By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin February 2, 2010 at 6:05AM
I don’t relish hearing my alarm go off at 4 in the morning, but I hopped out of bed today with a smile on my face. An hour later it’s still dark outside the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but inside there’s tangible excitement in the air. The lobby is packed with the familiar faces of reporters, critics, publicists, and Academy staffers. We’re all at the nexus of show-business, where eagerly-awaited news is about to be beamed around the world.
As for the nominations, I was one of those skeptics who questioned whether the Academy could find ten movies worthy of being considered Best Picture. Now I have to eat my words: they’ve come up with a diverse and solid roster of films. I don’t love every one of them, but there are no clunkers here. And if some people were rooting for Star Trek or Invictus or The Hangover, it’s further evidence that there was a field from which to choose.
Several acting nominations made me smile: I’m glad Matt Damon is being recognized for his fine, un-showy performance in Invictus. He’s as credible as fellow nominee Morgan Freeman is playing Nelson Mandela. I’m pleased that Penélope Cruz has been singled out for her work in the much-maligned Nine. And I’m delighted that Woody Harrelson has been nominated for his performance in The Messenger; I hope it inspires more people to see this excellent film, which also earned a nomination for screenwriters Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman. (I feel the same way about the screenplay nod for that wicked political satire In the Loop. Like The Messenger, it’s available on DVD and well worth seeing.)
I also have rooting interest for Nick Park’s latest animated short starring Wallace and Gromit, Alexandre Desplat’s buoyant score for Fantastic Mr. Fox, and two of Randy Newman’s colorful songs from The Princess and the Frog.
Disappointments? I’m sorry Alfred Molina wasn’t nominated as Best Supporting Actor for An Education. I wish Chile had put forward The Maid as its official selection so it would have qualified for Best Foreign Language Film. And I think Stanley Tucci is being celebrated for the wrong performance: he’s good in The Lovely Bones, but I think he’s great working alongside Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia. Watching them together was one of the great moviegoing treats of 2009.
But I can’t dwell on the negative when there is so much to cheer: multiple honors for Up and Up in the Air, recognition for District 9, Coraline, and The Young Victoria (which is up for Art Direction, Costume Design, and Makeup). What’s more, twelve of this year’s twenty acting contenders are first-time nominees. That reveals an openness to new talent that reflects well on the Academy and its voting members. This is a good day for movie lovers everywhere.