Well, they've done it. Nominated 10 pictures for Best Picture. I'm not sure I really understand the reasoning behind it but it's what we have so let's look at the list:
(Unfortunately I wasn't able to see "Precious" or "A Serious Man" although I sure wanted to. If you have seen them, I'd love to know what you thought.)
Avatar: I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and was not in the least bit put off by the length. It sure didn't seem like almost 3 hours while I was in that theatre. The visuals were lovely and captivating, even if the story was one we've seen before. As with Titanic, James Cameron is a master at jumping from one time frame to another (Titanic hunters/humans trying to take over Pandora to Titanic passengers/Pandorans dealing with the Avatars.) This storytelling device works for me and he is adept at weaving stories together to make a cohesive film. This film has also spawned much debate and controversy over the ending of the story (I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.) But in the end, I'm still left with an almost empty feeling when I think of Avatar. There was nothing really original about the story - the originality of this film lies in the special effects. Therefore, Avatar would not get my vote for the Best Picture of 2009.
Up in the Air: As I've already stated in my previous post, this film definitely deserves the nomination as it is original, timely, funny, touching - everything that a movie experience is supposed to be - but it wouldn't get my vote for Best Picture either. It would probably be second on my list though.
District 9: Wow, talk about original. I've never seen anything like this film. I actually had a moment in the beginning when I thought "Is this a documentary??" It seemed so real. It was probably one of the most disturbing films to sit through this year but that isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes to tell a story and to make a point that is as important as this one (Apartheid, extreme prejudice), you have to bombard people with raw images that they can't forget. It's not for the squeamish, that's for sure. But to make a film that seems so real (and half of the actors are dressed as "prawns") is quite an accomplishment. It definitely deserves this nomination and I would argue that everyone should see this film just for the message it conveys. But it would not get my vote for Best Picture of the year either.
The Hurt Locker: This is a film that haunted me long after it was over and one that I had to talk about to try to get the images out of my mind. Finally we have a film that depicts the emptiness and banality of the Iraq war. What those men are doing seems so pointless - find the bombs, disarm and remove them, only to have more bombs put down almost right behind them. There is also a very poignant moment when Jeremy Brenner as William James is finally sent home at the end of his tour and is trying to grocery shop. He is completely unable to decide what cereal to buy. Yet in Iraq, he was able to make the most dangerous life and death decisions in the blink of an eye. And he seemed to be enjoying it. The movie starts with a quote about how War is a drug, an addiction. This film brought that message home with clarity, respect and with lasting images of the horrors of war on so many levels. This film would probably be my second or third choice for Best Picture of 2009.
An Education: In a totally different way, this film was actually very disturbing to me as well. It is the story of a young school girl who becomes romantically involved with an older man who picks her up as she's waiting on a street corner in the rain in England in the 1960's. I had a very hard time watching as her parents were also taken in by the charm of this man (played brilliantly by Peter Sarsgaard who was robbed of a nomination) and as they encouraged her to actively pursue her relationship with him. Even though they had always told Jenny (Carey Mulligan) to study, work hard, go to Cambridge and make something of herself, when this man, who seemed to have money, entered her life, they dropped those plans for her and seemed relieved that she would be taken care of. The fallout for Jenny when she learns the truth about this man is devastating. As the parent of three daughters, this was a very difficult film for me. But it is a beautiful film and it portrays the time very well. It is a wonderful adaptation of a true story but it still would probably be my fourth or fifth choice for Best Picture of the year.
The Blind Side: Now this nomination is puzzling to me. While the story is very touching and Sandra Bullock is dynamite as Leigh Anne Touhy, it is a movie filled with cliches: the funny little brother, the cheerleader sister, the understanding husband, the mean kids at school. I realize it's a true story and it's always refreshing to see a story about courage and fortitude, but in all honesty, the film just isn't that remarkable. If there were only five nominees this year, this would not be one of them. Still, go see it. It will do your heart good.
Up: Now this was a masterpiece. And it's animated! I can still see the looks on Carl's face when he's talking to Russell, and I can still feel how I felt when Carl finally made it to the falls. Oh, and the first 10 minutes of the film when they tell the story of Carl and Ellie - this is a romance for the ages. And it was so funny! Never before have I felt that I knew animated characters as well as I did Carl and Russell. And yet...should it be in this category? It was also nominated as the Best Animated film of the year which it richly deserves. I'm just not sure it should be up against films made with real people - even if Carl and Russell seem so, so real. But please, please let this win Best Animated Film!
Inglorious Basterds: Now we come to my favorite movie of the year. It was like seeing three or four movies all at the same time. From the moment that first scene starts at the farmhouse and Hans Landa comes up the drive, you can't take your eyes off of the screen. The first 20 minutes of this film is a masterpiece on its own. The tension that builds as Hans Landa (the amazing Christoph Waltz) interrogates the farmer is some of the most brilliant acting I've ever seen. And as the farmer realizes that he has to tell this Nazi what he wants to know, the look on his face is truly heartbreaking. Then we jump to the group of men the movie is named for, lead by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, who is hilarious.) As we're told who they are and what their mission is, we realize that this is not your average war movie. Then we jump to a movie house in France that is run by the girl, Shosanna, who escaped the farmhouse and Hans Landa in the beginning. It goes on and on, interweaving the stories until the final showdown between Hans and Shosanna, and the other most incredible scene I've ever seen in a movie - the burning of the theatre, filled with Nazis, while David Bowie (of all people) sings in the background. You'll never forget it once you see it. This is movie-making at it's best and Quentin Tarantino is a genius. I consider this the Best Picture of 2009.