Peter Eramo Ranks: The Top 10 Worst ‘Best Picture’ Oscar Winners Ever!

Let’s face it, the Oscar for “Best Picturerarely goes to the actual best picture of any given year. Since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1928, there have been a number of doozies that walked away with the industry’s most prestigious award – some sub-par films, some average, some just not very good at all. In light of this thinking, I have compiled my own list – “The Top 10 Worst Best Picture Winners of All-Time

Of course this is only my personal opinion, so I encourage you to comment and give me your own thoughts here. In looking over my Top 10, there aren’t many “bad” films listed (well, two or three of them, perhaps). But, by including these films, I am not saying they are “bad” per se, but rather, either (1) they are average, decent films that probably should not have even been nominated or (2) given the competition of that particular year, said film had no business winning at all.

Take a look at this past year, for instance. “The Hurt Locker” won the highest honor and I wouldn’t even put that in my Top 15 films of the year. However, it was sort of a weak year for great films and because of that, I excluded it from this list. I know everyone says “Ordinary People” (1980) and “Dances with Wolves” (1990) were undeserving of winning “Best Picture” – that “Raging Bull” (1980) and “Goodfellas” (two phenomenal films by Martin Scorsese) were the better films. This is probably true and I would agree with this sentiment. However, I could not include the films of Robert Redford and Kevin Costner on this particular Top 10 List because, quite frankly, I think they are both 4-star films in their own right. Is “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) a better film than Coppola’s masterpiece that is “Apocalypse Now”? I certainly don’t think so. However, “Kramer vs. Kramer” won and I love the movie, so this too is also omitted.

 I desperately wanted to include “Titanic” (1997) on this list. It’s not a very good film and has not aged well at all (even though it’s only been 13 years). I find the film manipulative on many levels and the script is downright hokey and poor. However, I understand why it won and it was, at the time, a great cinematic achievement on a technical level. On top of this, there were not many other films that stood out in 1997, so sadly, I could not include the over-hyped “Titanic” on this prestigious list. I don’t think “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) is a very good movie at all. The guy-with-a-disease does make for great Oscar bait, but there wasn’t much to admire in this histrionic film. And really – there wasn’t much to pick from during that anemic year for films, so I couldn’t even include this either!

A “Best Picture” Oscar winner should be an instant classic. It should stand the test of time. It should be a film that, years and decades from its release, will be remembered and looked at as a testament to its time. Some “Best Picture” winners that encapsulate this tenet are: “Gone with the Wind” (1939), “The Godfather” films (1972, 1974), “Schindler’s List” (1993), “Unforgiven” (1991), “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and “On the Waterfront” (1954). In any case, look it over, tell me what you think – and enjoy!

10. The English Patient (1996)

I actually like this film, but given the other notable films of that year, I had to put this on the list. I mean, come on…who actually fell in love with this movie and can watch it over and over? It certainly has the looks of a “Best Picture” winner. It’s grand and epic in scope – Oscar loves that, I know. But with films like “Fargo,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Breaking the Waves,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Sling Blade,” (my personal #1 film for 1996) and “Big Night,” I sadly had to include this. Elaine Benes from “Seinfeld” had this film pegged – she was at least honest enough to admit her displeasure of this film – and was alienated by everyone (including her current boyfriend) for her candor.

9. Gigi (1958)

There have been a number of musicals to win for “Best Picture” (“Oliver!,” “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady”), but this is an average-at-best MGM musical that no one really remembers today.  It’s overlong and there is hardly any dancing in the film, if at all. The passage of time also shows “Touch of Evil,” “Vertigo,” “Mon Oncle,” “The Defiant Ones” and “A Night to Remember” as being much stronger films. I mean, really…what film class is breaking down and analyzing “Gigi” over classics by Orson Welles and Jacques Tati from that same year?

8. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Another example of a good film that, for some reason, got away with the grand prize. I would think most people look at this movie and think how slow and boring this is. How engaging can a movie about running be to begin with? I know it’s considered by many to be a classic “sports” film, but, like golf and billiards, running is not a sport. I think Warren Beatty’sReds” was a masterpiece of a film. Also, released in 1981 and remembered with much greater fondness than the scintillating “Chariots of Fire” are “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “On Golden Pond,” and the extraordinary “Das Boot.”

7. Forrest Gump (1994)

Run, Forrest, run! For 15 minutes of film, just run! I know, I know, it’s a modern, American classic right? You laughed, you cried, it had great music and Tom Hanks was amazing. Whatever. I did like it though. It was hard not to like. The visual effects of putting Forrest next to a whole slew of notable 20th century figures was cool (but really, how many times could you do it?) and the love story at the core of the movie is sweet and touching. But 1994 was actually a great year for film. I couldn’t even put this movie in my Top 15 with other great achievements like: “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Quiz Show,” “Il Postino,” “Hoop Dreams,” the masterful “Natural Born Killers,” Krzysztof’sRed” and yes, even “Pulp Fiction” which is over-rated in its own right, but still, a better choice than this schmaltzy, calculating, and poorly edited film. For Academy voters, this was the easy, safe pick for that year. Yeah, Forrest…keep running!

6. The Departed (2006)

The year of the “Long Overdue” award masking as “Best Picture” and “Best Director” respectively. I love Martin Scorsese and am a huge fan of so many of his films, but this had no business winning the top two awards of the night, let alone have the honor of being nominated. If any film actually stood out that year, Scorsese would have gone home empty-handed once again. But alas, no such film existed. Here, the thinking was, “Well, he’s made some brilliant films in the past, but because there was stiff competition those years, he just never won the big one. Let’s give him his Oscar now.” Nicholson is over-the-top (shocker), Wahlberg (who I actually like) was a disaster and really, it doesn’t even measure up to the original 2002 film “Infernal Affairs.”

5. Cavalcade (1933)

The movie is downright dull and overlong. There’s no way around it. It made for a boring play and here, it is a boring and stilted British movie. The film follows a pair of British aristocrats over the span of three decades and the turbulent times in which they live (1899-1933). There have been some terrific British films over the years. This is not one of them. If I wanted to see how World War I, the death of Queen Victoria, & the sinking of the Titanic affected society, I could watch a special on the History channel and be more entertained. Some excellent films that were snubbed in lieu of this snoozefest were: “King Kong,” “I am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang,” “Little Women” and “She Done Him Wrong” (yes, even at 66 minutes…it leaves much more of an impact than the siesta that is “Cavalcade”).

4. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

I am not sure how this film beat out a film that changed the face of motion pictures as we know it (“Citizen Kane”), but it did. I’m not one of those people who think that “Citizen Kane” is the end-all-and-be-all, but come on…it changed the way we view and create cinema. John Ford was a terrific filmmaker, but this is another lackluster, tedious film whose only claim to fame is that it bested Orson Welles’ magnum opus. The movie centers on the sorrowful lives of coal miners and is better suited for viewing in a college class on sociology or labor relations than as a piece of entertainment. Other worthy films that were released this year besides “Citizen Kane”: “Suspicion,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “Little Foxes,” and yes, even Disney’s “Dumbo” is the greater work.

3. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

This is a sweet film with some very touching moments. Morgan Freeman is outstanding here as is Jessica Tandy (who won a “Best Actress” Oscar here). But “Best Picture”??? Do you really look back to 1989 and think back on this as being the year’s Best Picture?! If you are saying, “Yes” as you read this now, I’m calling you a liar. The film’s director wasn’t even recognized as a “Best Director” nominee. This was a year where voters wanted to feel good about themselves by selecting a movie that (haphazardly) shows the evils of racism. On that level, I felt the film to be a bit insulting, to be honest. It treats its viewers like idiots, thinking we had no idea how poorly blacks were treated in the South in 1948 and that yes, racism is bad. Thank you. It ranks so high on the list for these reasons and because it indefensibly beat out such grand triumphs of film such as: “Cinema Paradiso,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” “Born on the 4th of July,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”

2. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

On any list like this one, this film you will most surely find. For all of its impressive locations and cast of actors, this is another long (3+ hours), tedious, uninteresting film. It is outdated, to be sure, with no sense of adventure or wonder to it at all (unlike the Jules Verne story that it is based on). Watch it now – tell me it doesn’t feel like you’re watching some homemade travel videos – or even those archaic educational videos you used to watch in the 6th grade. How this won “Best Picture,” I have no idea – but with cameos by more than 40 of Hollywood’s stars at the time, my thinking is that there were so many people associated with this film in one way or another, that enough votes went its way. “The Searchers,” “The Ten Commandments, “Giant” and “Anastasia” would have been much more admirable picks – all films that when we watch them today, over 50 years later, still entertain and engage us.

1. Chicago (2002)

This one was a travesty. I’ll start by saying that I did see it on Broadway years ago and loved it. It was great, sexy entertainment filled with wonderful choreography. And unlike some Broadway musicals that made successful transitions to the world of film, this just plays as silly entertainment geared to the “Glee” demographic. It plays more like the failed musical adaptations such as “Rent” and “Phantom of the Opera” than it does the ones which actually encapsulate the essence of what made the musicals great in the first place (like “West Side Story” or “An American in Paris”). The songs are great, sure – it’s a great musical. But when you leave it to a Hollywood cast who are there for box-office power and not their singing chops (John C. Reilly, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere), the songs fall flat. It was a weak year for good movies, but no one is ever going to look back at 2002 and think, “Oh, ‘Chicago’ was the best movie that year!” “Chicago” isn’t a good movie that beat out the more deserving…it is a poor, glitz-over-substance film that beat out the more deserving. Those films would be: “Adaptation,” “Talk to Her,” “Gangs of New York,” “Frida” and “The Pianist.”


Digg!

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Iron Man 2″ (** 1/2)

I’d like to preface this review by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the first “Iron Man” film released in 2008. It was, in my opinion, one of the better action films I had seen and certainly one of the better films of the ‘superhero’ genre. Having said that, I feel that I can say with great confidence that anyone who truly enjoyed the first film will be severely disappointed in its sequel, “Iron Man 2.”

It is almost standard fare in Hollywood and we hear it almost every time a sequel is released — “It was good. Not better than the original at all, but it was good.” Very seldom does a sequel live up to all of the hype and it is even a rarer feat for the sequel to best its predecessor. Perhaps “Superman 2,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Aliens” and most certainly “The Godfather Part II” are members of that elite group, but that is always up for healthy debate. More times than not, before watching a sequel, my expectations are not very high. “Iron Man 2” was an exception though. I was in fact expecting more from this franchise, from director Jon Favreau, and from screenwriter Justin Theroux. I was disillusioned. And if you are one who sees this film and is not as disappointed as I was, then I will go out on a limb and almost guarantee that you will at least grant me the service of at least admitting that it comes nowhere near the original.

Billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has a lot on his plate in this one.  Now that the entire world knows that he is in fact the Iron Man hero, he is facing tremendous pressure from the government (most notably from Senator Stern, played by comedian Garry Shandling) to hand over the powerful technology to the U.S. military. He has also discovered that the palladium in the arc reactor that is responsible for keeping him alive, is in fact, slowly killing him (ah, the irony) and all of his attempts to find a substitute element have failed. On top of this, Stark must deal with the opening of the grand Stark Expo (you never saw Flushing, NY look saw strikingly impressive), in the name of his deceased father — and most of all, he is confronted with his new arch enemy, the Russian physicist-turned-evil genius, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke).

It seems that Ivan’s father worked alongside Stark’s father and the two of them were responsible for creating technology far ahead of its time. The two should have shared in the wealth and fame, but instead, Ivan’s father was pushed aside and was forced to live a life of misery, poverty and failure. Ivan wants revenge — he wants Tony Stark.

Rourke is great here, but that should be of no surprise to anyone. It’s always a pleasure to watch him work. Here, his Russian accent is near perfect and his tattooed body and appearance fit the villain caricature very well. He is well cast here and creates a mysterious foil to Stark with his gold teeth and great affinity for birds. What is terribly anti-climatic is that the whole film is building up to this grand face-off between the two and when it happens, it is just a shameful let-down. The confrontation is there, we’re awaiting this amazing finale, and it lasts perhaps a minute long and just like that, it is over…leaving the viewer let down…again.

Robert Downey, Jr. created a delightful, charming, charismatic Tony Stark in the first film. Here, he gets to do pretty much the same. Nothing new here – he makes his playful and witty remarks as often as he can. But we don’t see or feel any of the desperation that Stark had in the first one…not even when his life is on the line. In addition, his relationship with his former personal assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is a huge letdown. The two had such great chemistry in the first one. Here, he appoints Ms. Potts to be the CEO of his empire and they seem to be at odds throughout the entire film. The only time the two have a meaningful, endearing exchange is when they are on a video-conference-call and she finds out about his illness…it’s a sad commentary when the only time two actors have a true exchange is when they aren’t even on the same screen together.

In other subplots (of which there are far too many), Stark must also deal with his industry rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who enlists Ivan to work for him and ruin Stark for good. Rockwell is fun to watch. His Hammer is conniving and cowardly, the epitome of envy to the great Tony Stark.  Oh yeah, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D. also approaches Stark with a treasure-trove of old film and artifacts of the elder Stark. Fury also wants to see if he is S.H.I.E.L.D. material. Jackson is Jackson, except here, he wears an eye patch for good measure. Scarlett Johansson plays Natalie, who plays a newly employed Stark receptionist with a great deal to hide. Johansson doesn’t get to do much as far as honing her acting chops, but fits the role of sexy vixen who can kick the asses of 20 men quite admirably. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard in the role of Lt. Colonel James Rhodes. We don’t miss Howard for a second, but, with the exception of the big paycheck, he should be grateful not to be a part of the mess.

Listen, it is what it is. It’s a Hollywood summer blockbuster film. I get that. And if you are looking to sit back, have some popcorn and enjoy some action, some funny lines (though not nearly as humorous as the original) and take out the brain for two hours, then you will perhaps enjoy it. Again, I was expecting more from this particular franchise – and from Favreau who fell victim to the ‘Too Many Villains in A Single Movie’ catastrophe that has struck many directors before him. In the end, to me, it felt like: “OK, we have a title for the movie, we have our director…we have our star-studded cast….hmmm, we just need some kind of a story. Anything’ll do…the public will come.” And I am sure they will. I’m sure it’ll make $250-$350 million domestic….But you still can’t say it comes close to the original.

Film:           Iron Man 2

Year:           2010

Director:     Jon Favreau

Rating:        an extra 1/2-star for those who love summer blockbusters

Peter Eramo Asks: What Movie are You MOST Excited to see This Year?

With “Iron Man 2” opening on May 7th, the 2010 Summer Blockbuster Season is officially under way. However, with “Clash of the Titans” already released, you may argue the fact that the Season has already begun. Be that as it may, there are a number of movies coming out this year with high box-office expectations…not unlike any other year in Hollywood. The litany of sequels, big-budget action films, and remakes are upon us…with a few films coming out by the more “seasoned” directors like David Fincher and the Coen Brothers for good measure.

I want to know what movie YOU are most looking forward to this year. Yeah, I know there’s plenty of them to choose from, but you only get one choice.

I am hoping to make the poll feature a regular feature on this blog in the hopes of making it much more interactive. Let me know your thoughts here! Take the poll…

What Movie Are You MOST Excited to See This Year???
The Green Hornet (w/ Seth Rogan)
Toy Story (from Pixar)
Iron Man 2 (w/ Robert Downey, Jr.)
Inception (Christopher Nolan’s latest)
Robin Hood (w/ Russell Crowe)
Salt (w/ Angelina Jolie)
Shrek Forever After (yes, another one)
Grown Ups (w/ Adam Sandler)
The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan’s latest)
Black Hole (David Fincher’s latest)
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part I
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (w/ Kristen Stewart)
Eat Pray Love (w/ Julia Roberts)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Stone’s sequel)
True Grit (Coen Bros. remake starring ‘The Dude’ Jeff Bridges)
The A-Team (w/ Liam Neeson & Bradley Cooper)
What the Hell?! My Choice Isn’t Listed Here!

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Predictions for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards (2010)


The nominees have been announced, the studios all campaigning wildly, and the film critics and pundits all making their annual predictions as to who will take home the revered statues come the evening of March 7, 2010. As I do every year, I try to come to grips with those who have been snubbed of well-deserved recognition (see my previous posting on this blog) and those who are nominated for reasons I cannot yet fathom. In addition, this year brings the new anxiety of trying to brace myself of having to sit and watch Alec Baldwin co-host the ceremonies….I feel it does not bode well for the millions of viewers across the globe. As I stated earlier, it hasn’t been the strongest year for film. Even the nominees were somewhat of a bore…a bit anti-climatic. Not many great races to speak of as well, with a few categories already being viewed as semi-locks. I am hoping that this is not an omen of a 4-hour snoozefest on Oscar night, but the realist in me says that this is most likely what we will get.

So here are my predictions for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in all of the major categories — complete with a listing of “Who Will Win,” “Who Should Win” and finally, “Who Should Have Been in the Running.” Enjoy — and please feel free to post your comments in agreement or heated disagreement!!! I welcome it all….

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Matt Damon (Invictus)
Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)
Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

This one is a slam dunk. As soon as I left the theatre, I vividly remember thinking, “This guy has the Oscar wrapped up.” Many months later, that same sentiment holds true. This “guy”? Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s very strong “Inglourious Basterds.” He’s already won numerous accolades for his performance and I don’t see what is to stop him from receiving the grandest accolade of all – especially when I don’t think the film has a legit shot at Picture or Director here. The only competition comes from the wonderful Christopher Plummer, portraying the celebrated author and idealist Tolstoy. He was (as always) truly a marvel to watch – and has never received an Oscar in his prolific career. But in the end, I don’t believe enough people saw the film. Same goes for the other nominees – not many at all saw “Invictus” or “The Messenger” and both Woody Harrelson and Matt Damon are deserving of their nominations here. As for Stanley Tucci, I confess, I did not see the film, but have heard he was one of the very few bright spots in Peter Jackson’s critically (and publically) roasted failure. He nearly ruined King Kong…might as well hurt Alice Sebold’s prose while he’s at it, right?

Who Will Win: Christoph Waltz
Who Should Win: Christoph Waltz
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Burghart Klaubner (The White Ribbon)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz (Nine)
Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)
Anna Kendrik (Up in the Air)
Mo’Nique (Precious)

I’m in an odd position here and I’ll readily admit this – that based on all that I have read and heard, the winner may very well be the only performance I have missed (“Precious” being the only film of the nominated 10 that I unfortunately missed). But I cannot believe that Maggie Gyllenhaal would win (Lord help us) as I don’t feel a nomination was warranted. And what’s with Penelope Cruz? Why do voters have a fixation with everything she does? Her best work is in Almodovar films – yet she wins for a Woody Allen film when clearly, Amy Adams or Marisa Tomei should have won last year. Go figure. Anyway, she plays the same unbalanced lover here in the subpar “Nine” so I don’t see her winning in back-to-back years. The race comes down to Vera Farmiga and the heavily favored Mo’Nique. Mo’Nique has won just about every “Supporting Actress” award this year and there was some bad press over the fact of whether she would do press for the film or wouldn’t she. That’s all been cleared by now. I liked what Ms. Farmiga did in the Jason Reitman’s wonderful “Up in the Air.” Sadly, I think the film will, for the most part, be going home empty on Oscar night – and the two actresses nominated here may also split the votes. I can’t speak to Mo’Nique’s performance, but because none of the other four “wowed” me and the glowing press so far received, I have to believe that she will take home the Golden statue.

Who Will Win: Mo’Nique
Who Should Win: since I didn’t see ‘Precious’ I can’t say with authority
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Kate del Castillo (Julia) or
Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Avatar
Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

An interesting list of nominees this year in an all-important category. As impressive as “Avatar” and “Inglourious Basterds” is from a photography standpoint, I would think that the beautifully shot black-and-white film, “The White Ribbon” will steal this one. It’s got a couple of strikes against it in that (a) it’s a foreign film so hence (b) not many have seen the film. I’m certainly not picking it simply because it’s a B&W film. I was just overly impressed with the film as a whole, cinematography included. In addition, the film did just win the A.S.C. award, so it has a little steam going in.

Who Will Win: The White Ribbon
Who Should Win: The White Ribbon
Who Should Have Been Nominated: The Road

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells
Up

One of the few locks of the evening for sure. The fact that “Up” happens to be nominated for the actual “Best Picture” award tells you all you need to know. I thought “Up” was sweet…a strong 3-star film and not much more. The highlight of the film was the very moving montage between Carl and the love of his life Ellie – without dialogue. Quite beautiful. A sweet film, no doubt, but not one of Pixar’s best. I didn’t get into “Coraline” at all and if you can sit there and tell me that you saw “The Secret of Kells” playing at a theatre near you, I’ll call you a liar right now. “Up” is the sure winner here, but “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was the stronger work and greater achievement in film. I was hoping “Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs” would get a nomination as I did find that film to be great fun.

Who Will Win: Up
Who Should Win: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Almost There” (Princess & the Frog)
“Down in New Orleans” (Princess & the Frog)
“Loin de Paname” (Paris 36)
“Take it All” (Nine)
“The Weary Kind” (Crazy Heart)

This is a two-horse race, but I really don’t see “The Weary Kind” (by T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham) losing. The two selections by Randy Newman are, let’s face it, Randy Newman songs. No knock on Mr. Newman, but there’s not much new here. A “Best Song” should capture the essence of a character or a specific scene or the film as a whole – or all three. No song has done that better in recent years than the marvelous “Falling Slowly” featured in the little indie-that-could “Once.” Eminem’sLose Yourself” (from “8 Mile”) back in 2002 also is a great example. There have been some wonderful songs featured in this category over the years. Sadly, the producers of this year’s telecast have chosen NOT to showcase each song individually and have the artists sing it. This was a great disappointment as some of the most memorable moments in Oscar’s history have come from the musical artist performing the piece live for us. The only competition that “The Weary Kind” may have is “Taken it All” from the musical “Nine.” This is a wonderful song written specially for the film – and is performed with raw passion by Marion Cotillard. It encapsulates her character and everything she has gone through in her failure-of-a-marriage to her ingenious husband. “The Weary Kind” however, is near perfect and will take home the gold. Bingham’s raspy, old vet voice fits splendidly. The lyrics and music perfectly complement the feel of the film (“Crazy Heart”) and depicts the man that is Bad Blake – (“Your body aches/Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate”….” this ain’t no place to fall behind/Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try.”) I only wish we were given the opportunity to watch it sung for us live on Oscar night.

Who Will Win: “The Weary Kind”
Who Should Win: “The Weary Kind”

Listen to the song here:

BEST ACTOR

Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”)
George Clooney (“Up in the Air”)
Colin Firth (“A Single Man”)
Morgan Freeman (“Invictus”)
Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”)

Lock. L-O-C-K! And well deserved, I might add. Mr. Bridges is 0 for 4 as an Oscar nominee, but America’s most under-rated actor (can we now say that anymore?) will be winning come Sunday night. It’s a vulnerable, gritty, honest and seemingly effortless performance and his Bad Blake is truly a character to remember. We sympathize with Bad, we root for him, we want him to succeed and get well. That’s what Mr. Bridges brings to the table here. Also, he’s got a nice set of pipes on him! He looked the part and looked quite the natural in all of his vocal scenes. Perfect casting and it is always such a pleasure to watch him work in indie films such as this one – and the bigger blockbusters that he sometimes does. I’m still trying to get over the fact that nominating Jeremy Renner is an utter waste of a perfectly fine 5th slot here. Colin Firth was terrific and the one shining star in what I found to be an unremarkable film. George Clooney is the tricky one here. He was wonderful in a great movie. However, if I am truly honest about it – it was George doing what George does best…the kind of role he can do in his sleep. He is charming, witty, charismatic and at times, susceptible. I enjoyed his performance, but could never think of him beating out the work that Jeff Bridges turned out this past year – it will be a pleasure to watch his acceptance speech. The Dude prevails….

Who Will Win: Jeff Bridges
Who Should Win: Jeff Bridges
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”)

BEST ACTRESS

Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”)
Helen Mirren (“The Last Station”)
Carey Mulligan (“An Education”)
Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”)
Meryl Streep (“Julie & Julia”)

What a weak category this year. W-E-A-K! It also illustrates a year where there were not very good roles for leading women in cinema. As written in my previous blog, I have no idea why Tilda Swinton was completely forgotten and not nominated for giving the year’s best performance in the very powerful, but little known film “Julia.” Having said that, if Sandra Bullock wins, I will weep. I like Sandra Bullock. I have nothing against Sandra Bullock. She was fine here…gave a good performance. But Oscar worthy?! Please! Years from now we’re going to look back at this film and see an actress truly shine? Hardly. She is here because voters approve of the fact that we’re not seeing her in another piece of crap – plain and simple. That, plus the poor roles for leading women in 2009. But sadly, she does have a legit shot. The movie raked in millions and America loves her. Despite my animosity towards the nomination, her chances are very good…scary, right? The winner, I’m afraid will be Ms. Streep in the very mediocre “Julia & Julia.” I adore Meryl Streep – love her in just about everything she does. With more nominations than anyone in Oscar history now, she surely is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen – period! Having said that, this is NOT the film she deserves to win for. Not after Oscar has shot her down in much better films in which she has given outstanding performances in like “Doubt,” “Adaptation,” “One True Thing,” and “Out of Africa” to name a few. So why will she win this year? Hollywood adores her (as they should) and she hasn’t won since 1982 – it’s been a while! She’s always there; each year, smiling gracefully each time she is defeated. I feel she will be rewarded for that this year at the expense of Ms. Mulligan who turns in a multi-layered, well-crafted performance in a film that few went out to see. I love Helen Mirren and she is great in “The Last Station,” but she won just a few years back and nobody saw this under-rated film about Tolstoy and his wife in their latter years. It’s a battle for the two undeserving this year. Bullock vs. Streep. It will be nice to see Ms. Streep walk up to accept, and I guess I can swallow that after years of hoping that she would win…however, this year, I know better. You just watch – she’ll give a breathtaking performance in another film this year or next – and will lose out once again.

Quick Change of Heart as of Sunday, March 7th: I can’t stand this anymore. I can’t sleep well knowing I picked Streep or Bullock to win for performances they surely don’t deserve the gold for. I’m going with the evening’s upset special: Carey Mulligan. Why? Simply because she deserves it. I did this a couple of years back and went out on a limb picking Marion Cotillard for her brilliant performance in “La Vie en Rose” and that turned out well. So I’m going with my gut and hope the Academy sees that Carey Mulligan gave the most winning performance.

Who Will Win: Carey Mulligan
Who Should Win: Carey Mulligan
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Tilda Swinton (“Julia”)

BEST DIRECTOR

James Cameron (Avatar)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Lee Daniels (Precious)
Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)

This seems to be a very competitive two (wo)man race – between James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. Those two seem to be the darlings of past awards presentations over the past couple of months. In my opinion, both simply do not deserve it. Of the five nominees, I would say that Tarantino’s work is the most deserving – and I don’t even care for the man. I hate listening to him speak in that self-important, supercilious way that he does. In truth, I can’t stand watching him, but I can be objective here and say that the man can make a fine film from time to time (“Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill: Volume I” as examples). I thoroughly enjoyed “Inglourious Basterds” and put it in my Top 10 of the Year. Though he is deserving, he won’t win. It’s between the couple that once was. Not many people like James Cameron – especially after he made a bit of a spectacle of himself when he won for the over-glorified “Titanic” and just a few weeks ago when he dissed Meryl Streep. NOBODY disses Meryl Streep and gets away with it! Not in Hollywood, at least. My feeling is that this year, the “Best Picture” and “Best Director” awards will be split – and history will be made with the first female director ever taking home the Oscar. This does not mean she actually deserves this distinction though – but voters like to congratulate themselves for this kind of thing. You can make a strong argument that Lina Wertmuller deserved to be the first back in 1976 (“Seven Beauties”), but it will instead be for the very over-rated, much ballyhooed “The Hurt Locker.”

Who Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow
Who Should Win: Quintin Tarantino
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”)

BEST MOTION PICTURE OF 2009

So “Avatar” took home a zillion dollars, or something like that and was, for all intents and purposes, cutting-edge as far as film achievement goes. It was a wonder to watch in the theatre. I cannot deny the remarkable triumph in that regard. It will continue its phenomenal success by taking home the “Best Picture” Oscar and raking up more zillions in the theatre, in merchandise and in Blue-Ray sales. Having said that, it is not the best film of the year. Think about why it didn’t even garner a screenwriting nomination. The story was not very good at all – highly predictable and took from so many other films in years past. You couldn’t sit through “Avatar” and not be reminded of a film here and another film there (“Dances with Wolves” in particular). Glorious to watch, for sure…but I wouldn’t put it in my Top 10 or Top 15 of the year. It will win though – there are years when Oscar likes to go to the big blockbuster (“Titanic,” “LOTR: Return of the King,” and “Gladiator” to name a few). This will reward the millions watching at home who actually saw one of the nominees and rooting hard for it.

I already made my feelings known about “The Hurt Locker.” Though a critical darling and on many Top 10 lists around the country, I simply do not see it. I feel it is overvalued. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I was in a cranky mood when I saw it. I have no idea. I simply know that when it was over, I thought, “Hmph, that was it?”

District 9” deserves the win, but has no chance at all, especially when the director is not nominated here – and I don’t see another “Driving Miss Daisy” year coming. Of the ten, it was the strongest and most powerful piece of original filmmaking. I’m not a sci-fi guy by any stretch, but the film works as a marvelous parable to our world today. It is riveting, haunting and at times, quite touching. I’ll be rooting hard for it, but to no avail, I’m afraid.

Up” has its own category all to itself – way to waste a place Oscar voters! That’s why the “Best Animated Feature” was created to begin with – to prevent this!

I loved Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.” What a fine filmmaker with this work following the wonderful dark comedy, “Thank You for Smoking” (I felt “Juno” was the weakest of the three by far). “Up in the Air” is probably the most topical film of 2009 and makes a profound statement on our economy and the job market during a historical recession. Great performances across the board and a sharp, clever, thoughtful screenplay. This would be my personal #2 choice. An outside shot at best – if “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” split the votes, this could creep in and surprise everyone. Let’s hope it does!

A Serious Man” (besides “Intolerable Cruelty” the Coen Brothers have not made a bad film!) is along for the ride here – but I was thrilled to see it not forgotten and in the running for the evening’s grand prize – kudos to the voters for including this insightful, funny and splendid film.

Who Will Win: Avatar
Who Should Win: District 9
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Watchmen or (500) Days of Summer

OTHER PICKS:

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Who Will Win: Inglourious Basterds
Who Should Win: A Serious Man
Who Should Have Been Nominated: (500) Days of Summer

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Who Will Win: Up in the Air
Who Should Win: Up in the Air
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Julia (or Where the Wild Things Are)

BEST FILM EDITING

Who Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Who Should Win: District 9

BEST ART DIRECTION

Who Will Win: Avatar
Who Should Win: Avatar

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Who Will Win: Avatar
Who Should Win: Avatar

BEST MAKE-UP

Who Will Win: Star Trek
Who Should Win: Star Trek

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Who Will Win: The Young Victoria
Who Should Win: (did not see 2 of the films nominated)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Who Will Win: The Cove (if you haven’t seen it – rent it!)
I felt “Food Inc.”, as informative as it was could have been more “viewer-friendly” if that makes any sense. Michael Moore – pay attention…this is what documentaries are supposed to be….they are not editorials.

So those are my picks – for better or for worse. I hope I am wrong about a number of them. I’ve been watching the Academy Awards each year without fail since I was about eight or nine years old. Too young to even care, I suppose. My friends and family have always joked with me, calling Oscar night my Christmas. In many ways, it is. I love film just about more than anything. It is what I do…I watch movies. I watch too many movies – but there are very few things that give me greater pleasure than going to a theatre, sitting in the darkened room and watching a work of art on the screen. And film is art – there is no question about that. And that art is celebrated each year in grand fashion at the Kodak Theatre. I could care less about the Red Carpet – I never even watch that. I could care less about the dresses. I watch no other Awards show prior to the Oscars (could never be bothered with the SAG awards or the over-hyped Golden Globes). It’s all about the little golden guy they have called Oscar since 1928. No matter what films are nominated, which films or actors win or lose, I am glued to the television – and they become a part of motion picture history. The past few ceremonies have been somewhat boring, true. Here’s hoping that this year will be a pleasant surprise – and that the best artists in each category win!

Again, I welcome any and all comments here. Feel free to share your own picks on this page. That would be great. I’m hoping some are even reading this blog and that I’m not writing for my own sake. That would just be sad.

Most of all – to each of you – enjoy your Oscar Night!!!

(Next Posting Coming Soon — Best & Worst Films of 2009)

Peter Eramo’s Thoughts on the Oscar Noms – 2010

Nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards were released a couple of weeks ago — with the telecast right around the corner on March 7, 2010. I’ve been doing my very best to catch up on all of the year’s films (especially those nominated), which is why it has taken me a bit to post this blog in reaction to the list of nominees announced. Overall, I must say that this year’s nominees were quite predictable, with very few pleasant surprises, if any at all. If anything, there were a handful nominated that I find to be undeserving, and simply riding the Oscar-media wave, campaigning quite well. But unlike most years where there is a surprise here and there, this year’s list of nominees is, in a nutshell, somewhat bland.

I think much of that has to do with the year in film that was 2009. It was a relatively weak year, with very few great (let alone extraordinary) films released. The decade has been a good one, no doubt. Recent years have been good ones, with some wonderful films battling each other out for Oscar supremecy. Not this year. Not when your two leading front runners (so it seems) are “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker.” You know there is a problem. But more on that later. I have managed to see 9 of the 10 nominated films for “Best Picture” (I have yet to see “Precious” so I will say to you up front, that of course I am not able to write about the movie with any first-hand knowledge whatsoever). Anyway, here are just a few random thoughts on the Oscar race this year…I hope you enjoy!

THE 5 BIGGEST SNUBS

A list of this year’s 5 biggest Oscar snubs, plus a handful of others for good measure:

Tilda Swinton (Best Actress for “Julia”)
In a “Best Actress” category that I find to be very weak this year, Ms. Swinton gave the year’s most raw, electrifying performance as the title character. Not only was she snubbed of a mere nomination, but I would have given her the Oscar outright. It’s the type of leading female performance seldom seen and was the most courageous and gutsy accomplishment I have witnessed since possibly Mimi Rogers in the wonderful (and overlooked) 1991 film “The Rapture.” I know few filmgoers actually saw “Julia,” but I wish the studio gave it a bigger push. If it had, then I am sure Tilda Swinton would not have been so egregiously overlooked.

(500) Days of Summer (directed by Marc Webb)
How this originally delightful film was overlooked, I do not know. In a year where the “Best Picture” race ballooned up to ten nominees, I was shocked to see that this film was not in the Chosen Ten. And if you are going to ignore it in the “Best Picture” category, then at least honor it with a well-deserved Screenplay nomination. It was fresh, witty, melancholic, and yes, hopeful. In addition to be snubbed for Picture and Screenplay, one could make the argument for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and/or Zooey Deschanel being honored in their respective roles. This slight is still hard to swallow, especially when films like “The Blind Side” and “Up” are nominated for Oscar’s grandest prize. Alas, the film goes away empty-handed. Hopefully it will fare well at the Independent Spirit Awards where it was not forgotten. Regardless, if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it!

Watchmen (directed by Zack Snyder)
I found this to be one of the year’s best films, much better than your typical blockbuster/superhero type of films that have been released. I can understand it being snubbed for the heavyweight categories like “Best Picture” and “Best Director” (though I feel it would have been most well deserved considering the list of films), but to completely ignore it for Visual Effects, Make-Up, Art Direction and Screenplay was quite remarkable. There are 3 nominees in the Visual Effects category (which “Avatar” will most assuredly win) and 3 nominees in Make-Up… ”Watchmen” deserved a nod in each here. The Art Direction was stellar (clearly better than 3 of the 5 nominees up for the distinction), and even though the Cinematography was glorious as well, that is a tough category this year and I did not expect such notice. “Watchmen” ranks in my Top 10 films for 2009 – I was hoping Oscar voters would agree.

The Road & Viggo Mortensen (directed by John Hillcoat)
A crowd-pleasing film this is not. A non-stop action ride? Again, not the film. This is a haunting, powerful film that moves at its own pace – but stays with you long after the final credits roll. I was taken aback at how the film did just that. Again, I did not expect it to find a place in the ten nominated films (though so much more deserving than a number of them – and “Up” has its own “Best Animated Film” category and because of that, should never have been eligible here). However, the Cinematography was unbelievably effective and should have been noticed in that category. Also, you could have nominated so many more worthy leading male performances than Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) – Viggo Mortensen would have been an admirable choice as the desperate father doing his utmost to protect his son from death. His performance here is understated, but commanding in every sense. A much more commendable work than a handful of other films that will be mentioned come March 7th.

Michael Stuhlbarg & the Coen Brothers
Yes, it was a very pleasant surprise to see “A Serious Man” justly nominated in the “Best Picture” category. The same holds true for its only other nomination for the evening – “Best Original Screenplay” (which it absolutely deserved). I’m glad enough people saw — and remembered this wonderful film to not completely snub it. That said, the fact that the Coen Brothers were not nominated in the “Best Director” category leaves me thinking that it has no chance whatsoever at the top prize. Also, having won in the screenplay category before, it’s a long shot to capture that prize as well. A subtle, dark, funny piece of cinema, “A Serious Man” is one of the stronger works in the canon of the remarkably talented Coen Brothers. I thought it was actually better than “No Country for Old Men” and was the closest they’ve come in mood and style to their masterpiece “Barton Fink.” The real snub here is Michael Stuhlbarg – not a film star at this point by any stretch. He’s mostly known as a “theatre guy” at this point. He gives a terrific performance here in a very complex role. I cannot imagine why Jeremy Renner made the Top 5 (I’m not picking on the guy – but see the film and you tell me what’s so special) and even George Clooney, but not Stuhlbarg. Clooney was fine but come one, he could’ve played that role in his sleep. And Richard Kind as Uncle Arthur should have also been given serious consideration. So in the end, though it was not snubbed for “Best Picture” (thankfully), I do strongly feel that the film should have been remembered in a few other categories.

OTHER SNUBS — IN SHORT

Sam Rockwell (Best Actor for “Moon“)

The Invention of Lying (Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay)

Sin Nombre (directed by Cary Fukunaga)

Sunshine Cleaning (directed by Christine Jeffs)

Two Lovers (Screenplay; performances by Gwyneth Paltrow & Vinessa Shaw)

THE FEW NICE SURPRISE NOMINEES

The White Ribbon (Best Cinematography nominee)
A gorgeous film. Tough to sit through at times, but profound and potent without hitting its viewer over the head. Very Bergman-esque in scope, character and themes covered which is perhaps why I loved it so much. I was glad to see it recognized in a category other than “Best Foreign Film.” A Screenplay nod would have been merited here as well – in addition to a supporting performance or two. A haunting, riveting piece of work – all in spectacular black-and-white….

Vera Farmiga (Best Supporting Actress nominee for “Up in the Air”)
This was a nice surprise and well deserved. After her nice work in Scorsese’s “The Departed,” Ms. Farmiga gives a multi-layered, complex performance opposite George Clooney. Unpredictable, alluring, clever and quick – her character in this wonderfully written film is a memorable one thanks to her.

Christopher Plummer & Helen Mirren (Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress nominees for “The Last Station”)
I was glad to see these two master thespians were not forgotten in a film that very few saw (and I thoroughly enjoyed). Plummer’s Tolstoy is a great piece of character work. He is funny, seductive, authoritarian and forever wise. And Mirren’s ever-loving (and obsessive/paranoid) Sofya is a pleasure to watch. We see why Tolstoy is so smitten with her despite the forces trying to tear them apart. Both are marvels here, but that should be of no surprise to anyone.

“Take it All” (Best Original Song nominee from the film “Nine”)
Though the film was a bit underwhelming (I was expecting so much more from such a marvelous Broadway musical) in the incapable hands of Rob Marshall, there were some fine performances from this all-star cast and one of them was from Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard who sings this nominated song. Of course the musical numbers from the original musical cannot be nominated, but this song written (by Maury Yeston) especially for the motion picture is a memorable moment in the film. If you haven’t heard it, YouTube it, iTunes it, whatever…just listen to it. The vocal work here is gutsy, naked and raw. The lyrics fit so well with the character of Cotillard’s underappreciated and vulnerable wife whose genius of a husband has been with countless other vixens who throw themselves in his direction. This piece captures the essence of character of Luisa Contini perfectly which is what the song should do.

District 9 (multiple nominee, including one for “Best Picture”)
I was so glad to see that this film was recognized come Oscar time. It is still my favorite film of 2009, and I am in no way a fan of science fiction films, though it is so much more than that. I wish that, in addition to its 4 nominations, that it would have been chosen in the fields of “Best Director,” Cinematography, and possibly a “Best Actor” nod for Sharlto Copley).

In the Loop (Best Screenplay nominee)

TWO OF THE UNDESERVING FEW

Every year that the nominees for the Academy Awards are announced, there are those few satisfying surprises that manage to squeak in, many favorites that have long been considered shoe-ins, and then there are those that…well, to put it quite bluntly, are just not worthy of the esteemed nomination. These are known as “The Undeserving Few.” Perhaps the timing was just right or the Oscar campaign backed by the studio was highly effective, or the popularity game went into effect. Whatever the reason, they get in each and every year and we learn to deal with it. Sometimes, sadly, they even win (anyone remember Jack Palance?). These are the Undeserving Few (in my humble, yet outspoken opinion) that eked in to this year’s race:

The Hurt Locker (Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay)
Fine, you want to nominate this film for “Best Picture” and “Best Director?” I get that. I must state though that, as well done and as powerful as it was at times, I felt overall that this film is highly overrated…highly! This film is the perfect example of the critics all hopping on the proverbial bandwagon and very few having the guts to stand out from the crowd. Again, I can understand why it’s in the two aforementioned categories (though it’s not in my Top 10 of the year) – but there is no way that this Screenplay deserves Oscar recognition with so many other Original Screenplays out there that are more fresh and creative (“The Invention of Lying,” “Management,” and “Funny People” to name a couple). On top of this, Jeremy Renner should kneel down and thank the Lord that he is nominated here. He has no business being here when Sam Rockwell (“Moon”), Michael Stuhlberg (“A Serious Man”), Michael Caine (“Is Anybody There?”), and Viggo Mortensen (“The Road”) are home watching on their flat screens.

The Blind Side (Best Picture, Best Actress)
A very nice feel-good film. I saw it. I enjoyed it. It was sweet. And yes, it was nice to see Sandra Bullock select a project that wasn’t complete crap. She’s a beautiful woman with a strong screen presence, charisma, and so much potential still untapped. Here she is fine and gives a good performance – just not Oscar nominee worthy! I guess those who vote thought that they would reward Ms. Bullock for turning in a good performance after years of poor, mainly silly films (for the most part). Those women who suffer this year because of the mistake: Emily Blunt (“The Young Victoria”), Jessica Biel (“Easy Virtue”), and Maria Heiskanen who turned in a wonderfully crafted performance in “Everlasting Moments.” The film has made a ton of money, so maybe by opening up the “Best Picture” field to ten, the telecast will get some more viewers who are rooting for this film, though it has absolutely no shot. Just consider yourself lucky to be there.

I will make sure to post a new blog before March 7th with my thoughts and predictions on who will win in each category for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.

*Note: As of February 25, 2010, I have yet to view the following notable films of 2009:
Summer Hours, Antichrist, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, Precious, The Lovely Bones, Tickling Leo, and Where the Wild Things Are.

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