2 Idiots Debate: The 2010 Oscars

In an effort to come to the truth of the matter about important issues, and engage in our favorite pastime (arguing), we will from time to time engage in an e-mail version of a barroom debate. These will always be honest disagreements, not ESPN-style verbal fake wrestling. For best results, get really drunk before reading (not only will our thoughts be more interesting, but they will seem much more sophisticated as well). Join us after the jump for an opinionated  2010 Oscars preview.

David Simon Cowell

Why the fuck do we care about the Oscars?  There’re plenty of other award shows, and let’s face it — they’re usually boring as shit.

I think it’s because movies are the only truly pop art form left.  Music is completely segmented…there are no more Thrillers, albums that everybody has heard.  Same with TV, books, video games, painting, etc.  Not everybody is into sports, or the same sports.  There’s only one subject, Pop Culture-wise, that everybody talks to both their friends and their parents about…movies.  And the Oscars give us the opportunity to put those conversations in some context.  Plus, actors are really pretty.


We should never forget that it’s a cold-blooded and brilliant marketing tool.  Unlike other award shows, however, the Oscars on rare occasion get it right.  2007 should have been a battle between No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.  Philip Seymour Hoffman should have won for Capote.  But more often, we get Jaime Foxx and Roberto Benigni, Crash and Dances With Wolves.  It gives us something to talk about during the drab winter months, anyway.

So, let’s start with the big dog.  I’m sure you’d agree that expanding Best Picture to 10 movies is a retarded money grab.  Thankfully, karma paid the Academy back by making 2009 one of the weakest years in recent memory.  No matter which picture wins, it’ll be a pretty weak Best Picture winner (please, let it be the Blind Side).  If I were choosing the final two, it’d be District 9 and Up.  Very different movies, but the first works surprisingly well as an allegory, and the second is just great old-fashioned storytelling…if you didn’t get misty during the opening montage, the not-having-a-soul thing isn’t just an act.  I liked Inglorious Basterds, but thought it wasn’t a highlight of Tarantino’s ouevre…same with A Serious Man and the Coen Brothers.

But, we both know it’s going to be Avatar or The Hurt Locker.  I think we both liked them well enough, but thought they were seriously flawed.  We have a difference of opinion about which one we’d like to see take home the hardware.  I would choose Avatar.  I understand the problems…the dialogue is absolutely retarded, even coming from a man not known for his great writing.  The story itself is better, but pretty much sci-fi boilerplate.  If this were a writing award, The Hurt Locker would win hands down (not that it was brilliant in that regard either).

Movies aren’t just about the writing, however.  And Avatar was a truly groundbreaking movie.  It will completely change the way technology and film interact…watching it, I felt like I knew what it was to see The Jazz Singer in 1927.  It was a spectacle in the best sense of the word, and completely changed the vernacular.  Given that Hollywood needs to find a way to get people out of their living rooms and into the theaters, I’m sure it was inspirational to the movies we’ll see in the future (not that that’s necessarily good).  I’ll grant you…it’s not a movie anybody will want to watch 10 years from now, once the technology is commonplace.  But it will be taught about in Film History courses forever.  The Hurt Locker?  It was a nice little movie…but wasn’t really memorable in any way.  I can see why people like it…it’s an Iraq movie that completely dodges any political stand at all.  It doesn’t even deserve a place among great war movies…but it will end up winning.

The Dilemma

I like movies that stick to your ribs, and I think that standard needs to be applied to potential Best Pictures.

Truly great movies stay with you long after you leave the theater. They keep you up at night, thinking about them, solving them, pinpointing exactly what you liked and didn’t like. They haunt you, whether for good or for ill. That’s what separates There Will Be Blood from No Country for Old Men. Both were thrilling to sit through for two-plus hours, but only Blood wormed its way into your cerebrum. You might find yourself thinking about Daniel Plainview while you do the the dishes or go for a run. That doesn’t happen with Anton Chigurh.

Of the films nominated for Best Picture, only Inglourious Basterds comes close to passing that test. It’s not perfect, but it’s Tarantino’s third-best movie, and that’s probably Oscar-worthy. There are three or four scenes in Basterds that stay with you after the movie ends, that you revisit in your mind repeatedly. I’m not sold on the theory that Basterds has more to say than previous Tarantino films, about the power of propaganda or the power of film, it’s typical Tarantino style over substance. But in this down year, that’s enough.

The rest of the nominees I’ve seen fall somewhere on the “Good but Deeply Flawed” scale. District 9 is heart-pounding in a way that Hurt Locker fails to be, but works much better for me as a pure action movie than an apartheid/immigration parable or a re-thinking of The Fly. My cold, robotic eyes did indeed leak a little lubricant during Up, but the film fell apart in the third act. Plus, if the objective of Up isn’t for me to want to snap that annoying fat kid’s neck and feel his fleshy jowls go limp and lifeless in my bare hands, than the movie doesn’t achieve what it sets out to. Up in the Air and An Education are both well-acted and professionally directed, but the former dissolves into pandering tripe while the later hits the same notes as a thousand coming-of-age stories that came before.

I don’t mean to sound flip and dismissive, as I did enjoy all of the above films to varying degrees, but if we’re talking about the best film of the year, we’re looking for greatness, not competence, and there just wasn’t enough of that in 2009 to fill up a standard nomination slate, let alone the new, supersized version.

I think you overstate both the viewing experience and long-term impact of Avatar. I had fun sitting through Avatar, but never once did I feel like I was seeing something profoundly new. Avatar certainly featured the best use of 3-D I’ve seen, but neither the most natural nor most impressive use of CGI. The special effects of District 9 worked better for me than those of Avatar, because they never took me out of the movie, and never made me stop and think, “How’d they do that? Is that green screen?” Avatar never advanced beyond “really cool” for me, and certainly didn’t cause me to re-experience the wonder and spectacle of going to the movies. It was just a very good action movie with terrible dialogue and story.

I don’t love The Hurt Locker, but I’d rather see an attempt at legitimate artistry get rewarded than 15 years in a computer lab.

David Simon Cowell

We love the same type of movies…I’m just not sure they’re prototypical Best Picture material. As a marketing machine, there is a popularity component to the title, which is more like a Miss America crown than a stamp of the Best Movie of the Year.  To me, the classic Best Picture is a stirring epic (LOTR, Braveheart) or a clever movie with stars (The Departed, Silence of the Lambs), which are normally the best kind of movies that can be popular.  The chick who is Miss America isn’t close to the hottest chick in America, but can be decent looking.  The Hurt Locker isn’t in the second category, but Avatar is definitely in the first.

Because of the Oscars’ new retarded voting, however, I’d bet that Avatar would get the most first place votes, but The Hurt Locker would end up winning.

Let’s blow through the Supporting categories.

Supporting Actor:  Chris Waltz should win, will win, had the best performance of the year by far.  One of Tarantino’s best talents, casting, pays off again here.

Supporting Actress:  If people want to give it to MoNique, fine.  Will never sit through any movie produced by Oprah and Tyler Perry, but maybe she’s great.  Both the Up in the Air girls were fine, but wouldn’t put my foot down about them.  Your girl Maggie was hooorible in Crazy Heart…I was shocked she was nominated.  I’m a fan of hers as well, but between this and the Dark Knight, it’s clear to me that she can’t play the standard, vapid girlfriend roles that are a female star’s bread and butter.  It’s more Hollywood’s fault than hers, but still a shame.

Mostly, these Oscars will be remembered as the night that the epic talent of Sandra Bullock finally got recognized.

The Dilemma

Waltz is as obvious a choice as there’s ever been, and best of all, he might actually give an interesting acceptance speech. Somewhere, the whores at AFI are already furiously revising their Best Movie Villains list.If I’m happily anticipating Waltz winning, I’m dreading Mo’Nique winning. I’m already annoyed at having to put an apostrophe in her name, and if she’s not seated in the front row, her walk to the stage might take up half the telecast.

I was actually pretty excited when I initially saw the trailer for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire — until I realized that it was not the long-awaited Big Momma’s House 3 after all. I’d like Anna Kendrick to win, I guess, though her performance isn’t one for the ages or anything. Vera Farmiga was fine too, but she wasn’t required to do much more than show up and look hot.

I have no real rooting interest in either of the lead categories. The performances I’ve seen were all good, but nothing I’ll remember on my deathbed. I guess I’d cheer for Bridges, just because he’s had a great career, and against Bullock, by that same logic. History tells us that it’s Bullock’s turn, though, as pretty much any bankable Hollywood actress who has risen above the status of “sex symbol” has won an Oscar over the past 20 years. (Sidenote: Helen Hunt? Really?)

It seems inevitable that Kathryn Bigelow will win Best Director. Which…fine, whatever. Better than that Na’vi-speaking megalomaniac she was married to.

David Simon Cowell

I wholeheartedly disagree…not that Cameron is a douche, but that Bigelow deserves Best Director over him.  She’ll win, and that’s fine…she’s a better choice for the first female winner than Jaime Foxx or Halle Berry were to help redress the racial disparity in the acting categories.  Although, it is a bit different…it isn’t as if there is a long list of great female directors, or great overlooked movies directed by women.  I hope that her winning will spur more women into the director’s chair, but let’s not pretend that women have been getting overlooked all these years, at least at the Oscar stage of the process.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that Cameron deserves it.  He spent a fucking decade of his life not just making a movie, but creating the technology that allowed his vision to be created.  He was involved in every aspect of the biggest production of all time, and previously discussed flaws granted, pulled it off amazingly well.  Every time the guy makes a movie he sets himself up to be the biggest failure ever.  Does it take a douchy personality to do that?  Sure.  But he really is about as indie as it gets…he takes corporate money, but calls literally all the shots and creates a purely personal vision.  Even if it isn’t your taste, you have to respect that.

Will it be fun to see his ex-wife beat him?  Yes.  But it’s also kind of bullshit.

I have mixed feelings about Best Actor.  I love Jeff Bridges, and it’s great that he’ll be recognized…he’s been doing good underrated work for decades.  He’s the fucking Dude, for fuck’s sake.  But I thought Clooney’s performance was better.  I know he always plays “Clooney”, but given that he’s the only guy in the world that can do it, it’s probably not as easy as he makes it look.  There was no better acting moment this year than the look on his face during the moment of truth at the end of the Up in the Air.

Best Actress will probably go to Bullock…they love to crown female stars.  Although I’d argue there’s a huge difference between her and someone like Kidman or Paltrow or even Witherspoon.  She’s never made any sort of attempt to stretch beyond likeable.  The question for me is, have we gotten to the point where Meryl Streep is getting taken for granted?  Her sheer number of nominations, 16, makes her a too obvious choice.  But she’s only won 1 Supporting and 1 Lead Oscar, and none in 30 years.  She deserves one for the latter part of her career.  The fact the she moved away from the schlock of the ’90s (Bridges of Madison County, Marvin’s Room, Music of the Heart) to a pretty impressive run of varied roles over the ’00s (Adaptation, The Hours, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt, Julie & Julia), and became a more interesting actress in her 50’s, when the degree of difficulty is off the charts…it’s gotta count for something.  This is the acting category where I smell upset.  I think there’ll just be too many pauses when it comes time to put a check next to Bullock’s name…she’ll be the Mendoza Line of commercial actresses.

The Dilemma

None of what you say about Cameron should lead to him getting an Oscar. I could spend a decade of my life making a movie too, but that wouldn’t guarantee the film would be good (in fact, I can pretty well guarantee that it would be terrible). Time invested has utterly no bearing on quality, and is not equivalent with good direction. Being involved in every aspect of production, following his vision — none of that matters. What matters is: did he make a great movie? And he clearly didn’t. In fact, Avatar might have the lowest ratio of time and dollars spent in a project to the quality of the finished product. At least this side of Kevin Costner. James Cameron might be indie as fuck, but that doesn’t make the Na’vi any more believable. You know who else always follows his own vision and calls all the shots? Michael Bay.
I do think Sandra Bullock will win Best Actress, because I have no faith in humanity. Bullock winning Best Actress will be like Jim Rice getting into the Hall of Fame — an event that doesn’t just open the door for lesser talents to receive honors they don’t deserve, it takes that door entirely off its hinges. Will people pause before selecting Sandy? Maybe. But people probably paused before voting for Rick Perry too — and they just went ahead and did it anyway.

Of the remaining categories, the only film I have much rooting interest in is The Fantastic Mr. Fox in Best Animated Film. Up will win, and I can’t argue with that because of its depth of feeling. But Fox works as both a kids’ movie and a Wes Anderson film, and that’s a tricky feat to pull off. I actually have fonder remembrances of Clooney’s performance in Mr. Fox than I do of him as Ryan Bingham.

David Simon Cowell

Well, this is destined to be a historical chat, because the Michael Bay thing is without a doubt the single dumbest thing you’ve ever written. Michael Bay takes material that is given to him by Jerry Bruckheimer or whoever, most of it based on an already existing franchise, and directs it in as inoffensive a way as possible. There is no thought given to anything except how much money the film can make. There is nothing about Michael Bay in any of his movies…I could tell you absolutely nothing about his aesthetic. He takes no personal risk at all. In fact, what he does is pretty much the exact opposite of what James Cameron does. Fuck, Dilemma, the guy deserve some measure of respect…forget about Avatar, he created The Terminator for Christ’s sake.

I’d go with Up, but I’m most disappointed that my favorite “kids” movie of the year, Where The Wild Things Are, got absolutely no love. I hope Tarantino gets the Original Screenplay nod…that he only has one shared Oscar is Streepian. The funniest movie of the past year was In The Loop…on the level of the British Office in that respect. I’d hope it’d win Adapted Screenplay, although I’d bet on Jason Reitman getting his statue. It wasn’t the best documentary I’ve ever seen, but given that it’s the first full-length work on an extremely important subject, I hope Food, Inc. wins so more people see it.

I’m somewhat interested to see if the heralded changes make any difference. Getting rid of the songs was overdue…for every Elliott Smith, there are twenty Amy Adams from Enchanted. Hopefully, they’ll get rid of the presentations of each of the Best Pictures, although I doubt it. But Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin? Come on! Martin looks like death, and as you’ve painfully pointed out, hasn’t done anything good since the ’80s. Baldwin is teetering on the edge of overexposure for me…I’m thinking this will push me over. There’s only so many times I can see an actor exist on the force of his personality before I get sick of it.

The Dilemma

I’m not claiming Cameron is on the same subterranean level as Bay, merely that the criteria you use to claim Cameron deserves an Oscar could easily be applied to Bay, or any number of directors. You can say what you want about Bay, but he absolutely has his own vision — it involves a lot of quick and confusing cuts, explosions a-plenty, and a healthy dose of misogyny. I don’t hate James Cameron (OK, I hate James Cameron), but I can’t justify giving the Best Director Oscar to someone who is very likely to give his acceptance speech in an imaginary language that he created.

I can’t remember ever enjoying an Oscars telecast. Even when people I like have hosted (Jon Stewart, Letterman), I’ve been bored out of my mind. The moments that people claim are “classics” are typically embarrassing (Palance doing one-armed pushups, Benigni jumping on chairs). Basically, the Oscars are four hours of torture, yet I watch every year out of fear that I’ll miss something people will be talking about the next day. The telecast is like an abusive boyfriend I can’t tear myself away from. I find latter-day Steve Martin intolerable, and though I like Baldwin, I have trouble believing his shtick will work in this format. Does any shtick work in this format? And I hate to burst your bubble, but the reason the songs were eliminated was to make room for all ten Best Picture presentations. Make sure you have tissues handy for when the real Michael Oher comes out to talk about The Blind Side.
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Filed under David Simon Cowell, Film Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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