If they HADN'T pushed to ten, I can safely say the nominees probably would have been Avatar, Hurt Locker, Basterds, Up in the Air, and Precious. Pushing to ten may have added The Blind Side (a 200 million cross-country hit about progressive morals. How could they NOT salivate?), but if that's the only gripe out of 10 films, they're doing their job. They nominated District 9, An Education, A Serious Man and Up. A sci-fi genre movie, a small Brit drama, a cerebral and incredibly dark comedy and the 2nd animated film to show up on this list.
So as far as the populist stuff goes, they nominated Avatar, Blind Side, and Up. District 9 is independent but was a big BO success. Basterds was a big global hit and played well in the US, but it's also a very alternative kind of movie. For the more "high brow" crowd, they nominated An Education, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, and Up in the Air. Small movies, incredibly well made and dealing with diverse issues.
My own Top 10 is different, yes, but as far as summarizing the past year - this is pretty damn good as far as the Academy goes. It beats the pants off of last year's grossly mediocre selection. The Oscars should be about the movies that make the most impact, that mean the most either artistically or culturally (and if we're lucky, both).
There weren't too many surprises though. In a good way. The Oscar reactions always turn into a bunch of people griping about what didn't get in. I prefer to look at who DID get in. Of course they weren't going to nominate Moon, or Michael Haneke, or Melanie Laurent. But here's what I'm celebrating:
Avatar gets under 10 nods. Wow. No screenplay, no song, no art direction, no acting nods. In other words - no sign they went crazy for it. Yeah, 9 Oscar nominations is nothing to scoff at, but in terms of pushing it back to the frontrunner, they didn't gain any traction.
Meanwhile, The Hurt Locker ties them at 9 nods. And Inglourious Basterds closes in with 8. Is it just me, or does Tarantino's film look pretty sexy right now? Nods in both the sound categories, cinematography, editing...not too bad. If they had scored costume design and/or art direction, I'd dare say Tarantino would be in a near-lethal position to surge.
A Serious Man getting pic and screenplay nods is great to me. I'm glad they embraced such a challenging movie. Ditto the script nom for In the Loop. Sad Fantastic Mr Fox didn't make the adapted cut, but its beautiful score got recognized. Wouldn't it be great to see Fox steal the Best Animated Feature award?
On top of that, only four nods for Nine, a great two for Imaginarium, a cinematography nom for The White Ribbon, four for District 9 (including screenplay!) AND they actually remembered to nominate the best song this year.
Oh, and if you kept track, the race is technically down to five movies: Avatar, District 9, Hurt Locker, Basterds and Precious. They got the editing noms, and you need that to win.
So every year I kinda like to try and find the "theme" of the race. Thinking about the nominations, I couldn't help but have Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" in my head - mostly because I was so happy about A Serious Man, and that song forms the thematic basis of the film. But I think that's a great theme for all the films - Somebody to Love.
Avatar - love of a culture and a planet.
Blind Side - love of a woman for a lost boy
District 9 - love of a species for their lost world, and a man who gradually understands it
An Education - a young girl thinks she's found somebody to love
The Hurt Locker - a man undone by his love of war
Inglourious Basterds - well...okay. This one's a little hard. Tarantino's love of the movies?
Precious - a movie about a girl looking for someone to love her.
A Serious Man - well, the song's from the movie, and encapsulates its existential quandaries.
Up - an old man just wants the spirit of his love to be with him forever, a little boy needs a father figure
Up in the Air - a lone traveler needs somebody to love to finally land on the ground.
See, it works. It's not "love" so much as "connection" - these movies are about how people or events connect in unexpected ways, for either positive or negative. They're about groups or individuals struggling in their own ways to make sense of a confused world - no matter the period or planet.
Thanks AMPAS, for proving you CAN do what you said you would - bridging from art to broad entertainment in a series of 10 films. Now just don't mess it up with the winners.