Mr. Movie

My picks for the Oscars

There are five extra films in this year’s Best Picture category. Even in a normal year only two — three at best — have a chance.

In that same normal year, only one or two are truly worthy of being called the year’s best movie. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made the change because they wanted to boost the telecast’s deserved sagging numbers and give younger viewers nominations for the films they felt important.

This isn’t going to get them there.

The list has two of last year’s top grossers: Avatar and Up. If the appeal to the young theory is to be applied the year’s funniest film, then The Hangover ought to be there. It was ninth on the highest grossing movie list and is better film than District 9, A Serious Man and The Blind Side by light years.

And what about (500) Days of Summer? While it didn’t exactly set world records at the box office, this brilliantly told tale of 20-something love and heartbreak made top-10 best lists everywhere. If (500) Days of Summer doesn’t appeal to today’s younger viewers what does?

One of the reasons listed for the change is the hugely popular and very well-done The Dark Knight and Iron Man getting left out last year. If popularity is the criteria, then where is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Or Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince? Or Sherlock Holmes? Girls, teens and young women, even their moms and — though most won’t admit it — some guys swooned over The Twilight Saga: New Moon and packed theaters.

No doubt they aren’t best-picture material, but you get my point. The absence of The Hangover or even Star Trek — my pick for last year’s best — is glaring. Ten pictures is eight too many most years. This year, it really is five too many.

Here’s another puzzle. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin are co-hosts. Does this attract younger viewers? Baldwin stars on a hit TV show so that’s somewhat understandable, but Martin? Why not grab someone from American Idol or a top-rated drama or sitcom and someone under the age 50?

What happened to Ellen? DeGeneres was a great hostess and light years better than last year’s uninspired dud with Hugh Jackman doing the duties. Her comic snubbing of Steven Spielberg to get a script into Clint Eastwood’s hands is classic. Is Ellen not an attraction for the young and the newly designated hip?

Before we get too deep into the categories you care about, I want to focus on writing. Writers get Oscars for their screenplays, everybody claps and the telecast moves on to more important matters: best picture and best director, actor and actress and so on.

More than anybody, actors know the importance of writing. How the story is told is important. Yes. But without a carefully crafted screenplay, you have nothing. The difference between an Oscar nomination or any other nomination between one movie and another often comes down to how well it is written.

Great movies happen because of great writing. Period.

The best adapted screenplay goes to Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for Up in the Air, last year’s best writing anywhere. Mark Boal’s The Hurt Locker wins the best original work but Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is better.

This rant leads to another. And it ties to the writing categories. Forget 10 best picture nominations. Why not create a category for the year’s best scene. Every year, you’ll see one — or a line in a film— that sticks with you forever. For 2009, that scene was a sequence that began the movie Up. Carl and Ellie fall in love, have a long, happy marriage and she dies. That sets up Carl’s tying balloons to his home and lifting it off the ground to take the trip to Paradise Falls that they planned but never took.

In five wordless minutes, writers/directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson created one of the most beautiful love stories in the history of movies. Those who saw Up know it almost moves you to tears. For some, it did.

Back to why we’re here. Whatever the Academy does for this year’s telecast, it won’t likely work. Awards shows — even the granddaddy of them all — are long, tedious and boring. Nothing in this year’s bag of nominees is likely to change that.

Best Picture: Oddsmakers have two movies neck-and-neck: Avatar and The Hurt Locker. But oddsmakers aren’t Academy voters. The best film in the category is Up in the Air with Inglourious Basterds and An Education running a close second.

The Academy will go cerebral and pick: The Hurt Locker

Mr. Movie’s pick: Up in the Air

Best Director: Outside of Best Actress this category has the most difficult choices. It’s hard not to root for Quentin Tarantino whose Inglourious Basterds is a return to the style that made him a star or for Jason Reitman whose intelligent Up in the Air is the best pick for the best picture. The King of the World gets this one. Like his 1997 Oscar-dominating Titanic, Avatar took guts and from a visual standpoint is one of the most stunning films of all time.

The Academy will pick: James Cameron, Avatar

Mr. Movie’s pick: Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Best Actor: No need for much discussion. No one beats Jeff Bridges.

The Academy will pick: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Mr. Movie’s pick: Jeff Bridges Crazy Heart

Best Actress: This is the strongest of all the categories. Everyone here deserves the Oscar. Great roles for women aren’t exactly rolling off the computers of non-sex discriminating Hollywood in bunches so this is rare. The winner will be Sandra Bullock. She’s outstanding, the best she’s ever been. Ignore the finger-pointing naysayers. They’re wrong. Bullock deserves the nomination and if she wins it will be for the right reason. A reasonably decent actress got the role of a lifetime and made the most of the chance. Period.

A better performance: Meryl Streep’s hilarious harrumps as cooking legend Julia Child for Julie & Julia. Almost as good is the work of newcomer Carey Mulligan for An Education. Helen Mirren could stand still for two hours and get a nomination. The other noteworthy newcomer is Gabourey Sidibe’s Precious who will make you cry.

The Academy will pick: Sandra Bullock The Blind Side

Mr. Movie’s pick: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best Supporting Actor: Two performances stand out. Both are villains. Christoph Waltz stole Inglourious Basterds and gave last year’s best performance in any category. Waltz used facial expressions, long pauses for effect and a slight twinkle of the eye and carefully crafted each sentence of dialogue for impact. The performance is brilliant and makes him one of the best villains of all time.

He will win the Oscar.

Equally good though is Stanley Tucci as the murderer in The Lovely Bones. Like Jeff Bridges someday someone will actually give the guy his due and the statue.

The Academy will pick: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Mr. Movie’s pick: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress: The year’s weakest category means an Oscar shoo-in for Mo’Nique who played Precious’ nasty, violent mama. She’s cold. She’s mean. She’s ugly. She’s a serious psychopath, and it is a seriously good piece of work.

My favorite performance is Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air. Like her co-star and also nominated George Clooney, Farmiga breezes through the film and makes acting look easy.

The Academy will pick: Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Mr. Movie’s pick: Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

Best Animated Feature: Up can’t miss, although the creepy 3-D version of the kid’s horror movie Coraline is my favorite and made my best list last year.

Avatar cleans up in the cinematography, editing, art, sets, costumes, etc. categories.