With the Academy Awards just days away and twice as many nominations for Best Picture this year, five more producers are busy penning what may be the most important speech of their lives. But we'll only ever hear one of those heart-wrenching speeches filled with introspection and "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Meanwhile, actors wonder if they truly gave their career-defining performances; directors ponder if one extra shoot would tip them towards gold. For the nominees, life has come to a slow-down.
But for the rest of us, Oscar night can't come fast enough. Ten Best Picture nominees means infinitely more suspense as awards season becomes harder and harder to predict. But never fear! Your Silver Chips Online experts may not be Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, but we'll do our best to guide you through that glitzy Sunday evening when Hollywood's A-list comes together to, as Warren Beatty famously said, congratulate themselves. Best Animated FeatureAnd the nominees are..."Coraline," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Princess and the Frog," "The Secret of Kells" and "Up" David says: Fantastic Mr. Fox
For better or for worse, Pixar's unbearably cutesy films routinely sweep awards for animated films, while people like me, who can barely tell the difference between each Pixar release, are trampled under a stampede of rabid fanboys. But this has been one heck of a year for animated films, and Pixar's magic bouncing lamp has some stiff competition.
Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox," a tongue-in-cheek stop-motion adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl children's novel, benefits from powerhouse voice performances by George Clooney and Meryl Streep, as well as a timeless story that's been enjoyed through the ages and a score as witty as its source material. It's been honored by a diverse array of groups, including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review. Most importantly, Pixar has taken home the award two years straight now. It's their turn to lose. Sophia says: Up
In the last two years, Pixar's "Ratatouille" and "WALL-E" took the Oscars for Best Animated Feature. This year, Pixar will continue to dominate with "Up," a heartwarming film about an old man and a young boy finding adventure and friendship in the least likely places. The buoyant "Up" is full of sheer emotion, making us feel heartbroken about lost love, yet simultaneously warm and fuzzy for Carl's eventual fulfillment. The visuals are dynamic and vivid and the wit is much appreciated, especially the humor from Dug, who makes us wish our dogs were able to speak. It's a tale of adventure and dreams that continues to carry young and old away and back into the film. "Up" is uproarious and uplifting, and I hope to see director Pete Docter "up" on stage. Best PictureAnd the nominees are..."Avatar," "The Blind Side," "District 9," "An Education," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious," "A Serious Man," "Up" and "Up in the Air" David says: The Hurt Locker
Okay, so we lied - 10 best picture nominees doesn't make the process of predicting this year's winner any more suspenseful. That's because your film can't truly be the year's best without overall quality in every category. Best Picture winners are usually at least nominated for Best Director, spelling doom for "The Blind Side," "A Serious Man," "Up," "An Education" and "District 9."
So, what's left? My personal favorite, "Up in The Air," is probably out. Ever since being crowned the National Board of Review's Best Film, it's been a downhill ride for Jason Reitman and company, culminating in a particularly depressing loss to the year's most unoriginal film, "Avatar," at the Golden Globes. "Precious" is a little too constantly depressing for the Academy to really get behind. "Inglourious Basterds" takes a few too many liberties with both history and Brad Pitt's atrocious southern accent.
This leaves "The Hurt Locker," the story of an Army bomb-disposal unit in Iraq. It's one of the most honest portrayals of war cinema has seen in years, more Stanley Kubrick meets Paul Greengrass than Michael Bay-style action trash. Through excellent performances and slick cinematography, the film's producers pull off the best kind of film, the type that's simultaneously fast-paced and emotionally plumbing.
Sophia says: Avatar
"Avatar," which has grossed more than 2.4 billion dollars worldwide, has single-handedly captivated the international community with its stunning imagery and revolutionary storytelling. The storyline may be a little hackneyed, akin to what we've seen in "Pocahontas" and "Dancing with Wolves," yet it is the presentation of this storyline, coupled with an endearing message, that sets "Avatar" apart from the rest of the field.
"Avatar" takes viewers to another world that is so real and vivid, I found it hard to breathe during the film (luckily, I'm still here). And Cameron just kept on tacking on more impressive features to boot - a beautiful music score, dynamic sound effects, as well as mind-blowing 3-D imagery, which made the characters and the world of Pandora come alive.
2010 is a new decade that is all about the boom, boom, pow and "Avatar" is the only Best Picture nominee that delivers such authority. Just as the Academy understood with last year's winner, "Slumdog Millionaire," it is not just enough for a film to ride on emotions, as in "Benjamin Button" and "The Hurt Locker." Movies are mediums of inspiration, carrying viewers to places not possible in reality. They tell us stories that transcend common belief, and even make us think. In "Avatar's" case, we reflect about the role of human beings on earth. Even from a practical standpoint, "Avatar" is the clear choice. All hail the blue people.
And the nominees are...Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker"), James Cameron ("Avatar"), Lee Daniels ("Precious"), Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air") and Quentin Tarantino ("Inglourious Basterds")
David says: Kathryn Bigelow
So, let's start eliminating (again). For previously mentioned political reasons, Jason Reitman's witty-yet-devastating direction won't get a trophy. As I've said before, Lee Daniels won't see Oscar gold for "Precious," since the Academy usually avoids gloomy films such as "Requiem for a Dream" and "Revolutionary Road," in favor of simpler fare such as "Braveheart" or "Titanic."
Speaking of which, I'm hoping the Academy has the good sense to reject "Avatar." James Cameron's shiny blue aliens may have taken over the box office, but that doesn't mean another statuette for Cameron, especially when his film is essentially "Dances with Wolves" in space. Or is it "The Last Samurai?" Or "Pocahontas?" Or "Titanic" all over again? I really can't tell.
This leaves us with two action suspense films, Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" and Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." "Basterds" tries to pull our strings by casting its bloodthirsty characters as righteous avengers and twisting history for its own ends. It tries to build tension through Mexican standoff after Mexican standoff after Mexican standoff. Bigelow on the other hand, has crafted the first Iraq war film to transcend its setting. "The Hurt Locker" manages to create an apprehensive environment without forced, artificial gimmick. Unlike Tarantino's stone-faced killing machines, Bigelow's bomb squad reflects every facet of a soldier's character, ranging from the adrenaline addicts to the soft quasi-philosophers. Bigelow's characters show growth as they're battered by the horrors of conflict, while Tarantino's characters take their steely-faced ruthlessness to the grave. Bigelow wins, hands down. Sophia says: James Cameron
With his larger-than-life "Avatar" becoming the must-see movie of 2010, Cameron will be the one to take home the golden trophy come Sunday for Best Director. Upon appearance, "Avatar" may just be another "pretty" film with stunning visual and sound effects. But it is more than that, thanks in large part to Cameron's genius. The intricacies of the film run rampant, including the subtle yet effective combination of various genres, such as romantic, war, science fiction and Western. Cameron also consciously constructed the enviro-epic "Avatar" to bring viewers deeper in thought about the human condition and their treatment of the planet, showing us just how complex, profound and ingenious a moviemaker Cameron really is. And for such efforts, the trophy should go to Cameron.
Unfortunately, Cameron is not the favorite to win for the award; ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow is seeking to be the first-ever female Best Director for her poignant film "The Hurt Locker." Bigelow is good, but she is short of being great - unlike Cameron. Spending over a decade creating and tweaking all aspects of the film, Cameron is the
mastermind of the decade. He not only tells a good story, making us feel deeply for Jake and Neytiri's relationship, but also transports our imaginations through a majestic, sensual, never-before-seen experience.
First, it was "Titanic," now it's "Avatar." Look for Cameron to be "king of the world" (or just of the Oscars). Best ActorAnd the nominees are..Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart"), George Clooney ("Up in the Air"), Colin Firth ("A Single Man"), Morgan Freeman ("Invictus") and Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker") David says: Jeff Bridges
We've seen Bridges here four times before, but after wins at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) and various other organizations, it seems that 2010 is his year, and rightly so. In "Crazy Heart," we see Bridges at his best and most dedicated. Unlike performances such as Clooney's, where the leading man plays himself with emotional issues, Bridges transforms, both visually and psychologically. He's gained weight and grown out his hair, but beyond the physical changes, there's the sense behind his eyes of a truly washed-up star, a hard-drinking has-been who's finally been given a new lease on life. As he fumbles for his cigarettes and craves another shot of Jack Daniels, we don't simply see Bridges in a cowboy hat - we see a man who's hit rock-bottom looking for a shot at redemption. Sophia says: George Clooney
It is difficult to predict whether Bridges or Clooney will win this one, but I'm rooting for Clooney to walk away with the statue. This has been Clooney's year. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" was truly fantastic; "The Men who Stare at Goats" was marvelous and "Up in the Air" has been the best of all. In "Up in the Air," Clooney easily found his niche as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer who spends his time firing people and giving motivational speeches. The film's screenplay under Director Jason Reitman is already witty and thought-provoking, but Clooney boosts "Up in the Air" to new heights. He gives us his career-defining performance, evoking roller coaster waves of emotion, showing us his struggles in coping with the real world and real love. While Jeff Bridges delivers a sublime performance in "Crazy Heart" and is due for an Oscar after being pushed aside five times, Clooney is molded for the role of Bingham and has his public charity work for Haiti going for him. Fingers crossed to see first-class Clooney as Best Actor a second time. Best ActressAnd the nominees are...Sandra Bullock ("The Blindside"), Helen Mirren ("The Last Station"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education"), Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious") and Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia") David says: Sandra Bullock
As much as I hate to say this about the star of "All About Steve" and "The Proposal," Sandra Bullock is in all likelihood getting her first trophy this year. I wasn't a huge fan of "The Blind Side," which when compared to "Precious" seemed typical and insubstantial, nor was I especially happy with Bullock's one-note performance. But the fact remains that she's been sweeping acting awards, ranging from SAG to the Golden Globes. Though she's nominated alongside highly respected thespians such as Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, those two actresses are nominated for fairly weak roles relative to their average body of work. The fact that "The Blind Side" managed to make the cut for Best Picture testifies to the intense level of support that Bullock's performance has. Sophia says: Sandra Bullock
I admit that it's a little hard for me to imagine Bullock as an Oscar winner, when all I can only picture her as a F.B.I. agent wearing a pageant sash across her body. Nonetheless, Bullock has proved in "The Blind Side" that she can handle more serious roles. In contrast to the other more seasoned nominees, Bullock has the better role - an inspiring, uplifting, strong-willed woman who breaks barriers and helps advance the life of football player Michael Orher. Although Streep does a splendid comedic job as Julia Child in "Julie & Julia," we usually see the Best Actress award handed to those in dramas, who take on gritty roles or who soundly move us. This year, the only considerable performance is Bullock's. With a SAG and Golden Globes trophy already on her mantle place, look for Bullock to add yet another prize to her collection. Best Supporting ActorAnd the nominees are...Matt Damon ("Invictus"), Woody Harrelson ("The Messenger"), Christopher Plummer ("The Last Station"), Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones") and Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") David says: Christoph Waltz
To me, "Inglourious Basterds" was a film that, for all the tender loving care its director gave it, contained a myriad of backbreaking flaws. Tarantino's characters are underdeveloped cliches of good and evil. His plot is held together by duct tape. His attempts at "homage" come off as heavy-handed plagiarism. The film's redeeming factor however, is Waltz's sheer brilliance as Nazi Colonel Hanz Landa. In a film dominated by ridiculous accents and done-before bravado, Waltz's Landa is the most entertainingly loopy and unpredictable of the cast, alternating at the push of a button between English and French, intimidating and comical, frightening and frightened out of his wits. Oh yes, and he's won virtually every industry supporting actor award in existence.
Sophia says: Christoph Waltz
This year, the winner of the Supporting Actor category is clear as day: Austrian Christoph Waltz for his role as Hans Landa in "Inglourious Basterds." If his performance in the film is not enough to convince anyone of his talents, he has been awarded more than 25 supporting actor awards for his portrayal of the ruthless Nazi "Jew hunter." In Quentin Tarantino's feared "unplayable" role, Waltz is brilliant - creepy, highly intelligent, sardonic and unremittingly evil all in one package. Similar to the intensity of Mo'Nique's performance in "Precious," Waltz also allows a complex, layered character come to life. He may be the "Jew hunter," but he is not caught up in the Nazi ideology; he is despicable, but endearingly charming, even when he politely admits that he must kill you. Waltz is an incredible actor who played the most memorable character on screen this year, and for this, it is his night to shine.
Best Supporting Actress
And the nominees are...Penelope Cruz ("Nine"), Vera Farming ("Up in the Air"), Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Crazy Heart"), Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air") and Mo'Nique ("Precious")
David says: Mo'Nique
The Academy seems to have picked these particular nominees out of a hat, favoring Penelope Cruz's one-note performance in "Nine" and Maggie Gyllenhaal's intermittently involved role in "Crazy Heart," over Julianne Moore's role in "A Single Man" and Marion Cotillard's powerful turn as the centerpiece of Daniel Day-Lewis's life in "Nine." This year though, it doesn't really matter.
Like the supporting actor race, the contest for best supporting actress is locked down by Mo'nique, whose abusive tour-de-force as Precious's mother lends even more emotional weight to a truly tragic film. Precious may face adversity from all sides, but it's Mo'nique's performance, and the abuse she so successfully conveys as the only real family Precious knows, that give the film it's emotionally ravaging atmosphere. She too has won virtually every industry supporting actress award in existence.
Sophia says: Mo'Nique
I feel bad for Penelope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick because there is absolutely no competition in this category - Mo'Nique is going to win it all. In "Precious," Mo'Nique takes on the role of Mary, possibly the nastiest mother in all of humankind, who makes the life of Gabourey Sidibe's Claireece a living hell. Yet, therein lays Mo'Nique's genius. Although we hate Mary for her perpetual abuse, we recognize her as trapped and abused in her own way. It is her need for love and the way society has robbed her of her dreams that creates a "me against the world" attitude viewers come to sympathize with. With a Golden Globe, SAG and a British Academy of Film and Television Acts award already in her claim, Mo'Nique is an absolute force to be reckoned with, completely tearing the other nominees to shreds.
If you're feeling ambitious, you can access your own printable ballot from ABC here.