Mo’Nique, Memoriams, and More Nominations: Ten Reasons to Love This Oscar Season

Awards won’t be handed out until March 7, but this year’s Oscar race has already seen more twists than most do by ceremony’s end. From the announcement of an expanded Best Picture category to Avatar’s shocking non-awfulness, this year’s is fast becoming one of the most exciting Academy Awards seasons in recent memory. From an arcane new voting system to Mo’Nique’s bad behavior, these are the ten things we love most about the current Oscar season.

For the first time since 1943, ten films will compete for the top Academy Award. If there were just the usual five, Oscarologist consensus says they’d go to Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Precious, and Inglourious Basterds — but an expanded field probably means the inclusion of at least one more blockbuster (Up, most likely) to reinforce telecast ratings, and nominations (plus wider releases) for a couple of well-built indies that would’ve otherwise got lost in the shuffle (fingers crossed for A Serious Man and The Messenger).
Instead of simply selecting the one movie they want to win Best Picture as they usually have, this year Oscar voters will rank the ten nominees in order of preference; once ballots are received, they’ll be tabulated using an instant runoff system whose comprehension requires a wall full of advanced statistics degrees (it suffices to say that the victor will probably be liked by a majority of Academy members instead of just loved by a passionate minority). Sure, this means the award could go to something consensus-building and safe, but it could also go to something consensus-building and crazy like, as Tom O’Neil plausibly argues, Inglourious Basterds. Point is, with this year’s rewritten Oscar math, the big prize will be the surprise it wasn’t in 2007 and 2008.
Last year, the novice boorishness of amateur gasbags David Fincher and Anil Kapoor made a predictable Oscar season a little more entertaining. This year, though, the master returns, and just like in 1997, he was laughed at and counted out before his movie became the front-runner. If you thought Avatar’s special effects broke ground, just wait until James Cameron debuts the latest in blowhard technology during an acceptance speech.
How many Oscar hosts does it take to replace Hugh Jackman? These two should do fine, we think. Steve Martin has the experience of having done it twice before, and newcomer Alec Baldwin’s wide-eyed naïveté could make him even more of a loose cannon than usual. Who among us isn’t looking forward to the ten-song banjo medley surveying this year’s Best Picture race? Or the part of the show where names of presenters are announced in the voices of Tracy Morgan’s family? For anyone still skeptical, know that Baldwin and Martin have the full blessing of last year’s acclaimed emcee: “They are both fantastic,” Jackman told us recently. “Steve actually gave me a lot of funny hints.”
Up may not be quite the movie that Wall-E was, but, barring some catastrophe, 2009’s best-reviewed movie will be the precedent-setting first-ever film from Hollywood’s most consistently brilliant studio to compete for Best Picture (and the first animated one to do so since they were exiled to their own category in 2001). When the time finally comes that Pixar does win, this year will be remembered as the one when such a thing first became fathomable.
How exactly will Oscar remember the bajillion stars who bit the dust in 2009? We have no idea, but we can’t wait to find out. Anything less than a Zhang Yimou–size fireworks display and a 700-piece choir would be disrespectful. Also, since time restrictions will mean only the memories of our most important departed famous people can be honored, look for double the usual controversy over omissions.
Last year, amid endless forecasting of the Weinstein Company’s demise, Harvey scored Oscars for Kate Winslet and Penélope Cruz and set a record for the worst-reviewed Best Picture nominee of the decade (The Reader; Rotten Tomatoes: 67 percent). This year, with TWC’s finances in even worse shape, he could pull off feats even more impressive. He’ll have three movies in the mix (four if you count The Road), one of which should set an amazing new record for the worst-reviewed Best Picture nominee of the decade (Nine; Rotten Tomatoes: 38 percent) and another that some are beginning to think could even win (Inglourious Basterds, this year’s “hard-driving dark horse,” whose Christoph Waltz is a near-lock for Best Supporting Actor). If any of this comes to pass, expect some awesome gloating.
Not that she gives a crap, but on March 7 Mo’Nique’s scorching performance in Precious will win her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Her victory is preordained, but her bad attitude and trailblazing anti-campaign are making the race exciting in ways it’s never been: How much money will she demand to show up and collect her award? And how long before she puts it on eBay?
In the female acting categories, awards will likely go to newcomers (Mo’Nique in Supporting; Gabourey Sidibe or Carey Mulligan for Lead) or Meryl Streep (Lead), who’s already won two Oscars. In the male races, though, voters look set to recognize at least one career actor who’s never won: Four-time nominee Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) is the current favorite for Best Actor (his biggest competition comes from George Clooney, who won a statue for Syriana). And the two current front-runners for supporting are Woody Harrelson (who’s only ever been nominated once) and trilingual Inglourious Basterds dynamo Christoph Waltz, who’s appeared in 92 movies and TV shows (even if almost all of them were in German). Best of all, nobody would call these pity Oscars, given just to make up for lost time: All three performances are worthy, even without sentiment factored in.
More embarrassing than the Best Picture victories of Crash, Forrest Gump, and Driving Miss Daisy combined is that no woman has ever won an Oscar for directing (and only three have been nominated). It won’t make up for the 81-year sausage party, but hearing Hurt Locker helmer Kathryn Bigelow’s name called on March 7 would certainly be nice. Even a certain Avatar-directing ex-husband (and big Locker supporter) would probably be happy about this.
Mo’Nique, Memoriams, and More Nominations: Ten Reasons to Love This Oscar Season