Well, the Oscar nominations for 2009 are out. My brother really hates the Oscars because he feels like the award process is arbitrary (or maybe more based on politics and ticket sales than on the actual quality of the movies), but I typically don't really care enough about the Oscars to have a strong opinion one way or the other about their credibility as a benchmark for greatness. Just another award show, in my mind (and maybe part of me roughly equates them with the Grammys, which have failed to recognize so many classic performers over the years that they should have brought the entire thing to a close years ago).
Anyway, of the movies nominated for Best Picture, I've seen Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and District 9. I still want to see Precious and A Serious Man. The others are movies that other people keep telling me that I need to see, but that I don't really have a strong desire to watch (not because they're bad, but just because they don't really appeal to me all that much, personally).
First off, I can't believe that Avatar is nominated for Best Picture. I saw it and I liked it, but the movie didn't really have anything new or especially interesting to say (or, more correctly, nothing that we haven't seen a number of other movies and TV shows before). The special effects were undoubtedly awesome, and I'm all for giving Avatar an Oscar for best special effects, but if we're singling out a movie as being the best thing that came out during the year, it probably ought to have given us something new to think about, or at least framed some important issue in a way that maybe we hadn't thought about before. Avatar was a beautiful movie and an entertaining movie and it pushed the technical envelope in terms of what's possible in modern filmmaking, but it was Dances With Wolves in space (or maybe, as Ryan is fond of saying, Pocahantas with blue Native Americans).
The Hurt Locker was decent, but as I said in a recent post, I thought that it was more of an action movie than a profound war movie with a meaningful message. It was a good movie, but once again, I didn't think it was great a great film.
I also finally saw Inglourious Basterds. It wasn't my favorite movie ever, but it had its strong points. It had some good, strong, classic Tarantino dialogue, and the it was filled with metaphor about the power of film and the ability of the Jews to use it as a means of vengeance against the Nazis. It also had a sort of postmodern twist- being, in essence, more of a movie about the movies of World War II than a movie about World War II itself ([spoiler]a point made fairly clear when the film's protagonists manage to kill Hitler during the climax of the movie in a way that had absolutely no connection to historical reality).
All of this being said, I still think that both Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were better movies, and neither one of them won best picture, so if Inglourious Basterds wins this year I guess I'll just feel like this is either a "make up" award for not giving Tarantino's past work enough credit or that the movie won because this was a weak year, overall, for movies.
Of the movies nominated, I thought that District 9 was probably the most original and had the best points to make. I really liked this movie. It kind of shocks me to see it nominated for Best Picture because you really just don't see that many sci fi movies nominated for best movie of the year (and now we have two in one year- undoubtedly an occurrence resulting from the decision to have ten nominations this year instead of five). Anyway, I really liked it, and I definitely thought that it was one of those sneaky films that uses science fiction themes to say some pretty insightful things about human nature and the human condition.
In the area of movies that I think should have been nominated but didn't make the cut, I think it's a crime that Where the Wild Things Are didn't get a nomination. I think that movie had some of the most poignant, profound things to say about childhood of any movie that I've ever seen. Strange as it sounds, it was a movie about a boy's imaginary adventures with monsters that managed to provide an unsentimental, meaningful look at some of the important, but kind of difficult lessons that a child has to learn in order to become a responsible, caring adult (lessons which, unfortunately, some people never learn). Anyway, I really, really liked that movie (although I'm not sure I would watch it all the time, because it's not exactly depressing, but also not entirely uplifting). Maybe this is going to sound a bit arrogant, but I really just don't think that a lot of people really "got it". Maybe it's better that it didn't get the Oscar nod, though. I have a feeling that it be recognized as a classic which went unappreciated at the time when it came out. Until then it can just be one of those really cool movies that only a few people really respect and care about.
So.... on the whole, I think the Oscars may not always end up highlighting the movies that have the most merit from an artistic stnadpoint, but I think that they do a decent job of pointing out the sort of thing that Americans placed a lot of value on at a particualr point in time. If anything, that's about all you can get out of them.
I gotta run. Hope you guys are doing alright.