I’d like to offer my opinion. I liked this movie so much that I can’t stand to see only a negative opinion expressed about it on the blog. I saw it two or three weeks ago, though, so my memories aren’t quite so fresh.

I agree with some of UJ’s criticism. The plot isn’t perfect. Giovanni Ribisi’s character, who is in charge of the operation to take over the Naavi’s planet, is over the top in his greed and cruelty, as are a few other characters on the human side. They are cliches. But then again, this is a future where Earth is ruined and humanity is desperate for new resources, so the harshness of these characters isn’t completely out of place.

The central plot – someone is sent to spy on an enemy culture and ends up sympathizing with it – has been done before in a few movies, such as Dances With Wolves and the Last Samurai. But then again, what plots haven’t been done before in some way? Look at Schindler’s List. Oskar Schindler laughs it up with the Nazis at the beginning of the film and gains the privilege of exploiting Jewish labor for the Reich and his own profit, but he ends up seeing their humanity and helping them. This could also be seen as a variation of the Dances With Wolves idea (which I’m sure existed before Kevin Costner, although I can’t think of an example), but does that take away from the film?

There are plenty of original plot ideas to keep Avatar fresh. One element of the plot I enjoyed was Sam Worthington’s character’s paralysis. You feel sorry for him when you see his sadness and his atrophied legs. When he first inhabits his avatar and walks for the first time in years, he is overjoyed, running around despite the orders of the doctors around him. Thanks in part to the 3D technology, you feel his exhilaration.

Then there is Pandora, the world of the Naavi. I’ve never felt as immersed in a movie’s world before – once again, thanks in part to the 3D. The plants and animals were great, but what really made Pandora interesting was the culture of the Naavi (and, you learn, all of Pandora’s creatures). Life on Pandora is fundamentally different from life on Earth, but also works as a metaphor for our world. These ideas were enough to make the plot interesting for me.

Then there’s the special effects, of course. I don’t have to say much about them because Uncle Jim agrees they are spectacular. “Spectacular” isn’t a good enough word, though. Avatar’s best special effects sequences were awesome in the original sense of the word. I was in awe for only the second time I can remember in all my years of watching movies. The first time was watching Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace in theaters in 1999, when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn dive into the lake you see the magnificent underwater bubble city far in the distance. Those are the only times I can remember seeing special effects that made me widen my eyes and say “oh my God.” Otherwise, the deepest reaction special effects have provoked for me is “that’s cool.”

The thing is, the scene in Episode I was about thirty seconds long. Watching Avatar, I felt like that for maybe an hour or more.

Another thing I loved about seeing Avatar was feeling the audience’s energy. The theater was full, and it seemed like everyone was loving the movie as much as I was. Everyone seemed to love Pandora, the Naavi, the special effects, etc. It felt like we were all immersed in the story and its world. When the movie ended, there was applause. The only other time I recall feeling so much energy in a theater was during the Star Wars prequels, but sadly for those films it seemed to fade pretty quickly.

I wish I had seats as good as UJ’s. I sat in the third or fourth row, towards the far right side of the theater, but I forgot about our bad seats pretty fast. That’s how much I enjoyed Avatar.

Feeling Pretty Blue

What you say …. Jimmi, Webby, UJ feeling a little bit depressed because of the winter weather ? Not at all, I’m talking about the new James Cameron movie Avatar. My good friends Todd and Keli were kind enough to allow me to attend the movie with them last week and I’ll not keep you in suspense, we were all disappointed !

Because of all the hype I got to the movie theater early to purchase our tickets and insure we would have a seat. I got to the ticket counter and was told I needed to shell out $12 dollars per person which included our ticket and one pair of 3D glasses. While I sat on the bench waiting for Todd and Keli to arrive, long lines started to form and I have to admit I enjoyed watching the younger kids leave the counter with a firm grasp of their 3D glasses.

When they arrived Keli went straight to the concession stand and had to plunk down a large sum of cash for an average size drink and regular sized popcorn. We were lucky enough to get three seats in the back row and thank goodness for that. I can’t imagine having to watch that movie in the front row in 3D, but when the movie ended and the lights came on there was not an empty seat to be had.

Now to the movie, not to give the plot away, but the other night we were talking about how much Avatar reminded us of a science fiction version of Dances with Wolves. Not to my surprise I found an article on the internet where someone agreed with our thinking. The writer also mentioned he thought the movie was very similar to The Last Samurai and District 9, neither of which I have seen.

I have to admit the 3D was the best I have seen in my lifetime, you really felt like you were in the film and the special effects were simply amazing, but the disappointing thing about the movie was the story line ….. there simply wasn’t anything to it and what there was as I said earlier was similar to what we have seen before. Are film makers running out of ideas for films ?

The other thing I found interesting is the idea that some how this film is anti-American. This person thought the movie was anti-American and says the following “though the vast majority of cinema goers will simply see the movie as popcorn entertainment, Avatar is at its heart a cynical and deeply unpatriotic propaganda piece aimed squarely against American global power and the projections of U S economic and military might across the world”. Look, it’s just entertainment ! Can’t we do, or see, or say anything anymore and not have someone say it’s anti-American ? I’m fed up to my ears with it. 

Okay so now that I got that off my chest, overall I give the movie a 5 out of 10. Let me know your thoughts and opinions if you get a chance to see Avatar.