Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: The 82nd Academy Awards Best Picture nominees

During movie-awards season, the Bangkok multiplexes are usually jockeying right about now to bring in the major nominees.

In past years, many of the best-picture nominees have not yet hit Thai cinemas, so local movie pundits could make no intelligent guesses on the Oscar prospects. But this year, the field for Best Picture is widened to 10 titles, and quite a few of them have played here.

Out of the 10, four are here or have played here already:

  • Avatar -- It's here. Now. Go see it already. Check it out at the IMAX at Siam Paragon. It's an immersive experience. James Cameron has created an amazing world. And if anything, it shows Sigourney Weaver at her best. In addition to Best Picture and Best Director, it's nominated for original score, editing, cinematography, art direction, sound mixing, sound editing and visual effects. I would expect it to win Best Picture, since it is a producers' prize, and raising the dough to make this $500 million movie must have been a heck of a job. It'll probably also take the visual effects prize.
  • District 9 – This surprising long-shot for the Best Picture was in Thai cinemas in September and is now out on DVD in the local shops. The story of alien refugees herded into a lawless shantytown ghetto in South Africa put a sci-fi twist on the issue of apartheid. Like Avatar, it showed that a movie is better when it has a man in a mecha suit running around blowings things up and being shot at. But for all the flash, big guns and cannibalistic Nigerian gangsters, there's a sweet humanistic element to it. I liked it. In addition to Best Picture, it's up for Best Adapted Screenplay for director Neill Blomkamp as well as editing and visual effects, which were stunning considering this movie cost a fraction of what the likes of Avatar or Transformers cost to make. Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) produced, which was probably a big surprise to him. He likely expected a director nom for The Lovely Bones.
  • Inglourious Basterds – Best-director nominee Quentin Tarantino's World War II romp played here in August. I saw it at the Scala and was probably the best cinematic experience of the year for me. It's out on DVD in local shops, but I probably won't bother. The cinema is the only way to experience this movie. When you see the laughing lady on the burning big screen, you'll know what I mean. Okay, I might get the DVD when prices come down, just to watch and savor the performance by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who plays a menacing but urbane Nazi. He's a supporting-actor nominee, and should win. It's also nominated for original screenplay, editing, cinematography, sound mixing and sound editing.
  • Up -- Pixar's latest animated feature played in Thai cinemas in June. I saw it in Disney's Real D 3D at SF World. It was a good experience. After a somber opening montage, in which an elderly widower's entire marriage is recapped, the grumpy old man (voiced note-perfect by Ed Asner) flies his house away to South America for an adventure with a Boy Scout stowaway in tow. It's out on DVD now, I think. It's also nominated for best animated film, of course, as well as best original screenplay, original script, original score and sound editing. It's the second animated feature to get a best picture nod. Beauty and the Beast was first. Up is also the first animated movie to be nominated in the category since the creation of the Best Animated Feature award.

Three more of the best-picture nominees are coming to Bangkok cinemas soon. They are:

  • The Hurt Locker -– Opens February 25. This has been the toast of the awards season, winning some 80 honors from film festivals and various awards bodies. It's tied with Avatar for most Oscar nominations. A drama about an elite Army bomb squad in Iraq, Jeremy Renner stars as an adrenaline-risk junkie who's the squad's new leader. He's up for best actor. The Hurt Locker is also nominated for original screenplay, original score, editing, cinematography, sound mixing, sound editing and director for Kathryn Bigelow, who, coincidentally, was once married to James Cameron. Just watch the trailer and see if it doesn't make you want to see it.
  • Up in the Air -- Also opening on February 25. Best-actor hopeful George Clooney is an executive who is obessed with racking up frequent flier miles. And he's got a great job for that -- he's a corporate hatchet man, travels around telling workers they are fired. It has two supporting actresses, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, and is up for adapted screenplay and director for Jason Reitman.
  • A Serious Man –- The Coen Brothers latest effort will open on March 4 in a limited run at Apex in Siam Square and SF World Cinema. Set in the 1960s and based on the Coens' experience in growing in a Jewish suburb of Minneapolis, the comedy is about a physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) who is in the midst of a mid-life spiritual crisis. The Coens sure do know how the throw a curve ball. This is nothing like their previous Oscar winner No Country for Old Men. It's more akin to the existential screwball comedies like Barton Fink or maybe The Hudsucker Proxy. It's also nominated for original screenplays.

That leaves three of the best-picture nominees that aren't yet schedule for release in Thai cinemas:

  • The Blind Side –- This drama is about a Memphis socialite, played best-actress nominess Sandra Bullock, who adopts a homeless young black man an nurtures him. He eventually becomes a gridiron football star. It's a fact-based tale, about Michael Oher, who's an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens.
  • An Education –- This British coming-of-age tale stars best-actress nominee Carey Mulligan who plays a teenager who is courted by an older man (Peter Sarsgaard). It's also nominated for adapted screenplay.
  • Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire – Here's another toast of the awards season that, sorry to say, will likely be ignored by Thai movie distributors who don't feel an American urban drama will resonate with audiences here. Though, to be fair, it's only had a limited release Stateside as well. Best actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe stars as an obese, illiterate, mentally troubled black 16-year-old Harlem girl who's been impregnated twice by her father. She suffers further abuse from her mother, played by comedian Mo'Nique, who's nominated for best supporting actress and has already won a Golden Globe for that. It's also up for adapted screenplay, editing and director for Lee Daniels. Mariah Carey also stars.

Other 82nd Academy Awards nominees that have graced Bangkok include Julie and Julia, featuring Meryl Streep playing Julia Child. It might still be hanging around in cinemas. Clint Eastwood's South African rugby drama Invictus, featuring nominated turns by Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela) and Matt Damon, opens on February 25.

Two of the foreign-language nominees, The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke from Austria and Un Prophète by Jacques Audiard from France played at last year's Bangkok International Film Festival, as did Burma VJ, the best documentary feature nominee, which was partially shot in Chiang Mai.

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