Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If I picked the Oscars: 2009

As I've done in two previous posts, in preparation for the Oscars telecast on February 22, I've been looking at the winners from previous years, and sharing my thoughts as to those I would have voted for if I were a member of the Academy. (Check out my thoughts on who should have won the 2000 Oscars and the 2005 Oscars.)

This time I'll look at the 2009 Oscars. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts (as long as they don't involve me having too much time on my hands or too much useless knowledge in my head—I know those things)!

Best Picture
2009 was the first year the Academy nominated more than five films for Best Picture since the early 1940s. In 2009, 10 films were nominated. They were: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, and Up in the Air. (I would have probably substituted the similarly titled but utterly different A Single Man for the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man.) The winner was The Hurt Locker, although there was some controversy surrounding the movie and its screenplay.

My choice: I thought The Hurt Locker was a terrific movie, but my favorite movie of 2009, bar none, was Avatar. I absolutely loved the inventiveness of it, the special effects, the story, everything. I don't care that some felt it was a thinly veiled piece of liberal propaganda. I was no fan of Titanic, and in fact, wouldn't have chosen it to win Best Picture in 1997, but this James Cameron achievement definitely deserved it.

Best Actor
The nominees in this category were: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart; George Clooney, Up in the Air; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Morgan Freeman, Invictus; and Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker. This was a very strong category, and Bridges won the Oscar for his role as a washed-up country singer going for one more try at fame. (This was Bridges' fifth nomination since 1971.)

My choice: This is one of those rare years where I could make a case for any of the five nominees winning. (I actually think Up in the Air may be George Clooney's best performance to date.) But in the end, I would choose Colin Firth for A Single Man. Based on the book by Christopher Isherwood, Firth plays George, a professor teaching in 1960s Los Angeles, who is unable to cope following the sudden death of his boyfriend, especially at a time where men needed to keep their homosexuality a secret. Firth's performance is heartbreakingly beautiful, and it's a shame the movie, directed by fashion icon Tom Ford, didn't get more acclaim.

Best Actress
The year's Best Actress nominees were: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Helen Mirren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious; and Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia. Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, whose love and dogged determination gave a young homeless boy the courage and opportunity to become an NFL player.

My choice: I'm a huge Sandra Bullock fan, but I can absolutely say she won the Oscar in 2009 more for her body of work to that point than the strength of her performance in The Blind Side. It was good, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't fantastic; it was merely a departure from her usual comedic roles. While Sidibe was all heart and vulnerability in Precious, and Streep was a dead ringer for Julia Child in Julie and Julia, I would have given the Oscar to Carey Mulligan. While her career following this film hasn't been the breakout I imagined it would be (especially given her talent), I thought her performance in An Education was complex and spot-on. Playing an intelligent young girl driven in her pursuit of an education at Oxford, whose drive is derailed when she meets an older man, Mulligan's performance has charisma, emotional nuance, and a little bravado. Again, it's a movie deserving of more renown than it has gotten.

Best Supporting Actor
The nominees in this category were: Matt Damon, Invictus; Woody Harrelson, The Messenger; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station; Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones; and Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds. (I would have nominated Anthony Mackie, who was superb in The Hurt Locker, in place of Plummer.) Waltz, in his first major role in American film, won the Oscar.

My choice: While I thought Damon, Harrelson, and Tucci were all quite good, I felt Christoph Waltz, well, waltzed away with the Oscar. His performance as a ruthless Nazi is brutal and at times hysterical, thanks to Quentin Tarantino's Oscar-nominated screenplay. I had never seen him in a movie before and found I couldn't take my eyes off of him anytime he was on screen.

Best Supporting Actress
The nominees were: Penelope Cruz, Nine; Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; and Mo'Nique, Precious. (I would have included Julianne Moore for her performance in A Single Man instead of Cruz.) Mo'Nique won the Oscar.

My choice: I would agree with the Academy here as well, and give the Oscar to Mo'Nique, although I thought that Farmiga, Gyllenhaal, and Kendrick (with whom I'm obsessed) gave Oscar-worthy performances as well. But Mo'Nique, as Mary, the mother-from-hell in Precious, is unlike anything she had ever done in her career, and it's totally a no-holds-barred, leave-your-mouth-hanging-open performance. You hate her and pity her at the same time. I hope to see her doing something else noteworthy sometime soon.

Best Director
The nominees in this category were: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; James Cameron, Avatar; Lee Daniels, Precious; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air; and Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds. Bigelow made history by becoming the fourth woman nominated, and the first to win in this category.

My choice: I can't argue with Bigelow's win, but despite the history it made, I still would have given the Oscar to her ex-husband, James Cameron, for Avatar. Again, I wouldn't have given him the win in 1997 for Titanic, but I just can't think of a director more deserving of this recognition than Cameron, both for the film and the technology he pioneered while filming it.

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