THE LONG SHOT: Hollywood fights back

Posted by · 5:45 pm · January 13th, 2010

Sharlto Copley in District 9I may be looking out at my snow-caked garden as I write this, but it was in the spirit of spring-cleaning that I revised my nomination predictions this morning, ridding myself of most of the clinging personal hopes and hunches that lingered when I last updated them a month ago.

It wasn’t the most drastic of revisions (rather to my surprise, I found I’d already predicted a robust haul for “District 9” before the Guilds made it such a strong bet), but it was my most detached one to date, anticipating a race that looks set to be rather passionless on my part.

Rarely have so many of the leading players in the Best Picture race left me so cold – as “Avatar,” “Invictus,” “Precious,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Up in the Air,” “Star Trek” and even “Up” all failed to arouse any particularly warm feelings in me, I began to wonder if I should just retreat to bed until March 8.

(Unfortunately, for those of you wishing I’d do just that, a healthy precursor run for “The Hurt Locker,” one contender I love without reservation, is keeping me invested.)

Still, my individual response to the films in question isn’t the only reason I’m feeling a little distanced from this year’s competition. As it currently stands, Hollywood looks set to enjoy its most homegrown Oscar race in some time.

The unprecedented inclusion of both black and female contenders aside, did you notice anything else unusual about this year’s five DGA nominees? They were all North American. Ditto the writers of the 10 films singled out for WGA nominations. (Admittedly, arcane Guild rules helped there.) And in a stat that looks likely to repeat on Oscar nomination morning, of the 10 films singled out by the PGA, only one is a wholly non-American production – and it’s a long shot, at that.

Meryl Streep in Julie & JuliaMove over to the acting races, and the home dominance continues. Best Actor looks to be fought between Jeff Bridges and George Clooney, with Brit Colin Firth on the outside looking in; his compatriot Carey Mulligan has a stronger shot at Best Actress, but Meryl Streep is the pundits’ favorite to break a three-year European stronghold in the category – and for playing a distinctly American national treasure, at that.

Mo’Nique’s statuette, meanwhile, can practically be engraved already, meaning Austrian late-bloomer Christoph Waltz could well be the rest of the world’s only representative in the top categories come Oscar night.

What does this mean? Possibly nothing. There are far too many disparate participants in awards season for any kind of parochial agenda to be engineered, after all – these are simply the films and individuals that caught voters’ imaginations in this particular year.

But following a year when the Academy exported its top prize (and seven others) to a British take on an Indian narrative, and after seven of the last eight acting Oscars went to non-American thesps, the contrasting cultural flavor this year is striking.

If, however, 2009 turns out to be the year that Hollywood reclaims the award it invented 82 years ago, that’ll have less to do with matters of nationality than of popularity. The sci-fi triple-feature of “Avatar,” “District 9” and “Star Trek” was the talking point of this year’s PGA list, which also embraced the safe, star-powered comforts of “Up in the Air” and the reliable Pixar profitability of “Up.”

Combined with the rising Oscar prospects of Hollywood golden girl Sandra Bullock for a critically-dismissed heartland hit, it’s hard to ignore the resounding signal that high-concept (or at least high-shine) studio filmmaking is looking to rule the Oscar roost once more – lending a possible showdown between monolithic blockbuster “Avatar” and feisty independent “The Hurt Locker” resonance far beyond the personal history of the directors involved.

Carey Mulligan in An EducationBut if this studsio resurgence is great news for Hollywood in a time of economic recession, it’s less encouraging for awards-watchers hoping the Oscar Ten would serve as a more diverse microcosm of the artform. “An Education” is a nimble, affecting little memory piece, but the idea that it should solely represent non-U.S. cinema on the Academy’s list of the year’s best is more than a little absurd.

It gives one all the more reason to hope for a strong showing for “District 9” and its South African creator on February 2. Straddling the line between American and global, between studio and independent, the Tri-Star property nonetheless feels more exotic than anything else in the hunt. Unless, that is, you count “Inglourious Basterds” — with its stretches of subtitled dialogue, the nearest thing to the foreign-language contender some of us hoped a ten-wide field might turn up.

The axis could shift as early as next year, of course. Oscar trends are capricious, as the indie crowd who claimed power in 1996 (only to be crushed by “Titanic” the following year) can tell you. But for now, with critically beloved foreign titles like “Bright Star” and “The White Ribbon” barely getting off the ground, cockeyed compromise is all world cinema has to cling to in this year’s race.

Guy’s Oscar Predictions

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45 responses so far

  • 1 1-13-2010 at 5:50 pm

    Andrew said...

    Youre spot on re: Oscar trends, the push for 10 BP nods is about the big movies and upping ratings. This means BP nods for Star Trek and D9 I think at the expense of a large number of smaller, better films. Like you I dont get how An Education is the sole foreign major contender. Both Ribbon and Bright Star are superior

  • 2 1-13-2010 at 5:55 pm

    John said...

    Interesting. I feel stronger about this batch of contenders than others in years. I not only credit the Academy and the filmmakers, but also audiences for finally going to see such a wide range of solid films.

  • 3 1-13-2010 at 6:10 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    It does feel like American film has had a stronger year than usual though, while foreign films feel the exact opposite, at least in terms of those kind of films that can break through into the mainstream(-ish) and the Oscar race. Like Amélie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and City of God, for example. Can’t think of any such foreign film this year.. It’s so bad that I have to admit I hadn’t even heard of Summer Hours until it won some of the critics awards. Not that I’m that good at keeping track of the foreign films, but that’s still pretty telling to me that it hasn’t been a very strong year for foreign films (in the U.S. market, at least).

  • 4 1-13-2010 at 6:14 pm

    cineJAB said...

    Glad to see your inclusion of Laurent over Mirren for Best Actress, it seems clear to me that Laurent will ride the wave of IB buzz to a nomination, or at least I hope so.

  • 5 1-13-2010 at 6:21 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    guy is those nominees pan out ill be so happy, still waiting for morgan freeman to fall out of the lead, and im thinking kruger and laurent do have a chance at both getting attention, would be great

  • 6 1-13-2010 at 6:26 pm

    Anna said...

    I really hope both IB girls get nominated!

  • 7 1-13-2010 at 6:39 pm

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    I’m off to see Up in the Air this afternoon. I’m quite sick of hearing about it so I hope I don’t go into it ready to hate it.

    Some thoughts on the nominees:

    I still don’t think Up will get a Best Picture nomination. I think people are just assuming Freeman will be nominated for Invictus because it’s Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela (much like when most people assumed Jack Nicholson would be nominated for The Departed). I think Peter Capaldi will receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

    Is it a bit foolish for everyone to be ignoring Amy Adams so much? She’s a double nominee so she already has some admirers in the Academy. I don’t think she deserves a nomination (same with Streep, even though I liked the film) but I’m surprised at how little we’re hearing about her. I don’t even know what category she’s being promoted in, if any.

    And maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I really think (500) Days of Summer is getting a nomination for Best Picture.

    Guy, remember when we both thought It’s Complicated could be a Best Picture nominee? Ah, the follies of youth.

  • 8 1-13-2010 at 6:40 pm

    tim said...

    Funny, our major nominations almost completely match up. I also think Lee Daniels is out and Blomkamp is in, Mirren is definitely out and Laurent is in, and Diane Kruger is in for Supporting. But I still think Julianne Moore is in, I can hang on to one of my favorites as much as you or Kris can. ;)

  • 9 1-13-2010 at 7:23 pm

    Dylan said...

    I agree with all your nominations except for Ice Age for animated. I’d put Ponyo in its place.

  • 10 1-13-2010 at 7:25 pm

    Scott said...

    So, nothing at all for (500) Days? That makes me sad.

  • 11 1-13-2010 at 7:32 pm

    Matt said...

    Love the most overrated film of the year without reservation, feel “cold” for some of the most interesting films of the last year (or even decade). What a sad man you are.

  • 12 1-13-2010 at 7:38 pm

    Andrew said...

    And thanks so much for mentioning Bright Star as it has curiously gone missing on awards sites in the last month

  • 13 1-13-2010 at 7:48 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Disagreeing with you on film opinions makes Guy a “sad man?” I think there’s only one person here worthy of pity, Matt, and that’s you.

  • 14 1-13-2010 at 7:56 pm

    Craig said...

    Matt, there are films worthy of the “most overrated film of the year”, but The Hurt Locker is in no way one of them.

  • 15 1-13-2010 at 8:04 pm

    Megan said...

    Not sure I share your sentiment, Guy. For once, I’m actually very excited about this year. Some people are grieving the notion that 10 slots means the Academy will feel compelled to fill them with blockbusters, but I don’t see that necessarily as a bad thing. Many of the films this year that performed well financially–Star Trek, District Nine, Inglourious Basterds, and Avatar were all solid films (with some personal reservation on the latter, but still a fun ride).

    I can see how the dominant contenders this year makes the ceremony look very bland from a nationality standpoint, but the films themselves represent so many different kinds of genres and interests, and I’m excited about that.

    What’s more, for the life of me, I have NO clue which picture will be Top Banana.

    It’s going to be a good year. I know it.

    And Matt, go smoke a bowl or something, man. I thought I was a Negative Nancy. Be chill, Guy. And chin up—this year is going to be groovy.

  • 16 1-13-2010 at 8:11 pm

    Dan said...

    Yeah, Matt….The Hurt Locker isn’t close to being the most overrated film of the year. That honor goes to Up In The Air!

  • 17 1-13-2010 at 8:19 pm

    red_wine said...

    I precisely felt the same way a few days ago, that this Oscar race has really devolved into picking lesser of the two or 3 evils.

    I seriously wonder when people say this is a good year for American cinema. I think its particularly weak and its actually the foreign films that are carrying the charge.

    Of the top 4, I would gladly endorse wins by either The hurt Locker or Inglorious Basterds, preferring the former. Up In The air is a very good studio product. I don’t love the movie and wouldn’t put it in my Top 10, but I won’t loose sleep if it won. It would be no worse than the many middle-brow choices the academy had made throughout its history. So 3 out of the 4 are fine, its the 4th that I feel will be a disastrous pick on all accounts. I still can’t get around the fact that ANY group will vote for Avatar as best film f the year(none has done it so far except a small inconsequential online group). But now its increasingly looking likely.

    I did not even think District 9 was that great. Very well made for sure but it devolved into so many cliches, the last act was a debacle and I was left with an extremely mediocre movie.

    Guy, did Up seriously leave you cold? I know you didn’t think much of it but wasn’t it atleast emotionally affecting?

  • 18 1-13-2010 at 8:20 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “The Hurt Locker” is virtually the only film amongst the contenders that left me cold, so that’s kind of funny.

  • 19 1-13-2010 at 9:01 pm

    Patryk said...

    Interesting and logical placement of Stanley Tucci for “Julie and Julia” instead of for “The Lovely Bones.”

    If Tucci lands there for J&J, a Streep victory is near certain (not that his omission would signal anything but…). I just don’t see the nomination for Bones. While he may the best thing about that film, I think this placement makes more sense.

  • 20 1-13-2010 at 11:20 pm

    Jim said...

    Nothing for A Serious Man? I sure hope not. Love that film.

  • 21 1-13-2010 at 11:31 pm

    Lee said...

    Inglourious Basterds

    The Above 3 are pretty much locks to be Best Picture nominees. Star Trek and District 9 will be vying with more than a handful of films for the 2 slots that will be toss ups. Only one might eke out a nomination but I highly doubt both will make it.

  • 22 1-14-2010 at 1:16 am

    SHAAAARK said...

    No foreign films really hit powerfully on a cultural, critical, or economic level, sadly. Not that the films going around didn’t deserve to, but that maybe the collapsing independent circuit couldn’t give those films the boost they badly needed.

  • 23 1-14-2010 at 1:39 am

    Jane said...

    This would’ve been a pretty good 5 nominee year. I really love three of the top 5 (Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds), can tolerate Precious and Avatar. But 10 is too much.

    UitA, Hurt Locker or IB winning would be fine but IB is the only one that would really make me excited. Avatar… not so much. I’ll live in denial on that one until the final envelope is opened.

  • 24 1-14-2010 at 2:20 am

    Matthias Zucker said...

    It’s funny, Guy, but every time you do a post, I disagree with nearly everything you say. We seem to have THE most incompatible tastes in film. All the movies you singled out as having left you cold (Avatar, Precious, Star Trek, Inglourious Basterds, Up in the Air) are to me one of the most exciting batch of contenders the Oscars have seen in I don’t know how long. On the other hand, The Hurt Locker and An Education, the only ones you love/like, are the ones that I have reservations about.

    Interesting how tastes differ sometimes.

  • 25 1-14-2010 at 4:02 am

    voland said...

    Not really.

  • 26 1-14-2010 at 5:31 am

    Alex said...

    Just 1 NOMINATION for Nine???


    come onnnn. the costumes for example are done by Coleen Atwood! I see u predict her for Public Enemies, but it’s an obvious nomination for Nine!
    and sound mixing, and art direction (despite the guild snub), and probably cinematography, and maybe one more song and maybe Marion in supporting

  • 27 1-14-2010 at 6:38 am

    Ben M. said...

    I agree that on paper a Tucci nod for J&J makes much more sense: tie into a best actress frontrunner, much better reviews and box office for that movie than Lovely Bones, and he got a lot of praise for that performance. I’m surprised he has gotten some much precursor attention for Lovely Bones, but I wonder if Globe and SAG noms may be somewhat related to the early buzz for that film (look at how both groups really honored Nine before it failed with critics and audiences).

  • 28 1-14-2010 at 7:33 am

    Mike said...


    I love how one freaking year is proof positive that TEH EVIL HOLLYWOOD OH NOES is out to marginalize and destroy all foreign cinema with its mighty imperialistic hammer. And yes, I know you’re giving lip service to “oh, MAYBE it’s nothing”, but that’s clearly the tone of the article.

  • 29 1-14-2010 at 7:52 am

    Megan said...

    …….You know shit is getting ugly when people start using LOLCAT speak.


  • 30 1-14-2010 at 8:01 am

    theoriginal.andrew said...

    I would love to see Tucci nominated for Julie & Julia. It would be fun with Streep who seems to love him so much. After all it was her who suggested Tucci for the Mr Child role.

    And, I think Julie & Julia might get in too. Not so sure about Invictus though.

  • 31 1-14-2010 at 8:14 am

    Matt W. said...

    I find it hard to believe that Up in the Air won’t land in at least one category other than the majors… Editing maybe? 6 nominations is nothing to sneeze at, but I think you may be marginalizing it a little, Guy. Hope you’re right about the IB gals though. Would love to see them both in!

  • 32 1-14-2010 at 8:20 am

    Erik 815 said...

    Nice to see Mackie in your supporting predictions, more wishful thinking that oscar voting analysis I think (the IB ladies are equally deserving, but less of a longshot). I’d personally bump Freeman for Sharlto Copley, no disrespect to Freeman himself, but I really, really, really want to see Copley in, and don’t want to bump any of the others.

  • 33 1-14-2010 at 8:54 am

    Michael said...

    I’m not sure I understand the tone (or not to be mean but the point even) of this article either actually, and usually Guy’s Long Shot column is one of the best reads on this site.

  • 34 1-14-2010 at 9:24 am

    Liz said...

    Though it’s somewhat inelegantly phrased, I have to agree with Mike’s post, as well as Michael above me. I’m not quite sure what you’re saying, Guy.

    Yes, there have been an overwhelming amount of non-Americans winning Oscars over the last few years (especially the acting categories), but this year it looks like there will be mostly American winners. Because…? I mean, doesn’t this just seem like a cyclical thing? If there had been four foreign acting winners again this year, would that have been OK? Note: I am in no way trying to say, “YOU HATE AMERICA!” It’s just that what I got out of your article is that there should be a quota filled by foreign pictures every year, but I’ve never gotten the impression you felt that way.

    Now, if you’re pointing out the irony of expanding the BP category and coming up with almost ten American productions, I can understand that. So would you not have written this column if it had just been “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” and “Up in the Air”?

    Or is this just a very long way of saying that you once again don’t agree with the prospective nominees (and, frankly, I can’t say I blame you)? Like Michael said, not trying to be mean, but I think I might be missing what you’re trying to say.

  • 35 1-14-2010 at 10:11 am

    Erik 815 said...

    It’s just an observation, and a valid one. Wasn’t it the oscar show patting itself on the back 3 years ago as “the most international oscars ever”? And the line-up of 10 best pic nominees was hoped to invite more diverse films. British films have often fared well with the oscars, and in recent yers we’ve seen more non-English language films break through, which are generally made completely outside the whole Hollywood machine, so it’s worth pointing out that THIS year, the lineup is still fairly Hollywood.

    The article is called “Hollywood fights back”, not “America fights back”. I think that might be a clue.

    Though there’s a good case to be made for more independent and less star-centric filmmaking with a Serious Man, Precious, the Hurt Locker, an Education, and District 9 balancing out the big studio films.

  • 36 1-14-2010 at 10:52 am

    Liz said...

    “Wasn’t it the oscar show patting itself on the back 3 years ago as “the most international oscars ever”?”

    Right. THAT set of awards was the most international ever. Who’s to say it needs to be like that every year? And in my defense, my nominees and possible winners would include Carey Mulligan, Christoph Waltz, Alfred Molina, Sharlto Copley, and Tilda Swinton, so I’m in no way pushing for an all-Hollywood lineup. I just don’t see how going from mostly foreign to mostly Hollywood/American is somehow wrong or regressive. If that’s how AMPAS feels, that’s how they feel. I don’t agree with them, but what else is new?

    “And the line-up of 10 best pic nominees was hoped to invite more diverse films.”

    Maybe I’m not too bothered by this issue because I always thought that line from AMPAS was totally bogus anyway. I never believed the 10 nominees was anything less than a sop to blockbusters, studios, and ratings. So, if I had ever hoped that the final ten would include foreign films/documentaries/true indies, etc., I could see how this year would seem like a disappointment.

    “Though there’s a good case to be made for more independent and less star-centric filmmaking with a Serious Man, Precious, the Hurt Locker, an Education, and District 9 balancing out the big studio films.”

    And that’s why I don’t see this as a “Hollywood” issue. There are still a number of low-profile, outside-Hollywood movies in the running. In fact, I think a five-picture lineup would be much more Hollywood-oriented than the ten we’ll probably be getting.

    Not trying to be argumentative, and I see where some people are coming from on this, but I don’t really see a big issue here, compared to other years.

  • 37 1-14-2010 at 12:25 pm

    Michael said...

    Liz perfectly (and eloquently) said everything that I also feel, both in response to the article and to Erik’s comment above. What each person thinks is the best movie of the year to them will never match up with what the Academy thinks, and that is always going to be the case. I don’t see how Hollywood is taking slots from Foreign films this year or documentaries b/c when you think about it, were there any of those types of films that had a chance to be nominated that even came out this year? And I am not talking about the long list of good (and amazing) films that came out this year from all over the world, I am talking about movies that ever had a shadow of a chance to be nominated for an Oscar. As far as I can tell, there weren’t any. And I think this late in the game it is just beating a dead horse about how the supposed 5 frontrunners have achieved their status. And then whatever other films will take up the remaining filler vanity slots of the top 10 are likely to be movies that have been seen by more people (aka blockbuster movies such as D9, Star Trek, Up, etc.) b/c those movies turned out to be really good and worth recognizing, even for an empty nomination such as a best picture nomination in one of the #6-$10 slots. I think this year just happened to shape up into a year where there wasn’t a lot to choose from beyond the home-made Hollywood and/or independently produced American movies.

    And for the record, I think there have been amazing films from all over the world and all sizes of budgets but I know realistically they would never have been nominated for an oscar anyway. The Oscars are fun and definitely an obsession for me, but I never use them as my sole indicator of the best films of the year.

  • 38 1-14-2010 at 12:27 pm

    Michael said...

    above I meant to say #6-#10 slots, I was clearly not looking at the screen while I was typing.

  • 39 1-14-2010 at 2:15 pm

    Paul Outlaw said...

    I’m kinda with Guy on the Best Pic race. Based on eligibility, these would be my picks (*NOT* predictions) for nominations in the top eight categories:

    (500) Days of Summer
    Bright Star
    Broken Embraces
    The Hurt Locker
    The Messenger
    The Road
    A Serious Man
    That Evening Sun
    Where the Wild Things Are

    Kathryn Bigelow
    Joel & Ethan Coen
    Lee Daniels
    Spike Jonze
    Oren Moverman

    Abbie Cornish
    Penélope Cruz
    Gabourey Sidibe
    Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)
    Robin Wright

    Colin Firth
    Ben Foster
    Hal Holbrook
    Viggo Mortensen
    Sam Rockwell

    Mariah Carey
    Marion Cotillard (Public Enemies or Nine)
    Samantha Morton
    Carrie Preston (That Evening Sun)

    Brian Geraghty
    Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
    Anthony Mackie
    Ray McKinnon (That Evening Sun)
    Paul Schneider (Bright Star)

    Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
    Allesandro Camen & Oren Movermen, The Messenger
    Joel & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
    Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
    Quentin Tarantion, Inglourious Basterds

    Jane Campion, Bright Star
    Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
    Tom Ford & David Scearce, A Single Man
    Spike Jonze & Dave Eggers, Where the Wild Things Are
    Joe Penhall, The Road
    Scott Teems, That Evening Sun

  • 40 1-14-2010 at 2:33 pm

    Erik 815 said...

    Liz, we’re miscommunicating a tad. I agree with you, but I felt like Guy was only pointing out that that this year is noticeably more American and more Hollywood. It’s worth noting to see if and how the trend continues, but doesn’t mean anything in and of itself.

    One oscar line-up in itself will never really mean much, and no oscar line-up will ever really pick the absolute best of every year in every category, but the oscars are interesting as a crude sort of cultural barometer, if you will. Sometimes an unusual shift in oscar voting is a fluke (like the independent shake-up in ’96), and sometimes it sets a trend for future awards (like the african-american top acting honors in ’01).

    So I agree with you it’s not a big issue. It’s just a compelling observation to contrast this year’s line-up with previous years, and think out loud whether this year is more of an outlier or a trendshift. There’s no way of knowing untill at least next year’s oscars, as it means nothing in itself. It’s just an interesting observation and nothing more.

  • 41 1-14-2010 at 3:27 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Looks like I should have retreated to bed after all.

    The column is what it is — an observation of (certainly not a panicked diatribe against) the cultural/national balance of this particular year’s contenders. Sorry it didn’t land right with some readers, but I don’t really know how to phrase it otherwise.

    I do, however, thank those of you who have mastered the not-so-difficult art of politely negative feedback.

  • 42 1-14-2010 at 3:55 pm

    daveylow said...

    Sony Pictures Classics made huge mistake by not releasing A Prophet in 2009. That film would have built up some Oscar heat. Now they’re releasing it in the spring which won’t help the film at all.

  • 43 1-14-2010 at 4:26 pm

    Michael said...

    aww, Guy we don’t want you to retreat to bed til March, this place wouldn’t be the same without you. As they say, sometimes you can’t win them all, but I appreciate your attempt and still look forward to every article you write for this website, even if this particular one didn’t do it for me at all.

    I do however really like your Oscar predictions, even if I know that you had to take off some of your personal favorites that you rightfully felt deserved to be there more than the probable eventual nominees that the tide is favoring.

  • 44 1-14-2010 at 5:43 pm

    Liz said...


    I am so with you, especially considering that “The White Ribbon” never quite gathered enough steam and is not as accessible as “A Prophet.”

    Man, if “A Prophet” had gained any nominations this year outside of the foreign language category, I would have done laps around my living room with the theme from “Rocky” playing in my head. Now THAT would have been a great Oscar surprise.

  • 45 1-14-2010 at 8:00 pm

    Erik 815 said...

    Blergh, now you’ve made me remember “Rocky” beating the competition of “All the President’s Men” and “Network”. I’d rather do laps around my living room to the theme of “All the Pr…”, no wait, that doesn’t actually make sense.

    Well at least “White Ribbon” has a reasonable shot at getting nominated in more than one category (I’m looking at you, Best Cinematography). I guess that’s a nice enough consolation prize.