State of the Oscar Run: 21 more movies to see in 14 days.

Podcast alert: If you prefer your movie talk in a visual format, go check out my husband Ken’s new video podcast That Movie Was…, where he and his friend James give their opinions on current movies.

Ken and I have reached a point in our Oscar Run where we’ve knocked out all movies in a few categories, so I can make some picks with confidence. These are not predictions, just who or what would get the Oscar if I were giving them out.

Forgive me if I skip Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. I don’t even know the difference between those last two categories, so clearly I’m no judge there. I’ll also skip Best Original Score, as I’d have to go back and hear them back-to-back to decide (no time, I have 21 movies to watch!). However, I will tackle Best Visual Effects, Best Director, and Best Picture.

Best Visual Effects

  • Nominees: Avatar, District 9, Star Trek
  • My pick: Avatar

It isn’t just because James Cameron has spent so many years on this film (his last film was in 1997) and claims to have actually invented the means for new digital effects along the way. And it isn’t just because the list of people credited for special and visual effects for Avatar is so long (1232, versus District 9’s 291 and Star Trek’s 481). It’s my pick because the result was so jaw-dropping, so seamless and stunning, so outright beautiful and so completely involving that I forgot I was even looking at something digitally produced. As good as the effects in the other films were, my brain would still click to the inner comment, “Whoa, that was an incredible special effect” when an alien would blow up or the Enterprise would go through a black hole. With Avatar, the effects were so good that I forgot they were effects. It was like I had ingested them in my Diet Coke, rather than watching them on the screen. They were miles better than the laughable aliens in The Abyss. Good job, Jim. And kudos for dedicating the film to the late, great Stan Winston, whose company worked on it.

By the way, WETA is the new ILM.

Best Director

  • Nominees: James Cameron (Avatar), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)
  • My pick: James Cameron (Avatar)

Even though I’m happy to see a woman get nominated for making a war movie, and even though I’m happy to see Jason Reitman focus his considerable talents on recession angst, and even though I love seeing Quentin Tarantino do anything at all, the winner in my mind is still James Cameron. Yeah, he’s the King of the World, and yeah, this movie breaks no ground in terms of storyline (spoiler alert: the good guys win) – it doesn’t matter. Avatar was what the prize is actually named: an achievement in directing.

If I had my druthers, I’d have nominated Lone Scherfig for An Education, but still given it to Cameron. Not that I’m trying to expand any categories, because that would be just stupid. Speaking of which…

Best Picture

  • Nominees: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
  • My pick: Avatar

Oh crap, look what I just did there. It’s an all-Avatar lovefest. Not what I intended. So let’s talk about this “10 Best Picture nominees” thing for a minute.

I mean, what? Ten nominees? What for? Because The Dark Knight was unfairly left out last year? Okay, more nominees might prevent future gaffes like that, but it also makes the nominated movies seem less special. Ten Best Picture nominees a year, and in ten years, there will be 100 Best Picture nominees (but probably not 100 really good movies). It will become a sad trivia question: “What were all the Best Picture nominees in the 2010s? Betcha can’t name ’em all!”

But let’s get back to Avatar. In a sense, it won by default. The other pictures just didn’t reach the same level. Precious went where other movies won’t go, but even though the heroine was smiling in the last frame, she’s still completely fucked, so I’m not sure what we were supposed to learn. A Serious Man dumps you off at the metaphorical bus stop with both cancer and a frickin’ tornado inexplicably coming at you, so I can’t reward that. The Hurt Locker gives you a fresh perspective on work stress – are you standing in the middle of a flower-like arrangement of 7 live bombs? No? Then STFU – but not alot more.

The only serious contenders for my affections besides Avatar were District 9 (a classic and very good sci fi film), An Education (an English coming-of-age film that ought to do wonders for Carey Mulligan), and Up in the Air. Considering Avatar’s somewhat hackneyed storyline – note to Sigourney Weaver: YOU CANNOT TRUST CORPORATIONS IN SPACE! – this means that 2009 was actually not a great year for movies.