Like a lot of cinephiles, I have a real problem with the Oscars a lot of the time. Aside from their dips into brilliance (pretty much all of the major awards in 2008, when No Country for Old Men won Best Everything), they largely award the obvious contenders, and many an impersonation (nothing gets my goat like the near-automatic Oscar for Best Performance as a Major Historical Figure). So, in addition to my yearly complaints (which, unless Invictus wins anything, will likely only be heard by friends and family), I decided to take matters into my own hands, and take note of the major achievements of 2009 in the very categories they will use come March.
A few notes...in general, I stuck to the number of nominees the Academy uses, with a couple of exceptions (I nominated an extra song, and a few extra films in the technical categories). The winners are in bold with a few words, and the rest of the nominees follow.
I took out Best Picture in all its forms, as I'll be posting a Top Ten (which, I suppose will be pretty easy to suss out by what I nominated, but I know there'll be a few surprises in there) in the next few days and it would pretty much be redundant, along with the Shorts categories, as it's pretty difficult to keep up on such things until the Academy unveils their own nominees. And I lumped together Sound Mixing and Editing, because although I do know the difference, I don't know how to apply that in my own analysis (then again, the Academy never seems to, as they almost always only have one difference between the two lists).
And so, without further ado...
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart Let's face it, it's not Jeff Bridges finest performance, but it's still representative of a lifetime of performances in service of the character over the actor. This, oddly enough, is not a practice the Academy typically rewards, but one I admire greatly. As always, Bridges delivers a totally realized character, without once calling to attention that this is the case. It's brilliant work.
Matt Damon - The Informant!
Michael Stuhlbarg - A Serious Man
Tom Hardy - Bronson
Jaoquin Phoenix - Two Lovers
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds Okay, now here's an instance of it being okay for the actor to be totally showing off. The style of the film more than allows for this - it encourages it. Every second of Waltz's screentime is dedicated to capturing our attention, and though I know many others disagree, I maintain that he isn't just completely off the rails. This is, too, a fully realized character, and there are limits Waltz puts on his performance; he just sets those limits a little beyond reality. As Kubrick said, realistic is good, but interesting is better.
Martin Starr - Adventureland
Peter Capaldi - In the Loop
Jérémie Renier - Lorna's Silence
Fred Melamed - A Serious Man
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Carey Mulligan - An Education No question. This goes beyond the breakthrough status everyone's applied to it; this is legendary. I realize a large part of my response to this character is that I knew so many girls just like Mulligan's Jenny, girls who carried themselves like they knew it all, and who were quite intelligent and, more importantly, intellectually curious, but who still had so much to understand. And Mulligan absolutely nails the excitement, naivete, arrogance, and vulnerability of this kind of girl, and boy is it just a thrill to witness.
Melanie Laurent - Inglourious Basterds
Arta Dobroshi - Lorna's Silence
María Onetto - The Headless Woman
Sasha Grey - The Girlfriend Experience
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Miriam Toews - Silent Light This is some heavy lifting, man. As the betrayed wife in this film about a man's affair that is as much religious as it is sexual, Toews has a scene or two where she's really allowed to cut loose, emotionally, but it's her reaction when Johan (her husband) says a very simple line, "You've always been so good at making the soap, Esther," that is just devastating in how simply it sums up everything Johan has put the family through.
Samantha Morton - The Messenger
Marion Cotillard - Public Enemies
Rachel Weisz - The Brothers Bloom
Julianne Moore - A Single Man
BEST ART DIRECTION
Nelson Lowry - Fantastic Mr. Fox These are all pretty amazing pieces of art direction, but when I force myself to pick, who can go wrong with these creations? Far more idiosyncratic than the typical Wes Anderson eccentricity (what can we even begin to make of those paintings that adore many a wall?), they nonetheless contribute to the pure whimsical joy of the film.
David Wasco - Inglourious Basterds
K.K. Barrett - Where the Wild Things Are
Magnus Renfors and Elin Segerstedt - You, the Living
Anastasia Masaro - The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Alexis Zabe - Silent Light I often have a problem with the Academy automatically awarding the most beautiful of all the nominees, but...good Lord is this a breathtaking film. There are such odd effects pulled off in the camera (the whole bathing sequence is just mind boggling), and totally audacious accomplishments (the opening shot and the closing shot, the dolly into the garage) that some may say are purely for their own sake, but even if that's the case, it certainly deserves to be called the greatest achievement of the year in cinematography.
Christopher Doyle - The Limits of Control
Robert Richardson - Inglourious Basterds
Greig Fraser - Bright Star
Lance Accord - Where the Wild Things Are
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Uncredited - Fantastic Mr. Fox Admittedly not the usual process for this sort of thing, and that's probably why no one person is credited as the costume designer, but if it's all about creating physical costumes for characters to wear, I can't think of one more delightful than this.
Michael Wilkinson - Watchmen
Jacqualine Durran - The Soloist
Anna B. Sheppard - Inglourious Basterds
Janet Patterson - Bright Star
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker While I'm typically a pretty straight auteurist - the best film of the year coincides with the best director - there's something to be said for calling attention to direction this forceful and, in almost every conceivable way, perfect. So no, The Hurt Locker is not the best film of the year for me. It's serviced by a fine screenplay and some damn good performances, but everything that's great about this picture is so because of Karthryn Bigelow. But...more on that later.
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Carlos Regaydas - Silent Light
Olivier Assayas - Summer Hours
Joel and Ethan Coen - A Serious Man
BEST FILM EDITING
Roderick Jaynes (a.k.a. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen) - A Serious Man In the special features for Che, Steven Soderbergh comments on how there are very few films that take into account each edit's place in the picture as a whole, how they, combined, create a rhythm and pace and mood of the film. This has rarely been a problem for the Coens, and with this film and No Country for Old Men they've really taken their game to a whole new level, creating a meditative atmosphere amidst the sheer chaos they've been creating for decades.
James Haygood and Eric Zumbrunnen - Where the Wild Things Are
Steven Soderbergh - The Girlfriend Experience
Chris Innis and Bob Murawski - The Hurt Locker
Frederick Wiseman - La Danse
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus Making four people look vaguely similar, Christopher Plummer an ancient monk or a homeless dreamer, and face-painting galore, really, how does this not just automatically go to the latest Terry Gilliam venture?
Crank: High Voltage
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Carter Burwell - A Serious Man Burwell's consistent collaborations with the Coens have created more memorable scores than this, but his blend of meditation and the Hebrew music that pervades the picture is really wonderful stuff.
Alexandre Desplat - Fantastic Mr. Fox
Marvin Hamlisch - The Informant!
Karen O. and Carter Burwell - Where the Wild Things Are
Michael Giacchino - Up
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Fantastic Mr. Fox AKA Petey's Song" - Wes Anderson and Jarvis Cocker Not the best song of the year as such, but it puts a smile on my face every time I hear it and perfectly suits the film.
"Almost There" - Randy Newman and Anika Noni Rose
"You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger" - Ben Castle and Beth Rowley
"The Weary Kind" - T. Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham
Star Trek Of all the many forgettable things about this film, it's hard to truly forget how beautiful it sounded.
A Serious Man
The Hurt Locker
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Avatar While District 9 and Where the Wild Things Are win for integration, and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus wins for, well, imagination, you really can't deny the sheer accomplishment of Cameron's latest. That said, I'll say it again - this is the ONLY award this film deserves.
Where the Wild Things Are
The Imaginarium of Dr. Panassus
BEST WRITING - ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach - Fantastic Mr. Fox I find it hard to believe Anderson's claims that he and Baumbach were trying to be faithful to Roald Dahl's book, because it's just too...Andersonian to not be mostly guided by that vision. That said, I LOVE their vision of the world when it's this unleashed and yet so refined.
Henry Selick - Coraline
Scott Z. Burns - The Informant!
Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers - Where the Wild Things Are
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner - Up in the Air
BEST WRITING - ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen - A Serious Man A really brilliant piece of writing, one of the Coens' finest. I can't stop turning it over in my head. Memorable characters that aren't quite real people, an absolutely drumtight narrative, and a structure that can knock you on your ass if you're attuned to such things, this is in many ways the most audacious accomplishment of the year.
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Olivier Assayas - Summer Hours
James Gray - Two Lovers
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche - In the Loop