Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Catching Up With Oscar

Two long flights allowed me to watch two Oscar nominees I might otherwise not have seen, or seen anytime soon. My wife and daughter make it their business to try to see all the Best Pic nominees--well, they did that when there were only five of them. Ten may be too many for anyone.

I'd already managed to see "The Blind Side" and "Up in the Air"--liked both of them, but were either in the run for Best Pic? Based on my past performances, don't go by me. Now I've doubled the entry: on my flights I caught "The Hurt Locker" and "An Education"-- if there were only five nominees, all I would have missed was "Avatar" which I still may miss.

The last two were far more serious. But before we go to the dark side, so to speak, let's note that George Clooney has all the charm of Cary Grant in "Up in the Air" and Sandra Bullock exudes personality in "The Blind Side," the way Claudette Colbert managed to keep up with Clark Gable in "It Happened One Night."

No such star quality in "An Education" or "The Hurt Locker"--didn't recognize anyone in these pictures but it hardly mattered. These were both dramas and intense, one a fascinating study of a bright middle-class British high school girl aiming for Oxford, only to be tempted to change course by a charming rake and, naturally, fake; the other a study of a bomb-defusing unit in Baghdad during the war and the remarkable interplays of personalities among the squad as well as with the inhabitants. It's also the first feature based in the Iraq war I've seen and an impressive one.

Two performers, Carey Mulligan and Jeremy Renner, one from each of these two pictures, are up for Best Actress and Actor, respectively. Ms. Mulligan reminds me of Ellen Page, the girl in last year's "Juno," who benefitted from a clever script. This young woman is given even more range, including a climactic scene with the only known face I spotted in either picture: Emma Thompson as the school principal. She pulls it all off nicely, including managing to hold her own against an over-the-top father and a crisply well-matched mum, much less the smooth fellow who holds out the promise of a life of glittering prizes far from academe.

Mr. Renner's character is also winning, and immediately draws you in to his clear delight in his capability in the dangerous line of master bomb disdmantler. The action among the company of soldiers is well portrayed and rapidly intensfies as danger lurks in seemingly every corner of banged-up Baghdad.

Going back to "Up in the Air" makes me note that once again, the Oscars have pitted two nice supporting performances in the same picture against each other--Vera Famiglia and Anna Kendrick. Famiglia gets my nod if only because she manages to hold her own as a romantic interest with Clooney. Kendrick plays the ingenue--here a recent graduate out to show her stuff in the business world. I'd love to find out who on the picture made her a young Cornell grad who imports a new degree of impersonality to firing people. If that's what they're teaching them at my alma mater--not sure if she's an ILR School product too--they ought to torch the place.

These are two terrific pictures. Should either win the Oscar? Or should it be one of the other two more heart-warming ones? My guess is that one of the two dramas I saw in flight will win something big--be it Best Pic or Best Actor or Actress. I'm not taking anything away from Clooney or Bullock, who both give the performances of their careers.

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