a theatre, film & pop culture review
The screenplay categories are easily my favorites. They almost always include at least one of the super-literate, lots-of-talk-little-action, quirkily humored indie films that I live to adore (ex: Before Sunset (2005)The Squid and the Whale (2006), Little Miss Sunshine (2007), Juno (2008)). This year’s nominees are slightly different – where’s (500) Days of Summer? – but nevertheless, the Academy has not failed to honor two of the year’s films that I most highly regard.
Reitman and Turner’s depiction of a “career transition” counselor who contentedly flies the friendly skies from one American city to the next, firing Average Joes and Janes so that the big corporate figurehead doesn’t have to do it himself, is beyond relevant. Up in the Air is hard-hitting in these dire economic times, and Walter Kirn’s novel has been adapted adroitly into a smoothly structured screenplay that subtly captures the loneliness of one man and the heartache of an entire country. This is the type of work that will be appreciated more upon repeated viewings (the first time through you’re just too damn busy watching Clooney and Farmiga to really catch the textual nuances), and because so many voters know it doesn’t have a shred of a chance of winning Best Picture, they’re going to show their affection for the film right here.
If Up in the Air’s charm is subtle and smooth storytelling, District 9’s is the clear opposite: obvious and chaotic, this tale of Man vs. Prawn pulls no punches in its in-your-face exploration of race, class, and government corruption. While dramaturgically flawed in its scientific details, District 9 ups the stakes for all alien flicks to come by integrating serious social commentary and compelling characters with classic sci-fi tropes and thrills.
Two of the remaining nominees, An Education and In the Loop are worthy but unassuming contenders: a quietly compelling coming-of-age story about a young girl in 1960s England and how her life changes upon meeting a sophisticated man double her age and the ballsy British dramedy about a US President and the UK Prime Minister who fancy a war, yet can’t quite convince their respective camps that that’s a good thing. Lacking any real campaigning and not nearly as structurally interesting as either Up in the Air or District 9, these two barely register in the race. Precious, on the other hand, while powerful in its subject of an obese and outrageously abused African American teenager, flounders in its reliance on clichés to emotionally manipulate its audiences.
Only Quentin Tarantino would have the audacity to rewrite WWII. That he does so with such expert transitioning between the multiple story lines he’s concocted –Nazi-scalping Jewish avengers, film star spies, and sadistically charming, scary-smart Nazis – is what places Inglourious Basterds above the rest. Each character’s role and motivations are so specific and so carefully woven into the overall narrative that the signature giddy Tarantino bloodbaths and self-conscious sarcasm are just desserts. Voters will want to reward the writer-director’s gustiness, and offering him the trophy for best original screenplay is the surest way to do it.
Tarantino does have some stiff competition, though, because if The Hurt Locker has any kind of sweep after the Big Blue People are through miningour penchant for show over substance, Mark Boal may just take this one home for his point-blank portrayal of soldier addicted to the adrenaline rush of war. And wouldn’t it be a delightful coup if the animated Up, which adventurously follows a curmudgeonly octogenarian as he discovers how to move on from a devastating loss, took home the gold? As for those other two nominees, Amon and Moverman’s The Messenger lacks any kind of punch when disregarding its star performance by Woody Harrelson, and A Serious Man is seriously confusing for us gentiles. This race is decidedly between the two tighter and more affecting of the three war-related stories: Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker.
Next Up: Best Supporting Actor + Actress