If Critics Ruled the Oscars (They Don't): Avatar Heads for Nine Noms

by Anne Thompson
December 28, 2009 7:29 AM
7 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
Time's Richard Corliss has figured out a clever way to write about year-end critics awards and tee up a clickable gallery of Oscar hopefuls, short and sweet. Trouble is, he gives way too much credit to the critics. They do help to clue the Academy voters into what films they should watch on their screener piles. But in the end, what the voters think when they watch the movies is what matters---as well as how passionate they feel as they vote for their top ten best picture candidates. The ones at the top of the list get more weight than the ones at the bottom. Thus, if most voters put The Last Station, Nine, The Messenger, Star Trek and District 9 at the bottom, they won't make it.

Then there's momentum. While Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique are front runners today, the question is, where will they be three weeks from now? I agree that it's probably Streep vs. Mulligan. Will the veteran who's been nominated way more times than she has won (15 noms, 2 wins, in 1980 and 1983) beat the upstart Brit ingenue?

Also, Up in the Air's George Clooney (who won best supporting actor for Syriana) is not a lock to win best actor: Crazy Heart's Jeff Bridges (four noms, no wins) could sneak up and steal it.

Thompson on Hollywood
As for director, friendly ex-spouses James Cameron (Avatar) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) will duke it out. (I'd like to see the Nancy Meyers remake of Adam's Rib with married filmmakers competing for the best director Oscar.) Oscar ballots went out today, December 28; voters will fill out their ballots throughout January; nominations morning is February 2. But late-breaking tech wonder Avatar has the momentum advantage: it's mowing down the competition at the box office, and may well do the same at the Oscars. But it's no Titanic.

Avatar and Titanic are very different. For one thing, Titanic was a romantic historic epic that earned fourteen nominations and eleven wins. Avatar is unlikely to match that. As a sci-fi (and largely CG) adventure, it will likely earn nine nominations: art direction, cinematography, director, sound effects editing, visual effects, film editing, original score, picture and sound. The noms that Titanic got but Avatar won't are costume, original song, actress, supporting actress and makeup. Avatar won't get any acting nominations at all.

Check out the latest findings on MCN's Gurus 'O Gold, by far the best aggregation of smart Oscar prognosticators (yeah, I'm in there). Must to avoid: Sijmin's Oscar Experiment, which uses a mathematical formula to predict the Oscars: his list of 13 doesn't include Avatar at all.


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7 Comments

  • Sydomori | December 29, 2009 10:29 AMReply

    Wei Zhao should be nominated for her strong performance in Red Cliff,Best Supporting Actress.

  • feriatus | December 28, 2009 11:40 AMReply

    Dear ms Thomson will you kindly stop this pro-Avatar propaganda. You sound absolutely ridiculous - were you included in this latest crap's budget [that would easily explain its enormity]? or maybe good ol' Jim just patted you on the back - and gave free tickets to all your dear ones? have you lost your mind (if you had one)? brain-washed? - will all these technologies. "pro-liberal message" did it? child-like wonder? [you sure don't look THAT young.]

    Give us a break.

  • Anne Thompson | December 28, 2009 8:51 AMReply

    Critics awards don't actually count for that much--while Avatar was well-reviewed, big-budget movies like this don't tend to need the critics' help. Also, Academy voters are looking at the craft, they will recognize the skill and tech advances that went into this. Titanic had 14 noms and Avatar may get to 9--no song, no acting, agreed. Titanic didn't get writing and this one won't either--obviously, not Cameron's strongest suit. But he knows how to deliver a movie that is wowing audiences all over the world. Question of how CG aspects of this will impact live-action branches of Academy is interesting. Will the movie be judged solely on live-action cinematography, art direction, etc or for the gorgeous world created by Weta? That could hurt those nominations, although it shouldn't.

  • How do you get nine? I see maybe FX and not much e | December 28, 2009 8:31 AMReply

    I don't understand how you think Cameron will even get nine Oscar nominations? He'll sneak into best picture, even though the film didn't make as many top 10 lists as other films. He'll sneak into directing, just barely, because of the technology and scope of the film, but he'll have a hard time beating Bigelow who has all but swept all of the directing wins and nominations to date because his film is filled with sci-fi blue people and looks like a fancy CGI screensaver, but ultimately doesn't have any real world gravitas. So what's left? No acting nominations (that's minus four for Avatar), maybe not even all of the technical or craft nominations. He's not going to get story. He doesn't have his ACE editors anymore like Conrad Buff, just him and some TV guys who don't have many credits. No fancy cinematography. That's mostly CGI too. So scratch that. Bloggers are even making fun of the song which sounds so derivative of the Titantic one and dated. The music might not get nominated.

    So what is he a lock for a nomination for? Visual effects and maybe sound effects, but even there, will the sound guys award a guy who makes them copy his temp sound mix (made by him, someone who is not a sound editor)? I don't know. Sometimes doing "everything" and not having help, means "jack of all trades, master of none." Ask Robert Rodriguez who definately needs to start hiring other people to do the jobs that he can only half-way do himself.

    Oh, and that whole PR spin of "Cameron being a feminist" is hilarious! Is that to counteract the female voters who might want to see the first woman director win? Oh, don't vote for Bigelow, it's actually Cameron who is the first female director who will win best director! But wait a minute. Feminist? He didn't hire one single woman in any major department that is normally headed by men! On Avatar AND Titanic. No women writers, no women editors, no women cinematographers, no women composers! Yes, he's a feminist alright... (whew, then what do we call a sexist then?!)

  • Carl | December 28, 2009 3:47 AMReply

    You "Oscar bloggers" blew a great opportunity this year.

    Joaquin Phoenix made the the year's most bizarre appearance on Letterman last Spring. But he also gave one of the year's best performances in Two Lovers around the same time.

    If you "experts" would have touted his deserving work in your charts and graphs, the actor would have had a chance to walk the red carpet this Spring AND bring his brand of crazy to the ceremony. His appearance would be as much a reason to watch as any comedian host or best picture nominee.

    The Academy should take note.

  • Brian | December 28, 2009 3:05 AMReply

    For your consideration:

    Jason Statham in CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE
    (Best Actor - could any other leading man working today have pulled that off?)

    Vicky Zhao Wei in RED CLIFF
    (Best Supporting Actress - hey, it was either her or Megan Fox in TRANSFORMERS 2)

    STORM RIDER: CLASH OF EVILS (Hong Kong)
    (Best Animated Feature - wishful thinking since this superb 2-D animated martial arts adventure never got released in the U.S.)

    That's about all I can add. Slow year.

  • Mario | December 28, 2009 12:51 AMReply

    I really hate that the awards season so far has ignored Michelle Pfeiffer in "Cheri" and Sam Rockwell in "Moon". I hope Colin Firth gets an Oscar nomination for A Single Man, he was fantastic.

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