Before the Academy Awards tonight, a list of what I'm rooting for in my favorite categories...
Rooting for: The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds. These two war movies are like polar opposites, and I love them both, for different reasons. Basterds is messier, but I tend to like slightly messy movies with great dialogue and a lot of weird, memorable characters. It's heartening to know that such a nutty, auteurist movie can still be produced in this country, and find such success. But The Hurt Locker is also a wonderful achievement: it's full of suspenseful action sequences, yet it feels so real, told with utter fidelity to the characters and to the situation in Iraq. I guess Hurt Locker probably deserves the Oscar more, even if personally I have more affection for Basterds... does that make sense?
If Avatar wins... Eh, I don't want it to win, but I'm not going to get pissed off if it does. It would make it the the second year in a row that Best Picture goes to a movie that has very compelling visuals/direction/editing but an undistinguished plot, screenplay, and acting. Actually, it was almost more annoying last year, because Slumdog Millionaire won awards for its writing, and I didn't think it deserved them. At least everyone acknowledges that Avatar has a terrible screenplay! And at least I can get behind the message of Avatar (imperialist-capitalism is bad) more than that of Slumdog Millionaire (everything is predestined).
Thoughts on the other nominees: Up is a wonderful piece of Pixar, probably my third favorite among the nominees. An Education was a delightful dramedy except for its last 10 minutes, which were a bit weak; Up in the Air was marred by a kind of inconsistent tone and confusion about what type of movie it wanted to be--it had some great scenes, but didn't work as a whole.
I have not seen Precious, District 9, The Blind Side, or A Serious Man.
Should've been nominated: Fantastic Mr. Fox--half the length of Avatar and twice as delightful; Bright Star, a gorgeous mood piece that makes you want to fall in love and commune with nature on Earth, not on a computer-generated jungle moon.
Rooting for: Kathryn Bigelow. And not just because I like the whole "she'll be the first woman to win, and she'll defeat her ex-husband" thing. Parts of The Hurt Locker had me literally biting my knuckles in suspense, and I can't remember the last time I did that in a movie theater. And she guided her actors to rich and believable characterizations.
The "biting my knuckles" thing is also the reason I'm rooting for Hurt Locker to win Best Editing--Avatar didn't get me so worked up!
Best Original Screenplay
Rooting for: Quentin Tarantino. I love his dialogue, I love what he does with it, I love how much faith he has in the ability of dialogue to carry a scene. Speaking of people who do amazing things with dialogue, I'd have loved to see Tony Gilroy get more attention for Duplicity.
Best Adapted Screenplay
I have seen only An Education and Up in the Air. Despite its flaws, An Education would be my pick: compared to Up in the Air, it has more believable characters (including a lot of very well-written female roles) and more consistent tone/point of view.
Rooting for: Bright Star. The costumes are a major plot point because the heroine, Fanny, is the 1820s equivalent of a fashionista, who finds fulfillment in designing and sewing her wardrobe. They are not just "pretty dresses," they help to tell the story. Also, I noticed that in one scene, Fanny's little sister wears a dress made from the same fabric that Fanny wears in another scene. This is a brilliant touch because it's attuned to the economic realities of an era when people made their own clothes. But I can't recall seeing this in any other movie. Bravo!
Best Supporting Actress
I haven't seen the performance that's going to win (Mo'Nique in Precious), but I do think that the nominations could be improved upon. Anna Kendrick's crying scene in Up in the Air rang totally false to me, so let's take her out and replace her with Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds, who does a great job switching between the two sides of her character (from charming and glamorous movie star to brave and tough-minded secret agent). And I wish that, of the Nine ladies, Marion Cotillard had been nominated instead of Penélope Cruz; while Cruz was fun, Cotillard was the heart and soul of the movie.
Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz is the only one of these I've seen; he was great, he's going to win, good for him, ja wohl! (I'm not even very interested in seeing any of the other supporting actor nominees; is this a weak year for this category? Or are they just in movies that don't appeal to me?)
The only one of the nominated performances I've seen is Carey Mulligan's, so I am not qualified to pontificate on this category or the big "will it be Meryl or Sandra" thing. I do think Abbie Cornish should've gotten more attention for her performance in Bright Star (and Anna Kendrick should watch it to learn the right way to do a crying scene!).
Of the nominees, I have seen George Clooney and Jeremy Renner. Which is really like comparing apples to oranges, considering how different their roles/movies/personas are! (charismatic leading man in a slick dramedy vs. indie-film actor in a gritty war film.) And they both excel at what they do, though it seems like Renner's job is more difficult... anyway, enough of this blather, since neither of them are going to win.
Best Animated Film
Rooting for: Ooh, I'm conflicted now. I loved Fantastic Mr. Fox when I saw it in the cinema last November, but I watched my roommate's DVD of Up last night, and was won over, and now I can't decide which would be a more deserving winner. I think I'm going to stick with cheering for Mr. Fox, just because I don't think it deserved to flop the way it did--if it's as good as Up, it should be an Up-sized hit! I think I'd give Best Score to Up, though, for what it's worth.