Oscar's Underdogs: 2010's Deserving Longshots

As many of you know, I’m a bit of an underdog type of guy. Even if I really enjoy a grand-scale motion picture that deserves award recognition, there’s still inkling in my blood to cheer on those less likely to win. In 2007, it was Atonement in hopes of overtaking No Country for Old Men. In 2003, Lost in Translation over Return of the King. And in 1997, either Good Will Hunting or L.A. Confidential over another of James Cameron’s brassy outings, Titanic. Thankfully, that’s not the case this year; the 2010 Academy Awards are dominated by a picture, James Cameron’s Avatar, that’s a colossal slurry of computer-generated effects scattered atop a familiar story and thematic bluntness – one I certainly feel shouldn’t take away top honors as a Best Picture from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So, who do I feel should win in this and several other categories, even though I’m almost certain they won’t? Well, let me tell you, though the title The Hurt Locker is going to grow rather redundant.

Best Actor: Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

In one of the more underappreciated performances of the year, Renner’s turn as bomb diffuser Will James is brazen, complex, a little bold in spots but ultimately a fiery depiction of the kind of gravitas soldiers have to muster in battle. He makes us realize that there are thrill junkies out there that thrive on the adrenaline rush of battle; plain and simple, some men are simply built to find purpose in digging deep into tension. Renner’s turn gives us an insight into the emphatic drive behind one of such characters.

Best Supporting Actress: Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air

Her quirky charm drives the movie. Kendrick creates a character out of Natalie Keener that projects the blind knowledge of booksmart upstarts without a grasp on the way things ultimately run. She’s the embodiment of what’s actually wrong with some of modern culture’s operations, a chirpy resource-cutting machine with a vision of non-interpersonal whims – something that’s not welcome ina world of large-scale firings. When she begins to deconstruct as a result of seeing what face-to-face interaction really means in the human resource spectrum, Kendrick’s sharp wit and rays of humanity enchant.

Best Cinematography: The Hurt Locker

I’ll take pulse-pounding, claustrophobic, sweaty realism over videogame-style, overtly-bold falseness any day of the week.

Best Animated Feature: Coraline

Sure, I enjoyed Pixar’s Up to a weepy, tender degree, but the brilliance with Henry Selick’s stop-motion/CG fantasy piece is bar none the finest piece of animation created this year. It’s creepy, heartfelt, and thoroughly mesmerizing to the eyes. A testament to its brilliance is in the fact that we forget each and every one of the characters are voiced by at least moderately famous people, including Dakota Fanning as Coraline. Stunning.

Directing: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

Alright, many assume this one’s really going to happen, and I hope so. Her ability to deftly deliver an experience that adds meaning and thematic resonance by backing away from political stances – using pure thrills as a testament to the veracity of war – is worth every ounce of gold that Oscar’s made of. For a film’s actions to truly speak louder than its words, that’s quite a feat. Maybe I shouldn't be looking at this as an underdog pick, but it's hard to deny the Hollywood momentum behind what Cameron's done to filmmaking -- and the current presence of 3D in cinema.

Adapted Screenplay: District 9

For a science-fiction film to pound away with political themes, harsh symbolism, and thoroughly enveloping atmosphere from a 6-minute short film created on mere pennies, "Alive in Joburg", that’s a testament to adapting of the highest accord. It's like unleasing lightning in a bottle when seeing Blomkamp's finished product, a neo-political take on oppression and general human angst against things they don't undestand. Up in the Air’s deserving as well, but it can’t stop an inherent cheering for this brilliant science-fiction film’s success.

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker, Bigger Longshot: District 9

The 2010 Oscars would be labeled a resounding success if either of these motion pictures were recognized for their quality. The Hurt Locker makes us feel the war; District 9 makes us feel emotion for beings from another planet. One speaks to reality, the other speaks to creativity. Even up until now, it’s hard for me to discern which one I’d rather see take home the grand prize at the Oscars. Honestly, either one will be a pleasant win, but they’ve got to surmount the likes of Cameron’s grand-scale, boxoffice-dominating Avatar to succeed. Fan favoritism and the Academy's need to seem "hip" might just sway them. Will their voters instead look towards competent, original filmmaking? Here’s hoping.


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