The Oscar Power Rankings for the past few months has been nothing but cold analysis: A completely objective look at the state of the race and the height of the buzz.
Now it’s time to get subjective. Before we get to the final analytical predictions of who will ultimately take home gold, it is first time to actually take a critical look at the films, performances and screenplays up for the big prizes this year, and analyze who actually deserves to take home the statuette.
With that, here is the ranking of who should win an Oscar on Sunday night…
This was far more than imitation (something that frequently wins Oscars – see Cotillard, Mario and Blanchett, Cate). Freeman went beyond mere mimicry, capturing the charisma, and the lighthearted charm of Nelson Mandela. He did more than make you believe he was Mandela through his voice and physicality: he did through the gravitas of his performance. A monumental achievement.
2 – George Clooney in Up In The Air
It’s hard to feel bad for George Clooney, but despite a precise and effortless performance he still can’t top (spoiler alert) either one of these lists. He’ll have to take solace in the fact that in Ryan Bingham he created a character that we should have hated, but was so undeniably charismatic that we couldn’t help but root for him. The only type of person who could have lived the life and excelled in the job portrayed in the film.
In a remarkably restrained role, Firth allowed us to feel the weight of his depression by not outwardly expressing it any way. This took incredible control and made an otherwise shoddy film feel as if it were great.
Renner played unhinged very well, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do with regards to acting in this role. Really, how much different was this role than that of any other gung-ho hero in a generic action film? The answer – not very. We saw a little bit of the character’s interior during the film’s coda, but not nearly enough to merit his being considered to win.
I don’t really understand the hype over this performance. This isn’t even in the top ten Jeff Bridges performances. Essentially, he sat around letting his gut hang out for two hours as he ran through a formulaic washed-up drinker film without adding anything we haven’t already seen. Bridges certainly deserves an Oscar or two, but not for this role.
Remember when this movie came out and everyone proclaimed her an easy Oscar winner, raving about her performance to no end? Well, I don’t know how exactly her performance changed over the last few months, but in my eyes it’s just as good as ever. She expertly captured the naivete of youth that often masquerades itself as worldliness, all while looking effortless onscreen.
You just can’t go wrong with the Streeper. While this was more of a straight imitation than Freeman’s Mandela, Streep did it well and added something we all loved about Julia Child – her joy. Streep again rose above the mimicry trap to bring something more to a portrayal of a famous person.
3 – Gabourey Sibide in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Sibide was fine in this role, but nothing amazing. She essentially mumbled her way through the film, doing a good job of capturing Precious’ desperation, but not in a way that gave us any real insight. A competent performance, but not a great one.
Mirren was fine in this film. Just fine. Not spectacular. Just fine.
Is this really what gets nominated for an Oscar? Sandra Bullock dyes her hair blond, slaps on a bit of accent, cops an attitude and it’s worth an Oscar? That’s a joke, an absolute joke. It’s not that she’s bad in this movie – she does a good job, but there’s just not much for her to do. If anything, this is another sick indictment about how sparse the good roles for women really are in Hollywood.
Best Supporting Actor
This is an absolute no-brainer. Nobody has ever played a charming monster as masterfully as Waltz did in this film, in four languages no less.
Harrelson has long been a very underrated actor, and this performance shows why. He controls being unhinged very well – a hard thing to make convincing, and he does it with ease.
3 – Matt Damon in Invictus
This was a very good performance from Damon. He didn’t have a lot to do, but he did everything he could with the material provided.
This performance was just a little bit over-the-top. That could be a result of the overwrought filmmaking, but ultimately it’s the actor’s responsibility to control his character.
5 – Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
It’s clear Plummer had a fine time playing Tolstoy in this piece, but the role was a bit too slight to be considered anything but just a solid performance. It is nice that he finally got an Oscar nomination, however.
Best Supporting Actress
1 – Monique in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
If you look at the Oscars like a horse race (which it is), Monique’s role kind of played out like this: She stayed at the head of the pack for most of the movie, masterfully controlling her monster of a character with Kathy Bates in Misery-like terror. Then, when she hit her final monologue, she took off like Secretariat at the Belmont and absolutely dusted everybody.
2 – Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
This was a masterfully written role that required a lot from Farmiga and she pulled it off flawlessly. Her character had to show the balls of a dude with the vulnerability of a female lurking underneath, yet suppressed. This was a difficult thing to accomplish, and she made it look effortless.
3 – Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
This role was just so plain with a very generic journey. Kendrick played the comedy well, but for the most part this was the same cookie-cutter female role you’ll find in hundreds of other films. She did it better than most, but there just wasn’t much there.
4 – Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
A strange nomination for a thankless role. Gyllenhaal tried her best to make this journalist who instantly falls in love with an old drunk believable, but ultimately she just ended up looking lost and miscast. At least her nomination allows Peter Sarsgaard to get an Oscar invite, since he should have been nominated for An Education.
She’s only at the bottom because I did not see this movie – So call it an incomplete.
Best Original Screenplay
1 – Inglorious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino
It seems strange, but this sprawling script was actually incredibly tight, with every scene essential and the momentum towards the climax never wavering. Each character was richly drawn, and, as is always the case with Tarantino, the dialogue is sterling.
2 – Up by Pete Docter
It’s only the perfection of Basterds that has this screenplay second on the list, because it’s equally perfect. It’s just astounding that a movie with a floating house and a talking dog meant for kids can paint the most honest portrait of old love we’ve ever seen.
Another standout from the Coens, who continue to fashion uniquely brilliant comedies that examine the human condition. This is a bit more obtuse than most of their work, but a riot all the same.
4 – The Messenger by Alesandro Camon & Oren Moverman
This is just a good solid screenplay, nothing that stands out, but nothing out of place either.
5 – The Hurt Locker by Mark Boal
This screenplay has a major flaw that’s a spoiler to reveal. To be a bit vague, it goes off in far too many directions at the end, lessening in the impact of its climax with unnecessary diversions. There’s a perfect 90-minute film lurking within this screenplay, but as it stands it’s far too unfocused.
Best Adapted Screenplay
1 – In The Loop by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche
This is a pretty weak group, with this film standing out the most. It’s not a great screenplay – a little too meandering, but it does have an amazing number of belly laugh jokes, and makes a fine attempt at satire, though becoming perhaps a bit too exagerrated to really succeed.
2 – District 9 by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
It’s strange to really say that a movie so wholly improvised had a great screenplay, but you can’t deny the fine story in this film. However, it doesn’t quite work as an allegory as it becomes too obsessed with action pieces for much of its second half. A good attempt at a real political statement that ultimately gets too much in its own way.
3 – Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire by Geoffrey Fletcher
Another pretty good screenplay that doesn’t quite succeed. This one is also wildly unfocused, never really pegging down its main character – which is kind of essential when she’s eponymous. It hits some good notes along the way, but ultimately the screenplay wanders too much to make the real impact it should.
4 – Up in the Air by Jason Reitman
This screenplay looked like a masterpiece until it couldn’t find a conclusion. Well, actually it found far too many conclusions, trying to wrap up about fifteen different subplots in the space of ten minutes – none of which merited a conclusion. This wild divergence of finality muddles the climax and ultimately leaves the film feeling flat.
5 – An Eductation by Nick Hornby
If this screenplay had brought the story to any sort of conclusion it would have been a standout. Instead, it simple piddles out, leaving the viewer completely non-plussed.
1 – Quentin Tarantino for Inglorious Basterds
Just like his screenplay, Tarantino’s direction is incredibly tight. He manages to never let his story lose momentum despite the myriad plots he introduces and the crazy digressions the film takes. All that, plus the extreme suspense he creates in each chapter. This is a masterwork.
2 – Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Bigelow does an excellent job with the action pieces – creating some of the most teeth-grindingly suspenseful moments you’ll find in film. The type of moments that make you sweat as well as the characters. However, she mishandles much of the smaller moments in this film – failing to adequately capture the intensity away from the situation. And the climax of the movie seems to peter out rather than hit the highest notes.
3 – James Cameron for Avatar
You cannot deny the totality of Cameron’s vision for this film. It is a rare achievement for a filmmaker. But as a storyteller, everything is just kind of run-of-the-mill.
4 – Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Daniels does a fine job of capturing the grit and desperation of his character’s situation, but struggles to keep the story moving – worrying more about showing the horror than moving towards any sort of redemption. He creates some great moments in this film, but has some trouble stringing them together.
5 – Jason Reitman for Up in the Air
Reitman does a great job controlling the tone of this film, but that’s about his only real success here. What he doesn’t do (something very important) is continue to push the story forward. Instead, the story languishes for much of the film, relying on plotting rather than real development as a means of heightening. By the end, this lessens the impact of the climax, which is mishandled in its own right.
1 – Inglorious Basterds
This was essentially a perfect movie. It flowed seamlessly, each scene built on its predecessor, and every character was drawn with richness and depth. There simply wasn’t a hair out of place on its cinematic scalp – making it a blast to watch the whole way through.
2 – Up
Another perfect film. Just the opening credits montage by itself provided more emotional impact than any film listed below did during its entire running time.
3 – A Serious Man
While this film may be a bit of a puzzler, it’s undeniably entertaining throughout with an astounding batch of diverse characters and a very sharp focus on its main character’s journey. This is a clinic on how to tell one story and keep it focused.
4 – District 9
While this may turn into a bit too much of a sci-fi action pic at points, its overall message is undeniable, and the way it’s filmed is something to be admired. It doesn’t let up throughout, and is the most original film on this list.
5 – Avatar
Sorry, haters. This a good movie. It’s not great, and yes it invites comparisons to Dances With Wolves, but the story by itself is actually pretty solid. Plus, there’s no way you can say anything negative about the world this creates – it expanded the capabilities of the medium.
6 – The Hurt Locker
The action and suspense pieces in this film are as good as any you’ll ever see. The rest? Just kind of mediocre. That adds up to a very good film, but not a great one.
7 – Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
This was really a glorified lifetime movie with very good performances including a transcendent performance from Monique. It never really quite got over that hump, despite its ability to show increased realism, but when the performances were this good and the emotional impact this raw, it was easy to forget about it.
8 – Up in the Air
This is down this low for all the reasons already mentioned. It just spent too much time treading the same path and then the conclusion was far too fragmented to make a climactic impact. Still, it was good for most of the ride and it held its tone expertly.
9 – The Blind Side
This was actually a pretty good movie. Sure it was a little slight, and its inaccuracies are now legendary, but it accomplished its goal of warming the heart as well as any movie can – so even though it was a little corny, it succeeded.
10 – An Education
This is the poster child for why there shouldn’t be ten nominees. The film is charming enough but has absolutely no payoff and just kind of peters out. Every reveal seems like either plotting or contrivance and every twist seems far too facile. It’s just one of those movies that makes you wonder why you watched it.
That’s it for my opinion – who do you think deserves to win the Oscar? Where do you think I’m wrong?