Oscar Re-Do: 2009

You know the drill. Winners in bold, then we break it down.

Eli Roth in Inglourious Basterds
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Should have won: Inglourious Basterds
Not even nominated: The White Ribbon

“I think this might just be my masterpiece.” It’s a huge flex to end your film that way, but Tarantino was pretty much right on the money. I prefer Jackie Brown, but it’s hard to argue with this revisionist take on World War II. It’s horrifying, hilarious and has so many scenes that make me downright giddy that I’m amazed I didn’t rank this at No. 1 back in the day. There are some other very good films here (including the winner), along with some head-scratching choices (a guarantee given the expanded slate), but this is clearly the winner of 2009.

But I don’t know how there were 10 slots available and they gave one to The Blind Side when The White Ribbon was right there. Obviously, the former is a lot more pleasant to watch. But it’s not even in the same league as Michael Haneke’s black-and-white horror show about a village of the damned (spoiler: the kids grow up to be Nazis). Sadly, it continues to be relevant.

Kathryn Bigelow on the set of The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Tom Ford, A Single Man

While I would have loved a Tarantino victory (which may never come), the historical importance of Kathryn Bigelow’s win here is too much to make a case against. She was already a stellar director, and only the fourth woman to ever be nominated here. It was a long overdue achievement, even if her best film was yet to come.

And while I’m not a fan of Precious as a whole, I won’t quibble with Lee Daniels’ nomination here. (Somehow, he was only the second African-American nominated in this category.) But if there was room, I would have wanted to see first-timer (and fashion designer) Tom Ford nominated for his lovely, powerful adaptation of A Single Man.

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

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Matt Damon, The Informant!

I had long believed Firth and Bridges should have swapped Oscar wins, with Bridges winning for True Grit. But with a decade of perspective, I can’t quite defend that. Bridges’ turn as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart is more than just a career achievement award. That role embodies what makes Bridges great: a flawed but big-hearted non-conformist. He makes mistakes but owns up to them too.

I’d remove Morgan Freeman’s Oscar bait-y turn as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s bland Invictus (along with Damon’s own nomination as Supporting Actor) and slot him in here for his outstanding work in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! As Mark Whitacre, a seemingly straight-arrow corporate man blowing the whistle on his own company, he’s transfixing, especially when he’s clearly not in control of his own brain.

Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Should have won: Gabourey Sidibe
Not even nominated: Alison Lohman, Drag Me to Hell

I’d argue it’s basically impossible not to like Sandra Bullock. She’s basically the female Tom Hanks, a reliable actor who’s so delightful, it’s easy to overlook her duds. And while she’s easily the best part of The Blind Side, the most Southern White Christian mainstream movie to ever exist, it’s hard to compare that charm offensive to the brutal, gripping work of newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. While Mo’Nique rightly got a lot of acclaim as the world’s worst mother, Sidibe is the reason the film works (when it’s not speeding at 100mph into melodrama). She’s absolutely heartbreaking as the teen mom and victim of relentless abuse from both parents, making us hope for escape right along with her.

It would have never happened in a million years, but if the Academy gave a damn about horror movies, it couldn’t have ignored Alison Lohman’s tremendous turn in Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell. If she hadn’t voluntarily left the industry, she could have had a great career as a scream queen. She’s terrific here as the loan officer pressured to be ruthless, earning a curse for her unkindness. If only the people who caused the financial crisis were similarly punished.

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

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Peter Capaldi, In the Loop

I don’t have much to add here. Waltz is incredible from the very first, incredibly intense scene. The only award he lost for this movie was an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain that somehow went to Draco fucking Malfoy.

Since we’ve already nixed Damon here, I’d like to complete the Character Actor Pentagon and add Peter Capaldi, absolutely blistering as Malcolm Tucker in Armando Iannucci’s Thick of It spin-off.

Mo'Nique in Precious
Penélope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo’Nique, Precious

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds

An absolutely staggering performance here from Mo’Nique who creates a character so repulsive you want to look away, but she’s so good you can’t. It’s a real shame her win didn’t turn into more great parts, but alas that’s the industry we all know.

I can only assume Penélope Cruz’s nod is only residual goodwill from her win the previous year, but precisely zero people like Rob Marshall’s adaptation of Nine. There’s simply no good reason to ignore Diane Kruger, who was at least nominated by her peers in SAG. As Bridget von Hammersmark, the German actress undercover with the Allies, she’s magnificent, playing a role within a role – on a bum leg, no less.

Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man

Should have won: Inglourious Basterds
Not even nominated: Adventureland

The other scripts are all fine, good even, but again, Inglourious Basterds is on another level entirely. There were an embarrassment of riches in this category, with personal scripts like 500 Days of Summer and Away We Go, the twisty thrills of The Brothers Bloom and Moon, and the wildly original laughs of Mystery Team and The Invention of Lying. But none of them meant as much to me as Adventureland, Greg Mottola’s vision of post-graduation malaise, which could not have hit me harder.

George Clooney in Up in the Air
District 9
An Education
In the Loop
Up in the Air

Should have won: Up in the Air
Not even nominated: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner’s adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel couldn’t have been more timely in late ’09, as America was deep into the Great Recession. It feels especially relevant having been through a lay-off myself. The film captures the feeling both of being a cog in the corporate machine and being crushed by the gears of capitalism.

Aside from In the Loop, take your pick from the rest and sub in Fantastic Mr. Fox, the brilliant script from Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. It was a stellar year for animation, but Up got most of the love. But the writing of both deserved recognition.

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

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: N/A

I wrestled with this one for a while, but I had to go with my heart. Fantastic Mr. Fox is an absolute delight, a winner in any other year of this award. But Up absolutely wrecked me from its first five minutes, and remained the most emotionally rich Pixar movie until Inside Out six years later. Ed Asner does absolutely phenomenal voice work as Carl, a cranky retiree paired up with an overeager Boy Scout on the adventure he longed to take with his late wife. Pixar is notorious for having a scene that rips your heart out, but this and Inside Out are the only ones to do it more than once.

What else did they get wrong?

Leonard Proxauf in The White Ribbon
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

Should have won: The White Ribbon
Not even nominated: A Single Man

Personally, I don’t think any movie that’s filmed on a green screen really deserves consideration in this category. Obviously, any movie’s look is partially defined by post-production tinkering, but c’mon. Avatar deserved Best Visual Effects and nothing else. I’d go with Christian Berger’s stark black-and-white photography in The White Ribbon, even though the other four are worthy nominees. Instead, let’s hear it one more time for the lush look of A Single Man, lensed by Eduard Grau.

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