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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 2009-2010)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

2009

Avatar

The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Precious

A Serious Man

Up

Up in the Air

Analysis:

Avatar was the biggest film of all time for about six years. Not quite the same as Titanic, but still.

Quite incredible how quickly this film’s been forgotten.

How does one even describe this movie? A marine in space on a mission on a futuristic planet is sent to go undercover and befriend the indigenous people so the army can steal the natural resources that rest underneath their homeland. This involves him going into a mentally linked body that allows him to look like one of them while also still being himself. Naturally, he falls in love with the chief’s daughter, and wants to become one of them and his loyalties change, yada yada yada.

This was huge in terms of creating an entire CGI world and being in 3D and using that 3D to create a visual environment rather than just being a gimmick.

The film — the filmmaking is good, but the storytelling is pretty generic. Cameron pieced together bits of famous stories to create a narrative that would be passable enough to fit with what he was trying to do with the rest of it. (I think he learned his lesson, since now he has teams of writers to create the stories for his sequels.)

The film was huge and was almost big enough to win all these awards. But in the end, I think we all felt it wasn’t really good enough to have done so. And the more time goes on, the more this seems like a “whatever” kind of nominee.

The Blind Side is the one surprise nominee of the bunch. They had to vote ten movies, and this was the one nobody was expecting. There’s always one. This was widely derided upon nomination and was thought of as only being nominated because it went from a small indie movie to one that somehow ended up $200 million at the box office.

It’s based on a true story, but just ask the guy it’s about… he’s not a fan. (Mostly because they treat him like a dude who couldn’t read or do much of anything without white people taking him in.)

It’s about Michael Oher, current NFL tackle, who was taken in by a white family and eventually became a great football player. And the film is mostly about Sandra Bullock as the mother. Which — that’s a whole other conversation.

The movie is perfectly bland and broadly likable, the way all these movies are. John Lee Hancock has become the bland, broad filmmaker who makes these “yeah, that was pretty good” movies that don’t really contain a whole lot of substance. (He also made Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder.)

This is the bottom choice all around in this category and is a film that wouldn’t make it on now. Because they had two years of a rigid set of ten nominees, something like this ended up making it.

District 9 is a sci fi film that went from a little indie that was a nice calling card for a director to one that made a bunch of money and was one of the biggest critical and commercial successes of the years. (A lot of people are still waiting for Neil Blomkamp to fulfill the promise he showed with this one.)

An alien ship shows up in South Africa and the government basically dumps them in a slum and treats them like poor people. They leave them to live in crime-infested fenced-off area. During the forced relocation into the slum, Sharlto Copley, a diplomat, gets infected by one of the aliens and begins turning into one.

It’s a solid movie. Not something I think needed to be nominated, but here it is. It’s saved from being #10 simply because The Blind Side inexplicably made it on. I would never take this in a million years. Even if you really like this movie, there’s no way you vote for it. There are way better choices here.

An Education is a small little film that I think only made it on because they picked ten set nominees this year. (Plus 2009 wasn’t the strongest of years. But I’m not complaining.)

Carey Mulligan is a girl about to go to college who begins a relationship with an older man. It’s a coming-of-age story set during the 60s in London.

This movie is really good. Carey Mulligan is amazing in this, and I think she should have won Best Actress for it. The movie is terrific and I love that they nominated it. That said, not a chance this is the vote. The nomination is the reward all around.

The Hurt Locker is Kathryn Bigelow’s war film.

I have to say this every time — I didn’t like this movie at all when it came out. I saw it before it got huge and thought, “Yeah, that was serviceable.” And then it started getting the Best Picture buzz, and for whatever reason, I turned on it. Probably because of the specific people I was hearing praise it. You know what happens when people you don’t like talk up a movie like it’s the greatest thing ever. You start to hate the movie. That’s what happened.

It took me three years to come around on this. And now, five years after that, I’m fully turned around on it.

It’s about Jeremy Renner, a professional bomb defuser in Iraq who is pretty cavalier about his job. That’s really all you need.

It’s a terrific war movie. Incredibly well made. A very solid Best Picture winner that deserved to win. Would I take it? No. But it’s not the film’s fault. But it did go from a middle tier film to a second choice. So there is that. I’m all on board with this having won, I just wouldn’t take it.

Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s World War II epic.

This was a return to form. After Kill Bill, he really only did Grindhouse, which almost doesn’t count. This is the one where he came back and blew everyone away. I remember seeing this at the end of August, having read the script and being stupidly excited for it. And it did not disappoint.

Do you need a synopsis for this? You have to have seen it, right?

This movie introduced Christoph Waltz to the world.

It’s fucking amazing. Objectively it probably shouldn’t have won Best Picture. But it’s my favorite film in the category, so I’m probably gonna vote for it anyway. Because what the hell.

Precious is based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire.

Never gets old.

Precious is a high school girl who is illiterate and has been pregnant twice by her father. Her mother abuses her and she lives a really terrible life. And she gets a chance to start a new life and actually have a chance at a normal one.

It’s a solid film. I think it was a bit overrated by some, but it’s a good movie. Mo’Nique in this movie is incredible. The movie itself is good. I wouldn’t take it. Fine with it being nominated, but it’s bottom of the category for me.

A Serious Man is one of the weirder Coen brothers movies. It’s very specific, and it’s not gonna be for everyone.

Michael Stuhlbarg is a midwestern professor whose life starts falling apart. And it’s very much a comedy and very much in the vein of the Coen brothers liking to torture their protagonists.

It’s wickedly funny. It’s not something that should have won, when you factor in all the Coen brothers movies that didn’t win, but it ranks right up there with all their other stuff. It’s eighth for me. Maybe seventh, just because I like it a bit more than Precious in the way of a vote. But I’d never take it. When you have a category with The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, everything else is disposable.

Up is Pixar. And only the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. Once they went to these years of ten nominees, you knew Pixar was getting on. Though that trend didn’t last very long.

It’s about an old man whose wife dies and, realizing he may have wasted his life and not accomplished all he thought he would and facing a foreclosure on his house, he ties a bunch of balloons to his house and flies it to South America. As you do.

The first ten minutes of this movie are perfect. I think we all know that. That kind of distracts from how crazy the rest of it is. But that’s Pixar for you — if they can keep you from realizing how insane their third acts are, they did their job. And here, you don’t really remember that this movie ends on a blimp with hundreds of talking dogs. And it’s because those first ten minutes are so good.

I love this movie, but it would have made a horrible winner. Fortunately I don’t love it enough to vote for it here. But it ranks well because I like it.

Up in the Air is the peak of Jason Reitman. He had Thank You for Smoking, which was awesome, then Juno, which got a bunch of nominations but for which he never got the proper credit, and then this, which he deservedly got the credit for. And it was kind of downhill from there. He’s gotten no recognition whatsoever since this movie.

George Clooney is a guy who travels around the country, firing people. He brings on a new hire, a twenty-something who created a digital way of firing people, and also has to deal with a woman he sleeps with occasionally potentially becoming something more, both of which threaten his simple, isolated lifestyle.

It’s a great film. I really, really, really like this movie. I would want to vote for it, but I just can’t get it any higher than third. Third is solid, especially out of ten.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Inglourious Basterds for me. That’s my favorite film and that’s the one I’d take. The Hurt Locker is the best choice and the film that should have won, but because I love Basterds so much, that’s always gonna be my choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. The Hurt Locker
  2. Inglourious Basterds
  3. Avatar
  4. Up in the Air
  5. Precious
  6. Up
  7. An Education
  8. A Serious Man
  9. District 9
  10. The Blind Side

Rankings (films):

  1. Inglourious Basterds
  2. Up
  3. Up in the Air
  4. The Hurt Locker
  5. Avatar
  6. An Education
  7. A Serious Man
  8. District 9
  9. Precious
  10. The Blind Side

My Vote: Inglourious Basterds

Recommendations:

The Hurt Locker is essential. One of the great war films of the past 20 years, and a Best Picture winner, and a great film all around. Should be seen by all.

You haven’t seen Inglourious Basterds?

Avatar is essential. You can be that person that spitefully says you’re not gonna see it, but that’s just stupid. You can’t talk about the history of cinema without this movie being part of it. You just can’t. For better or worse, this movie is essential.

Up in the Air is a high recommend. Maybe a very high recommend. I like this movie a lot. And Jason Reitman had an amazing first three films, all of which should be seen. I don’t know if I can fully call this essential yet, but I’d say you need to see this, because it’s so good.

Precious is essential for Oscar buffs. As time goes on, I’m not sure this is gonna end up as much more than a good movie that is worth seeing, but not an all-time essential film. We’re almost a decade in. We’ll see. I’d give it a thumbs up.

Up is Pixar. Even when Pixar’s bad, they’re still essential. Well… Cars 2… but otherwise, they’re… oh yeah. The Good Dinosaur. Whatever. This movie is essential. Those first ten minutes alone…

An Education is really great. Worth seeing for the Carey Mulligan performance. Solid recommend.

A Serious Man is the Coen brothers. We’re 25 years in on them. I think you know everything they make is essential by now. Don’t you?

District 9 is a solid film. I enjoyed it. Worth seeing. I don’t love it the way others do, so I can’t give it the highest recommend, but it’s solid. It’s enjoyable.

The Blind Side is fine. You gotta see it if you’re an Oscar buff, because this, to me and to a lot of people, features one of the worst winners in the history of the acting categories (as much as we all like Sandra Bullock). So you gotta see it if you care about the Oscars so you can weigh in on that. Otherwise, it’s a fine film. It’s enjoyable. Catch it on cable and you can watch it and be fine with it. Just don’t give it expectations. You can enjoy it well enough.

he Last Word: The Hurt Locker was the best choice and really has held up as the only choice in this category. Avatar was the biggest film of all time when the awards happened, but not even a decade later and that film’s just gone. The Hurt Locker holds up as one of the solid winners in history and a good choice all around. They made the right one here, which was not a guarantee. So good for them.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2010

Black Swan

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids Are All Right

The King’s Speech

127 Hours

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter’s Bone

Analysis:

Black Swan is perhaps Darren Aronofsky’s best film. Coming off The Wrestler, where he stripped away everything and told a story about a person, he made another one of those… only he made it weirder. And it worked really well.

Natalie Portman is a girl who wants to be the best ballerina. All she does is train and work toward that goal. She lands the lead role in the company’s production of Swan Lake, but in preparing for the show, she starts to lose grip on her sanity.

This movie is GREAT. One of the masterpieces of 2010. This year is so front-loaded with great films, it’s hard to discount anything. I’m likely to not take this, since I can think of at least two films in this category that I’d take over this. But fuck, man, throw this in another year and it’s in contention for a vote. I mean, it’s always in contention for a vote, regardless of year, because it’s that good.

The Fighter is David O. Russell’s rise to prominence. After years of being an indie darling, he disappeared into relative obscurity after a flop (I Heart Huckabees, which is wonderful. Though those set videos didn’t help) and the disaster that was Nailed, which didn’t get finished with him. And then he also, like Darren Aronofsky, went away and came back with a stripped down version of storytelling that focused on character. And people responded to it.

The film is about Mark Ward, a Boston boxer and his early years, overcoming his dysfunctional family to become a champion.

This movie is great. It’s the structure David O. Russell has repeated with his last couple of films — dysfunctional family, colorful characters, and a kick-ass soundtrack. It was more novel at the time than it is now. Now it’s just a solid film that’s worthy of a nomination but not so much a win. It’s great, but I think he’s eclipsed it since then. Not that that should matter. But I also wouldn’t take it anyway. It’s a fourth/fifth type of choice.

Inception is Christopher Nolan. And — I’m not sure what to say about it. I think this is a movie we’ve all seen.

How do you explain this? It’s a heist film where the heist is about implanting an idea in a person’s mind, which involves a whole bunch of crazy shit.

It’s a great action movie, and in a way, this was bound to be nominated, since The Dark Knight is the reason they expanded the Best Picture field. But it’s just a really solid action movie with a big concept behind it. It shouldn’t have won Best Picture. Go ahead and vote for it if you want, but the year’s not weak enough to hold up with this as a winner. There are at least three better choices than this in the category. It’s a solid nominee but nothing more.

The Kids Are All Right is a movie that’s a solid indie, but one I always felt was overrated because of the subject matter. Which is nothing against the film, I just have a problem with people who try to make films about more than they are because of their subject matter. But that’s what you deal with.

It’s about a lesbian couple whose children decide they want to find out who their birth father is. So they track him down, despite one of their mothers’ disapproval of their doing so. They bring him back into their lives, and… well, shit happens.

It’s a nice indie. To me it’s tenth in the category. I just don’t like it above a passing, “Yeah, that was good.” Never would take this. The nomination is the reward.

The King’s Speech is a really solid film. And one that I’d be okay as a Best Picture winner. Most years. This year happens to be really competitive, and that makes it questionable. Still, it’s a terrific film.

It’s about King George VI, who ascends to the throne despite a seemingly incurable stutter. He’s gone to every doctor there is and finally finds a good one in Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist whose unconventional methods help him make his disorder functional, culminating in his famous speech in which he declared war on Germany in September 1939.

The film is great. There’s no denying that it’s great. The only question is do I vote for it and did it need to win? I can only deal with the first one at the moment, and, in this category, I don’t think I take it. Third choice, maybe? Fourth probably. You know what this reminds me of? Spotlight. Solid film that I like a lot. But I’d take other movies over it and I think it’s a fine, though unspectacular, choice as a winner.

127 Hours is exactly how long it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Or…cut off your own arm.

I always forget which it is.

This is about a mountain climber who literally gets stuck between a rock and a hard place. And in order to get out of it, he has to cut off his own arm.

Shit happens, man.

It’s a decent enough movie. The nomination feels like a product of the rigid ten nominee structure and the Danny Boyle love hangover. You know how I say actors have that three or four year window to get extra nominations? It applies to directors to, to an extent. Though they obviously have larger gaps between movies.

It’s bottom two or three in the category. No one takes this. It’s fine, but in every category with ten there are always at least four movies that just have no shot at all that no one would vote for. This just so happens to be one of those.

The Social Network is a film about the founding of Facebook. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Directed by David Fincher.

Not much needs to be said about this except — it’s amazing.

Top two in the category almost any way you slice it. This film is incredible, and was almost the benchmark film of 2010. I originally took this, but that was because it was a clear, this vs. The King’s Speech vote. In an open category, I might not actually take this, despite my love for it. Either way, it’s very much in the conversation.

Toy Story 3 is the end of the trilogy.

Everyone around my age grew up with these movies, and this one was just so bittersweet and emotional.

I mean —

This is incredible, and is one of the best films Pixar’s ever made. Sure, it has the benefit of fifteen years and three films’ worth of nostalgia, but if it works, it works. Wonderful film, and one that theoretically could have been okay as a winner. But not in this year. This year is crazy strong at the top of the category. At best it’s a fifth choice. And that’s being lucky. It’s more like a sixth or seventh choice.

True Grit is the Coen brothers’ remake of the John Wayne film. And, usually a remake of a well known movie almost never turns out good, this one is actually better.

A young girl’s father is killed, and she sets out to hunt down and murder the man responsible. She enlists the help of a one-eyed, drunk federal marshal and goes on her way.

This movie is amazing and it looks gorgeous.

I love this movie. I might not have taken it at the time — because at the time, it was clearly a race between The Social Network and The King’s Speech. And I put my support between the one that I preferred among those two. But I was always very clear that this was my favorite film in the category. And were this at all in contention, this would have been my vote at the time.

Now that it’s not about the year specific, I can vote with my heart. And this has always been my favorite.

Winter’s Bone is the indie film of the list. Each of the rigid ten lists has the one indie film they let on because they had the extra space for it. This was the 10th nominee this year. There’s no doubt about that.

Jennifer Lawrence is a woman living in the Ozarks whose father, a criminal, disappears. She’s tasked with finding him before the family’s house is foreclosed upon. And the film is about her trying to do that and keep her family together.

It’s a solid indie. Nothing incredible, but solid. Tenth choice all around here. Maybe I put it ninth, but I’d never take it. To me, it’s a filler nominee. Nothing more.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I love being able to go back to this category. Because at the time, I was focused on The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech, which is what the category was in 2010. Only those two were the contenders and nothing else had a shot. And it was, at least it seemed like it was, a 51/49 proposition. Maybe more like 55/45, but still, it was close. And at the time, I tried to throw my energy toward the one that I’d rather see win. Though I was very clear at the time that my favorite film in the category was True Grit. And now that time has past, I’m not beholden to anything but my preference. So my choice is now True Grit, and that will probably be my choice going forward. Because that’s held up as my favorite film in the category.

Though I’ll also say — The Social Network, The King’s Speech, Black Swan — there are legitimate choices here. The King’s Speech, in a weak year, I’d take that without hesitation. Black Swan, maybe a second choice most years, but I could see taking it in the right situation. The Social Network, most other years this would be the choice. Good year.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. The Social Network
  2. The King’s Speech
  3. True Grit
  4. Black Swan
  5. The Fighter
  6. Inception
  7. Toy Story 3
  8. 127 Hours
  9. Winter’s Bone
  10. The Kids Are All Right

Rankings (films):

  1. True Grit
  2. Toy Story 3
  3. The Social Network
  4. Black Swan
  5. The King’s Speech
  6. Inception
  7. The Fighter
  8. 127 Hours
  9. Winter’s Bone
  10. The Kids Are All Right

My Vote: True Grit

Recommendations:

The Social Network is essential. As of now, it’s essential, and you’ve probably seen it

The King’s Speech is essential as a Best Picture winner and a great film. As much as I and others hated on this at the time, the worst part about it was that we all loved the film and knew it was great. Now, I can take solace in that. Because it is great. You need to see it.

True Grit is the Coen brothers, thereby making it essential. It’s also an incredible film.

Black Swan is is essential. I’m over a decade removed from getting into film, but I imagine you don’t get too far without this one coming on your radar. If it hasn’t, you need to see it.

The Fighter is David O. Russell. Pretty sure his stuff is essential now. If not, consider it essential because it’s great, the stars that are in it, and because it won Oscars for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.

Inception is not only essential, but it’s Christopher Nolan and you’ll have gotten to this without my help. Just use me as a refresher for something we already know.

Toy Story 3. Don’t be an idiot.

127 Hours is good. Danny Boyle. Good film. Solid recommend. Not essential, just good.

Winter’s Bone is a solid indie. Sure, go ahead. See it. It’s gonna be less essential over time. At best it’s a nice little gem of a movie that started Jennifer Lawrence’s career.

The Kids Are All Right is fine. I like it well enough. Moderate recommend. Not really for me. But it’s good. People will really like it. I’m just not one to recommend it past a “yeah, it’s fine.”

The Last Word: The King’s Speech is a solid winner. Might not look great against some of the competition, but it’ll hold up over time as a fine winner. I still need more time to see if The Social Network holds up. I’m not 100% on that. That’ll decide whether or not it was the best choice they could have made. Otherwise, it’s fine, as much as a lot of us hated it at the time.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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