2009 was a crazy year for the Oscars because it was the year that the list of Best Picture nominees was raised from 5 to…anything up to ten. In the years since it has seemed as if the Academy has started to horribly regret this decision and made steps to gradually start rolling this decision backwards but, for a couple of years at least, the list of nominees was outright crammed.
Which really just means that I had more work cut out for me writing these pieces.
And the Oscar goes to…
2009 Best Picture Winner: The Hurt Locker
The Blind Side
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
Despite the dramatically expanded list of nominees this turned out to be a fairly solid year for nominations. With that in mind, it’s still pretty clear where the weak links are and they are Precious and The Blind Side, which is a shame because they’re the only selections to bring any racial diversity to the list. Precious is a movie that is entirely apt for what it is but feels remarkably paint-by-numbers as far as a heart-rending tale of ghetto life is concerned and The Blind Side is a competently made inspirational movie but feels pretty insincere for focusing more on the efforts of a family lifting a poor boy up than it does showing the steps the boy took to secure his own future. Neither of these films are bad by any stretch but both feel a little forced onto this list.
Up does a tremendous job of enlightening just how not to talk down to children in its opening ten minutes before then spending the rest of the movie falling back on more condescending fare like talking dogs and mad scientists. It’s far from Pixar’s worst but was probably the first sign of the struggle that has since plagued the company to stay relevant against more impressive fare from other studios.
Jason Reitman’s follow up to Juno, his wonderful debut, feels included more out of respect for the film-maker himself than because it’s a particularly transcendent film in its own right. It’s not that Up in the Air isn’t a fine film…it is, but it’s a movie that feels entirely at odds with itself by the time it concludes.
Britain’s contribution to the race was An Education which is an entirely capable coming of age drama that…was an entirely capable coming of age drama. To be brutally honest, in hindsight the best thing about An Education was that it brought Carey Mulligan to our attention, one of Hollywood’s strongest supporting players in recent years. That said, it’s also surprisingly effective at evoking a reaction and feels like the weakest film on the list that still deserves to be there.
In hindsight it seems hilarious that so many people believed that Avatar would handily win Best Picture in 2009 but up to this point it had proved as shockingly successful as Titanic had twelve years previously. Of course, Avatar deserves a lot of credit: as a wildly inventive movie, as a brilliant example of technological innovation and as a stark reminder that James Cameron can choreograph spellbinding action set-pieces. It certainly didn’t deserve the prize but it deserved some serious consideration.
A Serious Man was the Coen brother’s first follow up to their best-picture winning No Country For Old Men in 2007 and probably a more deserving nomination. All middle-aged angst and darkly understated comedy, this tale of…well, a serious man is about as subtle as a hurricane and all the better for it.
There’s always something appealing about a movie coming out of nowhere and blowing your mind and no movie has achieved that effect quite as successfully as District 9. Subtlety is certainly not director Neill Blomkamp’s forte but this sci-fi twist on apartheid has just about everything you never knew you could want from a mid-budget art-house feature: a strong message, some great performances and some wonderfully inventive action sequences.
Did The Hurt Locker deserve to win?
Yes, although it wouldn’t have necessarily been my choice. The Hurt Locker is an incredibly vibrant and effective movie that doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of modern warfare. In fact, it focuses on those realities at the expense of everything else, almost to a fault. It’s very much a product of the time it was created and if it was released even today it probably wouldn’t have quite as potent of an effect but at the time, it felt like a more deserved win than anybody could have hoped for against the juggernaut that was Avatar.
What nomination should have won?
When The Departed won, a lot of critics accused the Academy of giving Martin Scorcese a retroactive Oscar for previous efforts and I truly believe that if Inglourious Basterds won in 2009 a lot of people would say the same thing in regards to Quentin Tarantino. I would be inclined to disagree. I wholeheartedly believe that Basterds is his best and most whole work. See, as much as I’ve loved everything Tarantino has ever done it’s always felt like a work in progress and he has always come across as an artist refining his skill set. Inglourious Basterds is a master craftsman who has decided what ruleset he’s playing by and how to plaster that shit the fuck on screen for maximum exposure and maximum effect. It’s unapologetically cinematic, wickedly funny, deathly suspenseful and just plain smart. It’s just about everything a movie should be.
Wild Card winner?
This pick is going to be extremely unpopular as not many people like it at all but I’ve always felt a remarkable affinity for The International, Tom Tykwer’s anti-spy thriller that has no action and a lot of talking. There’s a refined sense of style on display and a slow boiling tension that doesn’t really stop building until the final anti-climactic moments that ultimately suggest that although some people’s lives have been ruined (and some have been ended), nothing has really changed. The timing for a movie about corrupt banking conspiracies coming out only a year after the financial clusterfuck of 2008 certainly didn’t hurt The International‘s relevance, either.
There’s really not much to say about this year. There were a lot of options to pick from but I’d seen all the movies previously and I knew exactly how I felt about all of them. Inglourious Basterds is certainly my favourite film from the options available but it’s very difficult not to respect The Hurt Locker as a deserved choice for the statuette..
Check back here tomorrow for my evaluation of 2010’s winner.
Agree? Disagree? Have a better Wild Card? Drop me a line in the comments!