In the space of a week, we know a few things about what may be coming at the Academy Awards in March.
Two acting races are just about over, for starters, Christoph Waltz's dominance was a given ever since his portrayal of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds was shown to everyone last May in Cannes, last July at Comic-Con and everywhere else the month after that. He's got Supporting Actor for sure. The other race is Supporting Actress, and it looks like Mo'Nique has that cold, too, thanks to her role in Precious. You should see her as the abusive mother. She is scarier than any Volturi, Freddy Krueger or bad werewolf can ever be.
Also, Avatar will get every technical award that isn't nailed down, or at least nearly all of them. As far as revolutionizing how movies are made and shown, James Cameron has shown the way. This is Titanic in space, except the iceberg (corporate interests and trigger-happy soldiers) attacks the ship (Pandora), and the ship strikes back. Add the fact it has love, incredible scenery, and a message some may consider a subtle comment about Iraq or a ripoff of Dances With Wolves, and you have the movie of the new decade.
So could it win Best Picture? Well, if the Oscar voters are easily amused by shiny objects, of course it can. There are still some people who think Crash won Best Picture because there were enough voters who were homophobes would couldn't accept Brokeback Mountain as Best Picture. In this year's race, the tech that Avatar has could be enough. They could overlook the all-too-familiar story.
However, if they think story is just as important, Up In The Air and Hurt Locker should be right up front in the race. I've seen both, and they are good character studies as they are snapshots of how we live today. Hurt Locker follows a bomb disposal technician played by Jeremy Renner. His character, Will James is a guy who likes the thrill of defusing a bomb. We learn he's taken care of nearly a thousand. However, he is not invulnerable to how war can hurt you in other ways. Looking back at it, you might say Will is a war junkie. If you're expecting a traditional war movie, forget it. Kathryn Bigelow does a great job showing us the Iraq War, and the soldiers who live and fight in it. All that without any CGI or 3-D.
I've already talked about Up In The Air, but it's also a slice of life in the current economy. Jason Reitman and a great cast led by George Clooney do a wonderful job. In fact, this movie has already been part of one of the major show biz stories of 2010. Just see how Clooney's character tells employees they are fired, and compare that to how Steve Carrell "fires" Conan O'Brien during last Friday's Tonight Show.
Some are still quite stunned Inglorious Basterds won Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards, while Up In The Air was not nominated. If it was, it would have won. IB is a great war movie that only Quentin Tarantino can play. However, it's also violent, and that's something a Best Picture can't be (although The Departed showed you could only if Scorsese made it).
So, again, could Avatar win Best Picture at the Oscars? It can, but I prefer that Up In The Air get that nod.
So, what's next on my movie "to do" list?
I should see Julie and Julia, but I already got a hefty taste of what Meryl Streep does as Julia Child. Her performance and reputation should be enough to get her a third Oscar. I mean, if the Academy denied Eddie Murphy an Oscar for Dreamgirls a few years ago because he made Norbit, Sandra Bullock would not get one vote because of her string of silly romcoms. All About Steve is her Norbit.
Yet Bullock snagged a SAG award and Golden Globe so far. That's enough to get me to see The Blind Side. I also saw clips of the real Leigh Ann Tuohy. That's also reason enough.
Still, what will decide Best Actress, performance or reputation? Being Meryl Streep or living down Miss Congeniality II?
It would be obvious, expect Drew Barrymore won two awards for Grey Gardens, and she still can't believe it. Just ask her.
Best Actor seems to be Jeff Bridges' fate, but Crazy Heart has barely been released. It just came to town, and it sounds like the 21st century version of Tender Mercies. I will check it out, though.
We'll know more in a little more than a week