Oscars: Ten best picture nominees, nine good choices, and one for congeniality

You know us critics, we’re used to shrugging our shoulders about the whole Oscar rigamarole, aware that if we stamped our little feet and huffed, “The great Romanian film Police, Adjective was snubbed, snubbed I tell you!” we’d be kicked out of Starbucks for obnoxious cronyism. (For the record, it was: Police, Adjective is great, and I commend it to your Netflix queue.) But as an on-duty critic, and as an off-duty ticket-buyer, too, nothing that did or didn’t receive an Oscar nomination today surprises me, bothers me, or, for that matter, shakes my confidence in my own taste. You feel the same way, right? You either liked or didn’t like A Serious Man (I loved it); you either think The Blind Side is an uplifting, feel-good drama of hope or a gooey fable (I’m with Team Goo, much as I cheer Bullock). But what the heck, good for them for nabbing Best Picture nominations.

And good for the Wizards of Oscar for doubling the number of Best Picture nominees. Why not? The ten in contention are as reasonable as any to represent a consensus of discriminating-but-not-elitist American movie-going taste in 2009. Without ten slots, Up! wouldn’t have been recognized for the brilliant creation it is, as emotionally rich as any live-action title on the list. (Of course, Up! also received a reality-check nomination in the Animated Feature Film category, so if — er, when a live-action title wins Best Picture after all, Up! still stands to win in Pixar’s more traditional category.) Without ten slots, the utterly original politico-sci-fi serio-comedy District 9 (above) might have been left hovering in the air, awardless, like an alien spaceship stalled over Johannesburg.

And so long as I can sustain this magnitude of something-for-everyone amiability, I can proclaim here with Zen calm that this year’s roster of Oscar nominees for Best Picture is very good. Between now and the Academy Awards on March 7, I might give a passing thought to what the Best Picture list might have looked like if the ballot had been kept to five. (Got any suggestions for me?) But mostly, I’m happy to go about my business, which, between now and Oscar night, involves telling anyone who will listen that it will be the crime of the century if Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Director for The Hurt Locker.

Really. Don’t mess it up with Bigelow, Oscar voters, or I’ll have to care.

Comments (175 total) Add your comment
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  • Rich

    I’m just wondering if a man directed “Hurt Locker”if it would stil be the “crime of the cenury”if the director din’t win.The movie was very good but an arguement can be made for the directors of Avatar/Precious and District 9 too

    • Lynny

      Yes, it would. It is masterful.

      • James

        This is a perfect year to have 10 nominations. So was last year. No clear front-runner, so add some popular flix to get people interested.

        On a side note, I think Up most definitely belongs in the best picture list. Great choice!

      • Rich

        Counter-argument: If “Avatar” had only made $70 million instead of $700 million at the box office, would James Cameron still deserve his Best Director nod? (Or Best Picture, for that matter?)

      • Rich

        FYI… I’m a different “Rich” than the original “Rich.” Sorry for the Rich confusion.

      • @James

        I agree about this year, but last year had an extremely clear frontrunner.

      • Emma

        At Rich 2.0, I think the answer is, “definitely NOT”

      • Stef

        Yes James Cameron would still have deserved the best director nod, considering that he invented THREE new cameras and filmed the entire movie himself. What is wrong with you snobs? It is going to be sad when the entirely forgettable “Hurt Locker” wins best picture.

      • C

        Yeah, Stef the technology was great in Avatar. BUT–the script was pretty lame, and the overall movie quality suffered big time. So that is where a lot of the people (snobs) who don’t want Avatar to win for best picture get really frustrated. The tech is being confused with overall greatness. I think that it should definately win some of the technology awards, because what he did was pretty amazing, but let’s let one of the better films win the best film award.

      • Leah

        Uh, Stef, James Cameron’s invention of new cameras warrants a nod for technical achievment, NOT directing. Honestly, over a decade obsessing about this film and he couldn’t even take the time to write an original story? He does not belong in the directing category, period!

      • J J Loman

        The subject matter was excellent, but “The Hurt Locker” was a bore. Maybe, Ms. Bigelow deserves the Oscar for Best Director — whatever — but BEST PICTURE needs to go to AVATAR for everything that it is.

      • J J Loman

        Ah, you snobs think you know more than the majority of folks out there. AVATAR is an amazing movie period which is why most people have seen it. It’s not TRANSFORMERS — a cotton candy of a movie with no substance. HURT LOCKER is good but indeed forgettable. Next year, no one will even remember it. Oh please. Regarding the originality of the story — so what?! Every single movie theme has been done repeatedly… or are you lame enough to think that the “war movie from the point of view of the soldier” story of HURT LOCKER is the first time it was done. Get real!

      • jj

        A V A T A R – Like it or hate it. 70-80% of the best picture discussion is about AVATAR. For it and against it but it’s still a discussion of Avatar.

    • BlackIrish4094

      Why Avatar? He doesn’t direct for most of the movie, it’s fucking computer animated. Technical awards fine but for direction is a sad joke. Why not nominate the Up director, he deserves it as much as Cameron.

      • tj

        agreed. if you recognize cameron for a movie that is mostly computer generated you would have to recognize the director of “Up” as well.

      • Eric

        From my understanding, all of the computer generated stuff was based on actual performances, where the actors movements were scanned and input into the computer.

      • Jasper

        Eric is correct; so there is just as much direction as a lie-action.

        I also agree that an animation director deserves credit too. They still direct everything and make the important decisions, it’s just in a different format

      • Cody

        Do you know what directing is?

      • J J Loman

        Thanks for your intelligent reply, Eric and Jasper. Because you are both indeed correct. DIRECTING does not just mean “directing” actors, it means “directing the whole project”! Besides, unlike in the BEST PICTURE category, only 5 directors can be nominated — so out goes the director of “UP”! What is idiotic is if UP is the only “animated” movie nominated for BEST PICTURE, then why then does it not automatically win BEST ANIMATION? Lame.

      • L.T.

        @Eric Didn’t Peter Jackson do that with Golum the motion capture thing? What did J Cameron do to make it that much richer oh I forgot make it 3D! How original how AMAZING! HOW TRAILBLAZING!

      • RA

        Cameron did some incredible stuff in that film. You may not have liked Avatar, but it was certainly a great achievement in directing. Definitely one of the best directing jobs if not the best of the year (haven’t seen Hurt Locker yet so can’t comment). Cameron may not win, but to say it doesn’t deserve to win is just plain ignorant.

      • Addison

        James Cameron deserves almost all the nominations Chris Nolan’s film got last year, and Chris Nolan deserves the Best Picture nod that James’ film got this year.

      • Dedwarmo

        BlackIrish4094, since you haven’t been paying attention to how Avatar was made, I will refresh your memory. The emotions of the computer generated characters came from the actors not the animators.

        Regarding whether James Cameron deserves Best Director or not is not directly related to the script. He had to work very hard with actors on a blank gray sound stage and help them visualize the virtual world they were acting in. If the story was weak then the movie should not get *Best Screenplay*. The Best Director award is different.

    • Tom

      I’m generally opposed to people winning awards for any reason other than their work itself – but if Kathryn Bigelow wins Best Director only because she is a woman and the Academy feels a woman is due, I’ll be fine with it. She deserves it because she made a compelling, powerful, riveting movie under difficult conditions with a very limited budget. Great job.

      • L.T.

        On top of that the body of work that Ms Bigelow represented – Blue Steel, Point Break Strange Days! Not to mention smart enough to divorce the OLD WOOD!

    • wd

      I enjoyed the Hurt Locker, but there wasnt anything “masterful” or original about its directing or the movie itself. It will not be a crime, even in the smallest proportions if Kathryn didnt win.

      • J J Loman

        I totally agree. I liked HURT LOCKER, but for BEST PICTURE?! Gag! Acting was great; hence the acting nod… and the directing was fine, so okay the directing nod… but BEST PICTURE?? Heck no.

    • yeahhh

      I can honestly say that if The Hurt Locker was directed by a man (and the film remained the same as it was) that director would deserve the oscar at well. Kathryn Bigelow should win the award not because she is a woman but because her directing in that film is masterful.

      • Beau


    • Jenny

      ummmm… yes. It’s an incredible film especially because the direction is so amazing. The tension that is created by Bigelow’s work is the best I’ve seen in 2009’s movies (the only one that can compare, in my opinion, was Ford who didn’t get a nomination). It wasn’t the script, the cast, the special effects that made this movie the best (although they were all good as well), it was the way Bigelow saw the film and transferred that vision onto the film. Gender is irrelevant. She did amazing work and deserves to be honored for it.

    • Evan

      anyone else sad over no hangover in anything?

      • Tahnee

        haha yep i’m sad about the hangover but i also completely agree with Jenny, Bigelow’s directing was brilliant. She completely put me in the state of mind of those soldiers and I spent most of the movie yelling at the soldiers to shoot everybody because you really felt the fear that terrorists were anywhere and everywhere.

    • Benjamin Breed

      Okay, i loved the hurt locker more than avatar and give credit to James cameron’s first wife. But if the award is going to best director than it has to go to cameron. he spent years on his film and even invented a new type of filming technology to execute it; give me one reason why he shouldn’t in?

      • Juneau

        Because he can’t write a decent script to save his life. No acting nods and no screenplay nods, should mean NO BEST PICTURE!

      • Patrick

        I do believe he is speaking of best director. Him not having nominations for screenplay or acting nods wasn’t mentioned at all by benjamin. He also wasn’t making a case for best picture. If you’re going to argue with people Juneau, make sure you know what you’re arguing against.

  • Team

    I actually really liked this top 10. I too hope they keep it like this.

    • mishka

      I foresee unnecessary speculations about movies which don’t get an ounce of chance to win the award. (The Blind Side). Nods are just nods,not awards.
      I thought the move was in favor of popcorn movies, like Star Trek or the Hangover. IMO, they should go back to the top 5 formula, or 7 at most.

      • Team

        7? Lemme guess. You personally only agree with 7 of the nominations?

        And, FYI, I actually really like the Blind Side so…yeah!

      • Beau

        I thought it was a great film, and deserves to be in this list.

  • Lisa Schwarzbaum

    Rich, if a man directed The Hurt Locker and didn’t win, it would be the (Oscar) crime of the year.

    • dustin

      and since its a woman and she didnt win, its a crime of the century. makes perfect sense

      • jb

        ooohhh…you just got a bingo!

      • yeahhh

        Haha jb. And I agree with you Lisa? I’m not sure if it’s really you. But I’m glad you agree with the fact that Kathryn Bigelow is getting so much buzz because of a fantastic job, and not because she is a woman

  • Joseph

    The five Best Pic nominees would have been Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Up in The Air and Precious.

    • Jenn

      Agreed. Same as the Best Director nominees.

  • Chris

    I challenge anyone to watch the sniper scene in the middle of The Hurt Locker and argue someone deserves the award more than Bigelow. That scene is a master class in directing.

  • Yvan

    I hated A Serious Man and District 9. I haven’t seen The Blind Side but it looks pretty retarded. 10 nominees was way too much, especially for such a lackluster year. The only ones that even deserve consideration are The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds and Up!.

    • GoMe!

      Arguably, Up wouldn’t have been nominated if it wasn’t for this ‘top 10′ change, so…I dont think you should bash it just yet…

    • ugh

      dont get fooled, it’s just “Up”


    • BlackIrish4094

      You’re an idiot for using the word “retarded”. Dumb ass.

      • ugh

        no, he’s an idiot for actually thinking this was a lackluster year.

    • Rich

      I personally think “District 9″ is one of the five best films I saw this year. Possibly better than “Avatar” simply because the story is stronger and the effects, while not as mind-blowing, definitely served the film well.

      For the record, the others: Hurt Locker, Inglourious.., Up, and Up In The Air. Also a lot of love for (500).. and In The Loop.

      • mamarose

        I completely agree about District 9!

    • Evan

      you’re “retarded” for not giving movies a chance

    • Mo Arsinoe

      You’re “developmentally disabled” for not liking District 9 and A Serious Man. I mean c’mon.. get it together double D. :)

  • Joey

    (500) should have nabbed the 10th spot instead of blind side which shouldn’t have been nominated for anything…bullocks performance is soo overrated. Melanie Laurent should have took her spot.

    • Scott P

      Ditto, I agree completely Joey.

    • Sarah D

      taken her spot, not took. I know that makes me sound b!tchy but it’s pretty blatant.

      • mike

        Oh please…this is an informal comment section. Lighten up.

  • Brett

    Laurent’s role was a supporting, not a lead, role.

    • Katie

      Disagree. Waltz and Laurent were the two real leads in Basterds. Pitt was just the “name.”
      Think about it. Replace Waltz and Laurent with “name” actors in the exact same roles, and they’d be up for lead.

    • m

      i have to agree with brett – laurent’s performance was wonderful, but i would consider it to be a supporting roll – especially in comparison to the other women nominated in the lead actress category.

  • Patty

    I don’t understand the Up nomination. I could be wrong about this but I swear that Passion of the Christ couldn’t be nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign film at the same time, so I don’t think Up should be nomintated for Best Film and Best Animated Feature.

    • dustin

      i dont think that was the problem. Passion of The Christ just wasnt that good

      • La

        Torture porn. Gag.

    • Deborah

      there definately have been movies that have been nominated for both Foreign AND best picture (Life is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger) so Up’s nomination is still valid (and i’m geeked!)

    • t.g. pierson

      Passion of the Christ was an American film so it did not qualify for Best Foreign Language Film. However, foreign films and animated films are qualified to be nominated for Best Picture.

      • Ethan

        And Passion of the Christ was eligible for Best Picture, it wasn’t a technicality that kept it from a nomination. That year, much was made about the “competing political” giants of the movies, Farenheit 9/11 and Passion of the Christ both getting “snubbed” for Best Picture, but actually no one was surprised. Now, maybe had there been ten that year, we would’ve been able to taper all the late-in-the-game love for Million Dollar Baby

    • SC

      TPotC was an American-made film. To qualify for Foreign Language, it must be in a foreign language and the official submission of another country in which it was produced.

    • Katie

      Well for one thing, Passion of the Christ was NOT a foreign film. Foreign films must be financed in and submitted by foreign countries to qualify. Simply being in a foreign language isn’t enough. This differs from the Globes, rules, by the way. By Globes rules, Letters from Iwo Jima was eligible as a “foreign” film because it was in Japanese, but by the Oscar rules, it wasn’t, because it was American-made.

    • yeahhh

      Yeah, Foreign Language films can be nominated for best picture. Plus the only reason the Best Animated Feature award was created was because the academy felt bad that animated films that deserved to be nominated for best picture, weren’t (ftr i like the award, it allows animated films to get recognized, it just makes it harder for them to get nominated for best picture… hence Wall-e’s snub)

  • stevie g

    patty thats not true, crouching tiger hidden dragon was up for both, as was life is beautiful

  • DUDE

    I would have loved to see (500) Days of Summer grab the final spot instead of Blind Side or District 9.

  • Mike D

    SO glad UP and An Education got in. Would have loved to see 500 Days sneak in too. I think if we were going with the traditional 5 nominees, we likely would have seen the director noms mirror the five slots, with maybe one exception, if any. Hurt Locker all the way!

  • T

    I like your attitude, Lisa. With everyone bemoaning the nomination of The Blind Side it seems like people have forgotten that this is just the Oscars. These nominations have always been somewhat populist. I dare say that, with ten nominees, 2002 would have seen the nomination of My Big Fat Greek Wedding as well. This nomination, to me, doesn’t represent any new trends in the Academy’s taste.

    • GoMe!

      Yeah, I agree. There are some people who are like “I have given up on the Oscars! None of my favorites were nominated!” and I’m just like shutup!
      Lisa, you have posted the one fair article so far, so thanks for your unbiased opinion.

  • Omar

    Lisa, may I ask you a question? I notice that you’ll often respond to comments on your posts. I (and others I’m sure) really enjoy this interaction. But I’m guessing EW has some kind of policy where you writers aren’t supposed to do so. I rarely see your colleagues comment, as much as they might want to. Can you clarify this? Thanks.

    • T

      Dave Karger posts occasionally as well.

    • Lisa Schwarzbaum

      Omar, there’s no policy at all; it’s an individual choice (sometimes, you can understand, based on how busy we are with other assignments for the magazine). I enjoy jumping in here, because I think blog sites lend themselves to conversation between you and me. On the other hand, I don’t respond to comments posted about my reviews, because I feel I’ve already said what I wanted to say, leaving readers to talk to each other….

      • Omar

        Interesting.. Thanks for the reply. I thought maybe you were granted some kind of high-level special status ;) Maybe you could encourage some of your colleagues to engage in such back-and-forths more often? I understand there may be some reluctance based on some of the nastier comments that show up at times, but I like the idea of interacting with you folks in such a direct way.

  • jb

    Was anyone else disappointed in Up in the Air? Good film, but great?

    Also, The White Ribbon, although a foreign film, deserved some serious attention.

    • springs

      I haven’t seen the White Ribbon but I’ve heard good things. I absolutely loved Up in the Air. By the end, I thought it was a completely new role for George Clooney, who at first I thought would play the same ol’ character.

    • Lee

      I thought Up in the Air was just another Lost in Translation. Clooney was Clooney, no real swerve in his persona…the supporting performances were really good. But the film itself was derivative and depressing…

    • Katie

      Agree. Good film, not great. Clooney deserves his nod (Bridges will win), but I’m mystified as to where the love for Farmiga and even Kendrick is coming from.
      It’ll win adapted screenplay and nothing else, just watch.

    • merle Balke

      Yes, a great film. Best one I saw. Next would be Hurt Locker. Avatar wouldn’t make my top ten and Basterds deserved only one nomination, for supporting actor.

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