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Oscar nominations: Favorites, snubs and surprises

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Academy President Tom Sherak and actress Anne Hathaway announce the 2010 Academy Award nominees on Tuesday.

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Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Movie Critic
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; 10:00 AM

Post movie critic Ann Hornaday takes your questions about the shocks and snubs of today's Oscar nominations and discusses the favorites to win the major categories.

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Ann Hornaday: Greetings cinema friends and fans! The Oscar nominations were announced just hours ago -- let the cheering, snarking and second-guessing commence!

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Arlington, Va.: For Best Picture (maybe Director, too), I think it's gonna come down to "Avatar" vs. "The Hurt Locker," with a 50/50 chance each way. Maybe the Academy will take a page out of "No Country for Old Men's" book, and have Javier Bardem flip a coin?

For the supporting categories, does ANYONE have a chance of beating Christoph Waltz or Mo'Nique? I personally don't see it happening, as they seem to be the greatest locks in each category.

Ann Hornaday: Yes and I'd like to watch Javier call James Cameron "friend-o." Now *that's* a ticket I'll buy!

Seriously, I think you are probably right about it coming down to those two films, although there also might be a scenario where a split vote gives it to INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, a movie I'm still surprised is getting so much awards love...

And as for Mr. Waltz and Mo'Nique, yes, it's a lock. And despite my reservations about BASTERDS as a movie, I have no problem with him winning an Oscar; it was a terrific performance, especially in that riveting opening sequence.

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Reston, Va.: Although it doesn't stand a chance of winning, I have to commend the Academy for nominating "Up" for Best Picture.

It was a fantastic movie, far better than most of the other dreck that was nominated.

Ann Hornaday: I agree! There have been so many leaps in animation in recent years, the genre definitely deserves to get out of the categorical ghetto. (Op cit WALL*E, which won for best animated picture in its year, but thoroughly deserved a Best Picture nod.)

One surprise in the animated category this year was no PONYO, a lovely movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki, a master of the form. But that's what makes it a horse-race...

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Since when.....: .....were there 10 nominations for Best Picture? Is that new this year? I've seen only 4 of the nominees but I'd really love to see "The Hurt Locker" win. It's been called "This Generation's 'Platoon' " has it not? What's your pick for best picture?

Ann Hornaday: The Academy announced the expansion of the Best Picture category last year (I'll link to what the Post's Lisa de Moraes wrote about it). Although they've had more than five Best Pic nominees in the past, the conventional wisdom holds that the Academy expanded it this year to bring back TV viewers who hadn't seen many of the nominees in years past. I also wonder if the extra bump in awareness/promotion will help DVD sales, which have been slumping in recent years.

And please do see "THE HURT LOCKER." It's just a breathaking cinematic experience *and* work of art! As for my pick, I wouldn't be surprised to see AVATAR take Best Picture, if only to reward it for energizing the movie-going public and making them get out of their home entertainment centers and into theaters again!

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washingtonpost.com: Just What Oscars Need: More Nominees

Ann Hornaday: Here's that link:

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Arlington, Va.: There really wasn't anything too surprising. I'm rooting for Kathryn Bigelow, for many reasons: amazing film, female director, sticking it to the self-proclaimed "King of the World." Does she stand a chance or will Cameron smarm his way to another undeserved Best Director?

Ann Hornaday: Yay Team Bigelow! I actually do think she stands a good chance of winning a *deserved* Best Director Oscar. My antennae tell me that she's gotten lots of respect from members of the Academy, and they just might sense, like you do, that it's time to give it to a woman. Since last year was such a strong one for female directors, it would be a perfect dovetailing of someone deserving the award regardless of her gender, and also recognizing new (and with luck enduring) more inclusive realities in the filmmaking world.

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Twinbrook: While the best movie I saw this year was probably "The Hurt Locker," my favorite movie of the year was "Up." Nice to see it recognized, though I suspect it would have been snubbed by the Academy had they not turned the Best Picture category into an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Ann Hornaday: You may well be correct that it would have been snubbed without the Big Ten(t). ... Although I would have given it INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS' slot, without a doubt...Also, may I just add that it was equally gratifying to see its fabulous script nominated in the Original Screenplay category, an acknowledgement of how important story is to the Pixar people; also Michael Giacchino's splendid score, which marked a lovely return to the lush, orchestrated musical scores of yore. Much deserved and I hope he wins!

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Germantown, Md.: Why so many nominations for Best Picture this year? Are they all really that great that the list couldn't be narrowed down? Which one surprised you the most?

Ann Hornaday: See the link and previous post; again, mostly this was an attempt to include movies that the TV public had a better chance of having seen, hence THE BLIND SIDE, UP and DISTRICT 9. As far as surprises, I was happily surprised to see DISTRICT 9 included, I thought it was extremely well made and, despite being kind of a pulpy B-movie, very intelligent and funny and sensitive...Some people were expecting STAR TREK to be included, but in that imprecise calculus of "slots," I think DISTRICT 9 got that one...You could make the same argument for AN EDUCATION taking the "slot" that might have gone to (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, a really fetching little rom-com that featured nice performances from Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.

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Washington, DC: It's great to see "District 9" and "Up" in the expanded Best Picture race, but I was extremely disappointed that the category still was not able to find room for "Star Trek," "The Hangover," and/or "Julie and Julia." "The Blind Side" is a fine movie, as is "An Education," but I think "A Serious Man" was a bit of a stretch that made the cut just because of the respect the Academy has for the Coen Brothers.

Ann Hornaday: Yes I was kind of surprised about JULIE & JULIA, although did you notice the Coens didn't get a directing nod, and the movie didn't get any acting love (anyone with me on Fred Melamed?), so maybe the Best Pic was their shout-out. I found both JULIE & JULIA and THE HANGOVER too wildly uneven to qualify as home runs, although I too am a big STAR TREK fan.

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Arlington, Va.: In the leading actress category, Sandra Bullock seems like the hands down favorite. I thought she was fabulous. But so were the others. Do you think they have a shot? Meryl Streep was so believable in her role, but I wonder if it is a foregone conclusion.

Ann Hornaday: I'm pretty much with you that it's Sandra B.'s year, and good for her. I love La Streep as much as anyone, and I think she played Julia Child as more than just an impersonation, but I think Bullock really created a character (albeit also based on real life) who just seemed more fully inhabited. I'd love to see her win, knowing that Meryl S. will have plenty of chances in the future!

Oh, and I was really happy to see Gabourey Sidibe get a nod for her amazing -- and deceptively difficult -- performance in PRECIOUS. If you have ever seen her not in character, you know what a great acting job she did for that role. Good on her!

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Gaithersburg, MD: Am I wrong to be surprised that "The Blind Side" made the cut for Best Picture? And similarly - which movie do you think got bumped because of its inclusion?

Ann Hornaday: Well, considering the Academy's push to be more "populist," it didn't come as a surprise to me...It has that big, righteous, "Erin Brockovich"-y feel to it, as just a movie people want to love. As for what got bumped, maybe STAR TREK...Or maybe something smaller like a CRAZY HEART, although that one has yet to make its way into lots of theaters...NINE might have had a shot if it had been a decent movie. But it wasn't.

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Fairfax, VA: Ann, What was overlooked in the nominations that you'd recommend folks make sure they see?

Ann Hornaday: Thanks for the question! I would recommend some of the films I've already mentioned (PONYO, 500 DAYS OF SUMMER); and there are lots of documentaries, several that didn't even make the short list: ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL is by far my favorite of last year; also EVERY LITTLE STEP, THE BEACHES OF AGNES, and my editor Ned Martel's personal fave, VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR.

Oh, and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. I'm shocked that movie didn't get nominated for art direction and costumes. I mean, SHERLOCK HOLMES???? Really????

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Alexandria, VA: How much did Joaquin Phoenix's strange public appearances hurt the prospects of Two Lovers? I thought it was an amazing movie with Oscar-worthy performances but it was totally snubbed by everyone.

Ann Hornaday: Wow, good call! I myself had forgotten that sweet little movie, which as you say featured wonderful performances, especially from Mr. Phoenix. Honestly, I don't know how much his talk-show appearances mattered, I think it's more a function of not many people having seen the film at the outset, and then its distributor, Magnolia, not having zillions of dollars to spend on campaigning.

Which reminds me! We published a story today that looks at the ins and outs of Oscar campaigning, and how much they resemble political campaigns. A link forthcoming...

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Vienna, Va: Is that "Avatar" flick a real story? I mean are there really a bunch of blue human/horse creatures running around somewhere that the government isn't telling us about? Freaks me out. Your thoughts?

Ann Hornaday: Hmmm...And by "hmmm" mean....okaaaay....

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey Ann. Great stuff today. I was surprised to learn that, if she wins, Bigelow would be the first-ever female director winner. Do you think she's got an edge because of that alone, because Hurt Locker is such a "masculine" film, or simply because it's such an infinitely better movie than Avatar? Also, do you think her edgy movies ("Strange Days," etc.) in the past have cost her broader recognition?

Ann Hornaday: I don't think she has an edge because of her gender alone, I think she just made a kick-tush movie that the professionals in the Academy will respond to. Also, here's a twist: Actors make up the largest voting block of the Academy, and I wonder if they will vote for THE HURT LOCKER over AVATAR also because they might see the latter as heralding their coming irrelevance? Another wrinkle on the "play to your base" imperative that we talked about in the article today (and that link is coming, I promise!)

As for Kathryn's previous films, it's true they've been more genre pictures than high-toned "art" films, but with this tone she's really reached an apotheosis of her skills and vision. I'm utterly and completely thrilled for her, and for filmgoers who get to see more Kathryn Bigelow pictures!

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Mt. Rainier, Md.: Ann: OK, I liked "The Blind Side," don't get me wrong. But what about "Star Trek"? "Invictus"? "Anvil"? "Fantastic Mr. Fox"? "Crazy Heart"? Weren't these all better movies, and, in the case of "Star Trek," better reviewed and more popular? Have most people simply forgotten about how good "Star Trek" was because it came out so long ago?

Ann Hornaday: I agree that STAR TREK might have peaked too early; also, it had such a zippy, fleet feel to it that maybe voters didn't take it as seriously as the others? Honestly I do not know. But I agree that it deserved a nod. I liked all those others too -- maybe even ten nominees isn't enough!

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Frederick: So, Matt Damon very quietly gets his first acting Oscar nomination since way back when he was nominated for Best Actor for "Good Will Hunting". (Obviously, he won the screenplay award that year.) I think he's been overlooked for his acting for a very long time - "The Talented Mr. Ripley", "The Departed", "the Good Shepherd" to name a few - and was very pleased to see his name called today, though I don't think "Invictus" was that great of a movie.

I was actually shocked he was nominated because many pundits had dropped him from their final five in the past couple of weeks and I figured he'd lost his momemtum. Do you think he has any chance of being the surprise winner that often seems to show up in supporting categories - or is Christoph Waltz a lock?

Ann Hornaday: Thank you for the Matt Damon shout out, with which I *completely* agree. I think they should give him a special Oscar for the past few years alone -- including THE INFORMANT -- and just putting his head down and doing outstanding character work. I mean, he has the looks of a leading man and could easily go that route, and he turns into Philip Seymour Hoffman before our eyes! Love him, and happy to see he was recognized.

I do think, however, it's Waltz's to lose. That performance was just too juicy to ignore. But I need to add that being nominated is a *huge deal*. It's easy to shrug it off when people say "It's great just to be nominated," but they mean it. It is. That's why, as strange as the staging was when those past winners came out to honor the nominees last year, I applauded the Academy for giving them their time in the spotlight. They've done outstanding work and wholly deserve that moment. Hope they do that again (maybe with less of a waxworks feel).

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Best Supporting Actor Snub......: .....is definitely Dug, the dog from "Up"!

Ann Hornaday: Squirrel!

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Rockville, MD: How in the world does "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" not get nominated for documentary feature? Also, is this the first year Michael Moore has released a film in the category and not been nominated?

Ann Hornaday: As a huge ANVIL fan, I feel you. I was really outraged that it didn't even make the shortlist! But it's in outstanding company of great documentaries over the years that didn't get nominations or wins, an ongoing problem with the Academy nominating process that they're constantly tweaking...As for Moore, actually he's only been nominated twice (won once, for BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE), and the fact that ROGER & ME wasn't nominated was considered rather a scandal and a bellwether of those aformentioned procedural problems. A vexing issue.

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Women Directors: Other than Sophia Coppola ("Lost in Translation"), have there been other nominated or awarded female directors?

Ann Hornaday: Two other women were nominated before Coppola, Lina Wertmuller for SEVEN BEAUTIES and Jane Campion for THE PIANO. ... Fingers crossed that this is the year...

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Washington, DC: Cheers: Maggie Gyllenhaal for supporting actress. It's about time Maggie! It came at the cost of Julieanne Moore, but I can live with that. An Education for best picture. Loved that movie.

Jeers: Nothing for (500) Days of Summer (screenplay at least would have been nice). And I thought Julie and Julia really deserved an adapted screenplay nomination, since it cleverly and quite effectively adapted two different books from writers of such different backgrounds and styles.

Ann Hornaday: I agree with you about Maggie G.! What a great, understated, utterly honest performance. The only other one I'd add to that category is the wonderful Rosamund Pike in AN EDUCATION -- a sublime, subtle, comic performance. Loved her in that!

I'm with you on the screenplay for (500) DAYS, and I'd add CRAZY HEART for adapted screenplay. That movie was written and directed by semi-local guy Scott Cooper, with whom I did a Q&A last year. Link forthcoming.

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washingtonpost.com: Ann Hornaday interviews director Scott Cooper on the making of 'Crazy Heart'

Ann Hornaday: Here's that link to CRAZY HEART's Scott Cooper:

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Baltimore: Totally disagree with you on the Hangover, Ann. I would have given it a screenwriting nod, because I think it's the dialogue that raised it to another level. It's just got so many great lines, and realistic ones at that. I think that's why us drones out here in Public Land connected with it.

Ann Hornaday: The dialogue was hilarious, but scripts are also structure, and I thought there were just too many parts that sagged and dragged. Thought it could have been tighter, punchier, less digressive (although yes, it was all about digressions, but still...).

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West Orange, NJ: I was astounded not to see "The Road" anywhere. Pretty big affront in my opinion. Any inkling as to why it was snubbed?

Ann Hornaday: Oooh THE ROAD. The poor, lonely ROAD. That movie had a rough row to hoe; kept getting put off and then when it finally opened, no one saw it. Although I can't say I enjoyed that movie, I respected it -- the director's control of tone, the art direction, the performances. But it all added up to a big...Ugh. I just don't think that movie connected with many people, including members of the Academy.

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Piscataway, NJ: Honestly, why bother wasting a best picture nomination on Up when they give it a nomination for best animated? Doesn't simple logic dictate that, since it's the only animated picture nominated for best picture, it must be the best animated picture of the year? A completely telegraphed win....

And the inverse is that it therefore becomes a longshot in the best picture category, since it has best animated sewn up.

I'm not saying that it wasn't a great film, it's just that the nominating process is showing its screwiness.

And while we're on the subject, can we please stop calling it "Disney/Pixar's Up" in the official literature -- I don't see the other nominees touting their studios in their titles...

Ann Hornaday: Some very good points! Since we're running short on time, chatters, I will now post your thoughts and feelings with a minimum of blah-blah on my part...

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Criteria for Awards: Is there an actual list of criteria the Academy uses to nominate/vote for "Best Picture" (other categories) or does it just come down to politics, populism/economics, popularity or the cause du jour?

Ann Hornaday: Yes, they publish their eligibility rules on their Web site (link forthcoming); but they are really pretty loose, they don't get into aesthetic or content issues. Which is probably why these lists always entail a bit of head-scratching!

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washingtonpost.com: Rules & Eligibility for the 82nd Academy Awards

Ann Hornaday: Here's the Academy Web site:

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Washington, DC: I read that Lee Daniels is the second African American to be nominated for best director. Who was the first?

Ann Hornaday: According to my exhaustive research, only one African American has been nominated for Best Director, John Singleton for BOYZ N THE HOOD. Which now that I see it is shocking (no Spike Lee?).

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Minneapolis, MN: I...don't...get...the...obsession...with...Avatar. I mean, I saw it, and had fun, and enjoyed the night, but what is it that's so transformative for people? A feast to look at, and cool special effects, but the story -- there's just not much there. What am I missing?

Ann Hornaday: This is probably going to start a whole new thread, but I must admit I'm with you. I liked AVATAR more than I thought I would, but it hasn't 'stayed' with me the way it has for so many people...I guess it just speaks to the power of such an immersive experience. To each his/her cinema!

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New York, NY: Man, I hope Bigelow wins Best Director. Interesting that her ex's movie, despite all its whiz-bang effect, is a schmoopy love story at the core, while hers is all testosterone-y man man man stuff.

Too bad 500 Days of Summer got overlooked -- clearly An Education had much better marketing. Or, I must admit, since I haven't seen it, maybe it's just a way better movie.

Ann Hornaday: See AN EDUCATION, then decide. (You won't be sorry.)

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Arlington, VA: Is it just me or does this year's list of nominee's seem rather boring and expected?

Ann Hornaday: What you said.

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Germantown: Do you think Avatar is getting all of these nominations just because it's ... ahh ... James Cameron? CGI and 3D eye candies aside, the story is only so so and was highly derivative. What you do think?

Ann Hornaday: I agree about the derivative story...But there's no question Cameron can create a 'wow' experience, and for the movie industry that's huge -- getting people excited about going to the movies. I think he gets a lot of credit for that.

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Olney, MD: My daughter & I have a running argument about whether Titanic deserved to win the Oscar over L.A. Confidential, which I think had a much better plot and far superior performances. Titanic was technically amazing (although I admit I was going "Sink! Sink already" while it was taking forever to go down) and beautifully costumed, coiffed, furnished, etc. This is how I feel about Avatar. The effects were amazing but Up in the Air, for example, had a far superior storyline. I hope Avatar doesn't win. And Star Trek SHOULD have been nominated for best picture.

Ann Hornaday: OK "Sink, sink already!" is now in my permanent lexicon. Love it! And love your comments, thanks.

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Ann Hornaday: Gang I'm sorry but I must flee to write reviews of this week's movies! Thanks for all your insightful questions and comments and...Let's start the chant! Big-e-low! Big-e-low! Big-e-low!

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