The older I get, the more indifferent to the Academy Awards I become. I don't mean that out of any underlying superiority. It's just that as the years go by, I'm finding it necessary to be selective about what to get worked up about in life, and getting riled at what has been since its inception a transparently political contest is like shaking a fist at inclement weather. No sense getting your knickers in a twist over what's out of your control. Best to hunker down, pop in a good movie instead and let the show blow over.
This is not to say I'm completely uncaring. I'd be thrilled if my favorite movie of the year took Best Picture, or even my second fave. That each was actually nominated indicates some taste out in La-La Land, though likely only one would have made it had the final cut remained at five. When it was announced last year that the category would expand the nominees to ten, I was one of a few who didn't scoff immediately. I initially speculated that more movies might make the race more unpredictable and interesting. Sorry, my bad. While I'm not completely certain which film will win (I'll go with The Hurt Locker...barely), it's fairly obvious that the top quintet of candidates would have still been the same handful regardless.
(If you're looking for an easy-pickings Oscar pool, incidentally, come to my northeast Ohio town where, according to the weekly paper, an overwhelming majority believe The Blind Side will take Best Picture.)
On the other hand, we have been spared the "I've never heard of that movie!" gripe that's been seeping into the public conversation in recent years. (The implication being if you haven't heard of a movie, it couldn't possibly be any good.) Most people have heard of -- and possibly even seen -- Avatar, Up, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, and/or The Blind Side, all box-office hits. And the tenuous frontrunner, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, has become a topic for political debate on the basis of its accuracy or lack thereof pertaining to the war in Iraq.
I have deeply conflicted feelings about Bigelow's film. I saw it for the second time a few weeks ago on DVD, and once again I marveled at the filmmaking and Jeremy Renner's performance yet was troubled as before by the lack of context for everything that happens. The you-are-there style is compelling to a point. Yet late in the movie, when James sees a kite floating overhead, and screenwriter Mark Boal explains on the commentary that Iraqi insurgents use kites as a signaling system, I thought, "Gee, it'd have been helpful had you put that explanation in the movie." As the scene stands, it's just another puzzling detail, and altogether they lend credence to accusations of inauthenticity.
Whether or not The Hurt Locker takes the big prize is irrelevant to how it holds up over time. I'm reasonably confident that Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man -- neither of which escaped some harsh criticism -- shall look even stronger than they are now, whereas Avatar, with all its millions, will be a limp biscuit. I've also a hunch Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox (nominated for Animated Film but destined to lose to Pixar's latest blah-fest) will get past its disappointing returns and become a discovered classic on DVD. (Nina Paley's copyright-entangled Sita Sings the Blues is already halfway there.) That's the fun of history, a quality that the Oscars increasingly lack: surprise.