Academy Awards: What Our Critics Said About This Year's Best Picture Nominees

Categories: Culture
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The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and unlike last year's fantastic Mickey Rourke resurgence, there's no strong local hook in this year's horse race. But this here alt-weekly devotes an entire section to movies, and naturally our critics had something to say about each film. 

Avatar
Take one part Smurfs, one part Fern Gully, one part Dances With Wolves and whip it into a fine blue frosting. Then spread it on a cake made completely of left-over parts from a Universal Studios attraction and you've got Avatar. It looks pretty as hell, tastes great, but it's kind of empty calories. 

What Our Critic Said: "The muscular visuals can only trump the movie's camp dialogue and corny conception up to a point."

Will It Win?: Expect it to sweep the technical categories, duh, but we've got a feeling voters might decide the billions of dollars in box office returns to be reward enough for the film, and give the gold to a less gimmicky flick.

The Blind Side 
Based on the true story of the Baltimore Ravens' Michael Oher, it's basically the second-best movie about college football this year, after Rakontor's The U. But while some subjects in the Hurricanes documentary almost took glee in how they shocked "White America," The Blind Side, which features Sandra Bullock as a fiesty housewife who adopts Oher, has been criticized for playing directly into the sensibilities of "White America."

What Our Critic Said: "Blind Side the movie peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of African-Americans who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them."

Will It Win?: It's probably the clumsiest movie to be nominated for the award since Crash -- which, uh, somehow won. In a year of few strong performanes by Hollywood's leading ladies, The Blind Side might get Bullock an acting award in the same year she released All About Steve, but it's unlikely to take home the award for best picture.

District 9
Their are really two movies nominated this year that are weird allegories using aliens. Except District 9 cost a fraction of the price of Avatar. It can't compete on the visual spectacle level, but the story line is better.

What Our Critic Said: "Even in the movie's most conventional stretches, [director Neill] Blomkamp puts things across with terrific verve, using action and computer effects to enhance rather than trump story and character."

Will It Win?: Nope. 

An Education
One of those movies no one but film critics and buffs has actually seen, An Education is about a 16-year-old girl in '60s England who puts off her dream of attending Oxford to take up with a much older man. 

What Our Critic Said: "Undeniably designed for mass consumption, An Education elides some potentially awkward bits of business (Jenny and David's consummation happens offscreen) and uses the forgiving prisms of time and memory to soften a few of its blows. But Barber's elemental tough-mindedness and lack of sentimentality remain constants, as does Mulligan's enchanting central performance."

Will It Win?: Critics really, really love it, but not as much as they love other nominees, and it hasn't exactly taken off in American theaters. Plus, do they really want to crown a movie about an underaged girl's relationship with an older man in the same year the Roman Polanski scandal returned to the spotlight? 

The Hurt Locker
Here's another movie few people have seen but one they definitely should. Audiences have largely stayed away from films about the Iraq War. This thoughtful, low-budget action flick follows a bomb squad in post-invastion Iraq.  

What Our Critic Said: "The Hurt Locker is a full-throttle body shock of a movie. It gets inside you like a virus, puts your nerves in a blender, and twists your guts into a Gordian knot." 

P.S.: It topped our list of Best Movies of 2009

Will It Win?: Critics and audiences love it so, so, so much, and if there's a film that can overcome its realtively low grosses to take home the gold, it's this one. And it's the only movie that has also been nominated for directing, acting, writing, and editing. 

Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino's wild re-imagining of World War II dreams the power of film -- both figuratively and literally (AKA its explosive properties) -- could have foiled Hitler's plans. 

What Our Critic Said: "Inglourious Basterds might still be a tad long at two and a half hours and a little too pleased with itself, but it's tough to resist the enthusiastic performances and terrific dialogue -- if you're not put off by the juvenile premise or cartoonish savagery."

Will It Win?: We'd like to think the academy yearns to give the big prize, someday, to Tarantino, one of the most unique and audience-pleasing voices in American film to emerge in the past few decades, but this might not be the film to do it. 

Precious
Centering on an obese, abused, pregnant teen, it's decidedly not a feel-good movie. But it has saved Mariah Carey's film career, garnered serious Oscar buzz for the star of Phat Girls, and coined the term fluorescent beige

What Our Critic Said: "Yet even when the movie is at its most schizoid, Precious still packs a wallop. What Daniels lacks as a craftsman, he makes up for in his willingness to put the lives of abused and defeated black women on the screen with brute-force candor and a lack of sentimentality."

Will It Win?: There's a chance, but we'd be almost as surprised if it does as we'd be if Mo'nique doesn't win for her performance. 

A Serious Man
If Miami's Jewish community was as fiesty about this sort of thing as the Cubans, there'd be a protest going on right now somewhere in North Miami Beach. The Coen Brothers' small film attracted claims of antisemitism but was well liked by those who didn't read it that way. 

What Our Critic Said: "The Yiddish shtetl shtick that opens Joel and Ethan Coen's new movie -- a Jewish peasant stumbles on an old Hasid who may or may not be a Dybbuk -- is pretty clumsy, but at least it tips its hat to the great existential comedy that A Serious Man might have become if it wasn't buried beneath an avalanche of Ugly Jew iconography."

Will It Win?: Nope

Up
Pixar's latest heart warmer is a great film in its own right, but consider this the Academy's "I'm sorry" card for snubbing Wall-E last year. 

What Our Critic Said: "The emotional punch of Up's first few minutes, when it presents the most heartfelt -- the most sincere -- love story in recent memory: the love between a boy and a girl, who become a man and a woman, who become a husband and a wife, who become a widower and a memory that haunts the rest of what follows. The first ten minutes of Up are flawless; the final 80 minutes, close enough."

Will It Win?: Nope. 

Up in the Air
George Clooney stars as an emotionally stunted frequent flyer and nabs Miami its strongest connection to a movie -- scenes were filmed here. 

What Our Critic Said: "Nothing enormous happens in Up in the Air -- no great tragedy, no big melodrama. Just the average pain suffered by mortals who, whether in the sky or on land, are looking for firmer ground."

Will It Win?: When voting is tallied, the film will probably end up in the top three, but we're not sure it'll take home a trophy.

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