Oscar nominations were revealed today, and with the expanded field of ten Best Picture candidates, there's a pretty interesting group, ranging from the artsy (An Education) and the politically relevant (The Hurt Locker) to action flicks (Avatar, District 9) and feel-good schmaltz (The Blind Side).
However, what fun are the Oscars without criticizing the Academy's choices? While the expanded Best Picture field might have ensured everyone's favorite movie got a nod (well, almost everybody's - sorry Star Trek fans!), there are still some crucial roles overlooked in the other categories. Below, a brief summary of who I feel should have made the list
1) Matt Damon for Best Actor in The Informant!
Why is the Academy so quick to recognize the hams in overwrought melodramatic tearjerkers, and so slow to acknowledge that it takes just as much skill to play a role for laughs? In The Informant!, Matt Damon is Mark Whitacre, a chubby, bumbling white-collar worker, and he plays it so well that the audience forgets this is the same man who played super-soldier Jason Bourne. Damon's portrayal of Whitacre will simultaneously have you howling with laughter, wanting to punch him in his mustached face, and even feeling a little bad for the guy.
2) Michael Stuhlbarg for Best Actor in A Serious Man
In A Serious Man, Stuhlbarg plays unlucky professor Larry Gopnik with the perfect touch of naive confusion and existential frustration. He spends the entire time reacting to things going on around him, but rarely has a film contained such a passive character who still manages to dominate the screen. His role is simultaneously restrained and over-the-top, which is very difficult to pull off. Black comedy is a tough genre, but Stuhlbarg toes the line between comic and tragic perfectly.
3) Alfred Molina for Best Supporting Actor in An Education
Molina plays Jack Miller, a plump working-class parent in 1960s Britain who wants only the best for his daughter. At the beginning of the movie, the audience suspects it's going to be a standard "mean domineering father" role, but by the end, Molina has created a far more complex character - a man who is simply confused as to how to raise his child. For once, the audience feels sympathy not only for the rebellious door-slamming teenager, but also for the angry father on the other side of that door.
4) Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker for Best Original Screenplay for Moon
For what amounts to a slow-moving film set in only one room where Sam Rockwell talks to himself for two hours, Moon is surprisingly suspenseful. In an homage to classic 1950s style science-fiction, the movie takes one interesting concept and teases it out to its inevitable conclusion, but it's done with such style and grace that the viewer can't help but admire the sheer craft of storytelling that the movie achieves. Science fiction is often dismissed as immature or juvenile, but Moon is a masterpiece of threading a narrative out of very minimal elements.
And finally, Razzie nominations for the worst of 2009 cinema were announced yesterday. I have less to quibble with here (although GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra was sort of a fun movie for a lazy Saturday morning). But I feel the Razzies overlooked one crucial film:
5) Knowing for Worst Motion Picture
Yes, I know that Roger Ebert listed it as one of the year's best films, but one should take that more as the evidence of the critic's growing senility than anything else. I attended Knowing hungover with a group of friends, not expecting much. I got even less - a ridiculous faux-Twilight Zone scenario that would make Rod Serling blush. The concept is ludicrous and inconsistently applied, the conclusion is mind-blowingly absurd, and Nicolas Cage's bug-eyed confused-face style of acting is the worst I've seen since the remake of The Wicker Man. Even discounting my hangover, this was one of the most surreal cinematic experiences I had in 2009.