Sudhish Kamath picks five films from the list of ten nominations in the Best Film category at the Oscars
It's official. The Academy does not take comedy seriously.
Ten Best Film nominations, and they couldn't fit in one film that actually makes people laugh. Not even a token nomination for the wildly popular male-bonding binge “The Hangover” or the utterly romantic anti-thesis to the romantic comedy genre “500 Days of Summer”. Or, the seriously funny expletives-loaded political satire “In The Loop” (that it got a Screenwriting nod is some consolation).
James Cameron's spectacular epic “Avatar” and Kathyrn Bigelow's riveting drama “The Hurt Locker” lead the race with nine nominations each, with Quentin Tarantino's pop-war film “Inglourious Basterds” close at their heels with eight nominations. Lee Daniels's Sundance baby “Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire” and Jason Reitman's bittersweet adaptation of “Up in the Air” with six nominations each are the two other front runners for Best Director.
Hence, we can be pretty much sure that the Best Film prize will emerge from one of these five.
Let's take a quick look at these front-runners as I make my case on why Kathryn Bigelow should go home empty-handed, and Tarantino, instead, should be given at least one of the big two. Of course, in all probability, the Academy will award one each to the former couple to balance, and please fans of both kinds of cinema — the mainstream and the art-house. And, to celebrate the rare woman filmmaker to be nominated for the Best Director prize.
Lee Daniels/“Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire”
Come on, seriously?
“Precious…” is a rather difficult watch, slow, dark and unglamorous. It's schmaltzy and manipulative to the core. An extremely obese African American teen impregnated twice by her own father, and facing abuse by her mother, is kicked out of school, and starts afresh in an alternative school only to find out she's HIV positive.
Add to this really sad story the fact that the director Lee Daniels is a gay, black man, and “Precious…” automatically becomes that token nomination to showcase the Academy's warm, all-race embracing heart. But, we can say this for sure. This is as far as the dark horse from Sundance will get. Or, we hope, for the sake of the other four deserving films.
Jason Reitman/“Up in the Air”
The guy who worked Juno magic a few years ago is back with an introspective bittersweet drama about a single man who lives with no strings attached with his only possessions neatly fitting into a backpack. It's a relevant film about personal choices in a recession-hit world, and Reitman and super-suave Clooney leave you with mixed feelings with his mature handling of a film, whose conflict is deeply internal. Those are the toughest kinds of films to make, and “Up in the Air” is a brilliant understatement of the conflict of our times — How much emotional baggage do we want to really carry in a world full of reward-points and frequent flier miles? But wait, haven't we seen films that strike a similar chord before?
Kathryn Bigelow/“The Hurt Locker”
No offence, Ms. Bigelow. But, as riveting and gripping and relevant your film is, it isn't too hard to make a human ticking bomb an engrossing watch, is it? Put a bomb diffusion expert in a volatile explosive environment, say Iraq, and we know that every time he walks out there, there's death waiting for him. How can a premise as explosive as that not keep anyone hooked especially in a narrative strung together with episodes of his encounters with bombs? So, do we give you the prize for picking a premise that organically lends itself to making a daring political statement and layering it with obvious subtext? Well, “No Man's Land” pulled off a similar stunt with almost the same idea. So, you might just get lucky as the independent underdog who took on the former husband, the studio-backed King of the World.
It's a game-changing visual spectacle that packs in all three conflicts of our times — Man versus Man, Man versus Nature and Man versus Machine — and gives the ‘White Messiah' myth a unique twist. The White hero is saved because he surrenders to the divine and because he is willing to give up his White identity to embrace the colour of the natives and their way of life. It's multi-layered and rich in sub-text, and yet appeals to the four-year-old in the hall. At a basic level, it's about Man, the warrior / destroyer versus Woman, the saviour / preserver. All men in the film set out to destroy and all women in the film save. The image of the dying paraplegic in the lap of Neytiri (a manifestation of Mother Nature) clarifies beyond all doubt what the film is all about. Definitely, the best film of the year.
Quentin Tarantino/“Inglourious Basterds”
“You know somethin' Utivich, this might just be my masterpiece.” Of course, it is, sir. You have been a maverick all your life, defied conventions, had the audacity to misspell your movie title and rewrite history, but your biggest achievement, Sir Quentin, is how you have turned a handful of scenes into a two-and-a-half-hour long film with sparkling wit, delicious pop culture references and that dynamite tension. Your film is as explosive as film used to be with silver nitrate and all. You just made a scene involving a character drinking milk look like the most dangerous thing in the world. What cheek to construct a film as a series of encounters between the hunter and the hunted, letting us, the audience, in on what the characters don't know and make us sit on the edge of our seats! Clearly, the best directed film of the year. Cameron had technology, millions of dollars, 3D and what not to make his epic. You, sir, had just a few smart lines and brutal savage action. Oh, what joy to watch Hitler's face pumped with bullets and see a Nazi beaten to pulp with a baseball bat! If cinema is about gratification, escape, catharsis and celebration, you've made the single most wickedly entertaining film of the year. It may not be the best film this year, but it bears the distinct stamp of an auteur.