Oscar nominations for the yearly industry wankfest known as Academy Awards were announced on Feb. 2. As expected, James Cameron’s Avatar and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker did well: Each yielded nine nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Best Director. (Curious side-note: Bigelow and Cameron were once married; for the record, she made the better film.)
Less expected was the strong showing of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, a World War II-set, history-revising revenge fantasy that drew an array of responses — everything from “boring” and “self-indulgent” to “inventive” and “energetic” — from both critics and audiences. Basterds grabbed eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air and Lee Daniels’ Precious did expectedly well — both picked up six nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Best Director (Daniels actually became the first African-American director of a Best Picture nominee).
The biggest surprises in the newly expanded Best Picture category, which went from five to 10 nominees, was the inclusion of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, an entertaining but flawed South African sci-fi action/thriller, and John Lee Hancock’s The Blind Side, which also nabbed a Best Actress nomination for its star, Sandra Bullock. (Full disclosure: I’ve yet to see The Blind Side, a movie that seems more than a tad formulaic — the well-worn trope of white-family-saves-troubled-black-kid being the most obvious of its sports-movie clichés).
Speaking of the obvious, is there any way the box-office-busting Avatar doesn’t take home the big prize? In fact, the only suspense among the high-profile categories seems to be in Best Actress: Will it be Bullock, who seems to be gaining momentum after her Golden Globe win, or Julie and Julia’s Meryl Streep? Or can British newcomer Carey Mulligan (who would be my pick) surprise everyone and win for her breakthrough role in An Education, which also picked up a Best Picture nomination?
On a local Oscar-related note, it was cool to see Yellow Springs-based filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant get nominated for Best Documentary Short. (Read tt stern-enzi’s feature on the doc, which was shot at a GM plant in Loraine, Ohio, here.)
Now for something completely different: Cincinnati World Cinema is back with LunaFest, a collection of 10 short films “by women filmmakers, for women and the men who care about them.” The fest presents multi-genre offerings from across the globe in styles and subject matter that range from amusing (Sandy Widyanata’s Plastic, about a woman whose face becomes like Silly Putty) to affecting (Courtney Cox’s Monday Before Thanksgiving, which stars the ever-compelling Laura Dern as a single woman dealing with the death of her mother).
LunaFest’s two screenings — 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 and 10 at The Carnegie in Covington — will also include post-screening discussions. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. For more information, go to www.cincyworldcinema.org or call 859-781-8151.
BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS — German wild-man Werner Herzog blissfully resurrects old-school Nicolas Cage in this hilarious, noir-infested tale about a drug-addled homicide detective whose disintegration (both moral and physical) coincides with that of his hurricane-ravaged hometown. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Grade: A-
DEAR JOHN — Lasse Hallstrom's adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' novel places the director's usual relationship melodrama against the topical backdrop of wartime service. Hallstrom has liberally dipped into the schmaltz (The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News), but here he proves that he has no shame. One can only hope that audiences prove to have more discriminating tastes. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: D-
FROM PARIS WITH LOVE — Director Pierre Morel follows up his surprise hit — and surprisingly effective — thriller Taken with this glossy-looking action movie with another logistic-busting story by Luc Besson and another garish performance from a bald-domed John Travolta. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon.
(UNTITLED) — Adam Goldberg embodies Adrian Jacobs, a pretentious avant-garde composer and leader of an experimental musical trio called New Sound Ensemble in Jonathan Parker's send up of Manhattan's art world. In showing the sincerity beneath the absurdity of the experimental art world, Parker gives a window of empathy for the brittle characters on display. (Read full review here.) (Screens at the Cincinnati Art Museum 7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Sunday.) — Cole Smithey (Not Rated.) Grade: B