Oscar Breakdown: Best Picture of the Year

By  · Published on March 7th, 2010

This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories.

Too bad I didn’t get to do this article last year because I could have done it in half the time. Not that I was a faster writer then, I’d just have to write about five less movies. In order to compensate for the extra coverage and still get this done in time I’ve attached bottle rockets to my fingers. The idea isn’t that they’ll make my fingers move faster – because that’s preposterous – it’s so that if I don’t finish this article in the same amount of time it would take to cover five films the fireworks will blow my hands off.

I’m taking the Jigsaw approach to Oscar coverage because I want the programmers to realize the amount of suffering their new Best Picture format is bestowing upon the viewers. If my fingers explode it’s practically their fault and they will have to live with the guilt. Mind you this is not self-inflicted torture; they are making me do this.

I really like my fingers and will do everything I can to keep them. I’m off to a rocky start because I’ve already misspelled ‘preposterous’ three times and the auto-correct didn’t catch it. I’ve also just wasted time explaining it to you, just as I’ve just wasted time pointing out that I wasted time explaining it to you.

So, without further adieu here is the breakdown of the 2010 Best Picture contenders:


A film that’s been eighty years in the making and helmed by the fifty-five year old science-fiction master James Cameron – Avatar is about Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine brought on to the exotic and dangerous moon Pandora to infiltrate a local tribe called the Na’vi in order to convince them to move off their land so that humans can drill for a highly valuable mineral. Using a mind-controlled ‘avatar’ (another body that is biologically similar to the Na’vi) that was grown originally for a scientist – Jake’s recently deceased twin brother – Jake earns the admittance into the Na’vi circle and as his relationship with them builds he has to determine where his allegiances truly lie.

Why It Could Win: Because it’s the biggest damn film to end all other biggest damn films and with the amount of money the studio has made with this movie they could have conceivably purchased Denmark. I don’t know how that warrants it winning, but it’s hard to argue against $700 million (and counting) worth of fan support. The AMPAS couldn’t argue against it back in 1998 with Cameron’s last feature film.

Why It Would Not Win: Aside from The Blind Side it probably has the weakest script amongst the other films in this category, none of the characters elevate above stereotypes and because it’s the biggest damn film to end all other biggest damn films there could be added pressure on voters to shy away from awarding Goliath over David, or the Beanstalk Giant over Jack, or a more clever metaphor. That last line was written by Colonel Quaritch. Oh, and science-fiction actioners don’t win Academy awards for Best Picture.

The Blind Side

The film that finally garnered Sandra Bullock’s Academy recognition is the feel good story of the year about a wealthy family in Tennessee taking in a large, homeless and passive black teenager named Michael Oher. When Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) sees Oher make his way back to the school’s gymnasium to sleep for the night she commands him into the family vehicle and on to their. That encounter is the first step in Michael’s progression into becoming a strong student, gifted demolisher of defensive linemen, and an accepted member of the Tuohy family.

Why It Could Win: It’s one of the more popular films of the year amongst families and it features one of the most high profile performances. It’s a feel good movie (assisted by its roots in being based on a true story) that elevates a bit higher than the typical cliché-ridden sports drama entry.

Why It Would Not Win: When all is said and done it really is just another cliché-ridden sports drama that’s elevated mostly by Bullock’s performance. It’s no better a film than any of the other really good crowd cheering sports dramas of the past decade (Remember the Titans, Miracle, Invincible amongst a few others), none of which came within smelling distance of the Academy Awards. As far as crowd-cheering sports dramas are concerned Rocky Balboa would have had a better shot at an award for Best Picture if it were based on artistic merit.

District 9

Amongst the most impressive feature film debuts of anyone in the past twenty years or so, Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi actioner takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa where a traveling race of aliens have been subjected by the South African government to a slum called District 9. Wikus Van De Merwe is an employee of the company hired to move the alien inhabitants to a new district when during his attempts to communicate with the “prawns” about their relocation he comes into contact with a foreign liquid that gradually turns him into one of the alien race; making him the most valuable commodity in the country as his biological make-up has been altered and can activate weaponry previously only functional by the aliens.

Why It Could Win: It is amongst the highest-rated films of the year critically and made a more than decent splash at the box-office despite not having as wide of a release as the other summer blockbusters. It’s an uncharacteristically serious approach to a genre that doesn’t usually immerse the fantastic into issues of social significance; and it’s a technological marvel considering the lack of money that went into the production.

Why It Would Not Win: Science-Fiction actioners don’t win Academy Award Best Picture statuettes and this being Neill Blomkamp’s first feature it would probably need to have been Citizen Kane (which also didn’t win Best Picture) in order for voters to not consider his potential for winning a major award down the road. Like Aliens and The Terminator this is a film that will get rewatched more than it gets awarded, which is probably the prize Blomkamp would want the most anyway.

An Education

Only the second script from writer Nick Hornby (the novelist behind About A Boy, Fever Pitch, and High Fidelity) and the first from which he wasn’t the author of the source material – An Education is about Jenny, an incredibly bright Oxford hopeful (played fantastically by Carey Mulligan) in 1960s London who meets an older man, David played by Peter Sarsgaard, and their interest in one another quickly turns to romance. As their relationship escalates and Jenny’s infatuation with David’s interesting lifestyle gets stronger each day she begins to question the purpose, and benefits, of continuing her pursuit for a higher education over spending a lifetime of exploration and artistic and intellectual exposure.

Why It Could Win: Admittedly, this next statement might be because it’s the most recent film I saw of the ten nominees, but this may be my favorite film of the contenders. It’s expertly acted, confidently handled and consistently steers the audience in exactly the direction it wants to take them. It portrays what would be considered a very ‘wrong’ love story in a way that makes the viewer question their view of the situation, and at each turn it’s ready to make a strong case for or each naïve decision each character makes. I don’t know if it’s the best film of the year, but it’s the one I want watch again right now – and it’s not out of the question for voters to feel the same way.

Why It Would Not Win: It lacks that certain ‘umph’ of some of the other nominees. It’s a great story that’s told greatly, but its modesty in regards to scope and content without having that certain substance punch to the face (like The Hurt Locker) lends itself to being relegated as too unimportant of a movie to consider being better than other movies that tackle issues that are probably deemed more serious.

The Hurt Locker

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow this intense war picture chronicles the happenings of a team of American military bomb defusers in Iraq and the effects that such a psychologically rigorous profession in an already dangerous environment can have on one’s mental state.

Why it Could Win: Heading in to the awards season this was the talk of the town amongst critics and voters, which is impressive considering its summertime release didn’t lend itself to being fresh on the minds of anyone. It’s no holds barred, ultra-real and it keeps you strapped to your seat during each encounter whether it be a bomb or sharpshooter. With a story that focuses more on the consequences of actions than an A to Z plotline the actors do a fantastic job of playing off one another to progress the story forward via character interaction. Quite frankly, few films this year have succeeded with their intentions quite like this film has.

Why it Would not Win: It’s possible that the brownnosing of the film’s producer to try and get voters to pick The Hurt Locker may have rubbed some of the voters the wrong way, and it had a rather poor performance at the box office. While that *shouldn’t* be a factor with voters it’s not out of the question for the Academy to want to keep the interest of the general public to watch future programs by awarding a film that a good deal of movie-goers went to see in the theater. If The Hurt Locker had made upwards of at least $50 million it probably would have solidified it winning the big one.

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s self-proclaimed masterpiece follows a covert military operative team that specializes in one thing and one thing only – killin’ Nat-sees. It’s a brutal, intelligent and often hilarious beast of a movie that combines elements of exploitation to tell history as we all wish it would have happened, because we’re all vindictive animals that like to see tyrants get their faces splattered.

Why it Could Win: Tarantino is familiar to the Academy and from top to bottom, beginning to end there is no better constructed piece of film amongst this year’s contenders. There are truly unforgettable sequences that come in the form of dialogue exchanges to shootouts, unforgettable characters that range from revenge-driven theater owners to sadistic Jew-hunting masterminds, unforgettable images that display a frightened family of Jewish farmers hiding under a kitchen floor and the face of a woman laughing maniacally being projected against a screen of smoke; and then Lieutenant Aldo Rains who is probably the most crowd-pleasing character of the year.

Why it Would Not Win: It might be considered too playful and gratuitously violent to be taken seriously enough to win, despite its technical prowess and well-structured story. It’s most likely to make its splash in the Supporting Actor category and Original Screenplay.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

The feature film debut of star Gabourey Sidibe and sophomore effort from director Lee Daniels is about a poor, morbidly obese, pregnant, uneducated sixteen year-old incest rape victim and mother of a child with down-syndrome trying to survive in the economically challenged neighborhoods of Manhattan; and against the daily physical, mental, and sexual abuse provided by her Mother (played powerfully by the probable best supporting actress winner Mo’Nique).

Why It Could Win: It’s not an easily forgettable movie and has more than a few powerful and emotional moments that may stick in the minds of voters regardless of how long it’s been since they’ve seen the movie. Mo’Nique’s performance alone elevates the movie from falling into a state of unforgettability and like Crash (a prior Best Picture winner) it focuses on social issues that voters would consider daring. The Academy may also be partial to a movie about the suffering of black people as long as it’s made by a black person.

Why it Would not Win: Elements of the movie feel sophomoric and it’s mainly the heavy content and lead performances of Sidibe and Mo’Nique that earned this nomination. As a film it’s a really good ‘heavy’ movie, but possibly not substantial enough to match the heavy material.

A Serious Man

Joel and Ethan Coen tackle the complexities of meaning and answers to suffering, in both life and Judaism, in this darkly-humorous tale of a Jewish Math Professor who experiences what may be the absolute worst series of misfortunes in the history of human life on this planet for someone not named ‘Precious’.

Why It Could Win: it has a similar vibe to prior award winner American Beauty despite not sharing any content relation, not to mention that the Coens have reached the podium before. Despite being a depressively sad oddity it’s also consistently humorous. The Academy is also partial to films about the suffering of Jewish people as long as it’s made by Jewish people.

Why It Would Not Win: It’s way too much of a depressively sad oddity for a voter to want to consider it the year’s best movie – and I know the final two minutes must have left a lot of confused flavors on the mouths of many viewers. It’s just too obscure to conceive it winning.


Only the second animated feature in film history to receive a Best Picture nomination – the Pixar team adds another grand adventure masterpiece to what is becoming one of the most impressive libraries of films in the medium. Carl Fredricksen is a retired elderly man trying to live his last days in solace in the home occupied by he and his deceased wife Ellie – the one and only true love of his life since childhood. When his home is threatened by a local landowner looking to expand on the marketability of the neighborhood Carl decides to relocate – the entire home – by attaching hundreds of thousands of air balloons to it and lifting it off to embark on the journey he and Ellie had always dreamed of.

Why It Could Win: The first ten to fifteen minutes of Up is indubitably the greatest storytelling achievement of the year; and maybe any year. In a dialogue-less montage we cover more than fifty years of an unconditionally loving relationship between what we can only imagine is the sweetest couple in the history of humanity, only to see it reach its devastatingly heartbreaking end. And it is devastating. Following the opening the film scores huge laughs during Carl’s adventures with Russell (the poor cub scout mistakenly taken along for the ride) in the exotic locales with talking dogs and huge dodo birds, but that opening sequence is something that lingers and hits home like nothing else.

Why it Would Not Win: It doesn’t star actual people. One could also make the case that beyond the opening sequence the film doesn’t do much more than other Pixar films have done before, and some believe may have been done better by previous Pixar pictures. That being said, I’d hate to be the one to tell Carl Fredricksen that his life story and grand adventure wasn’t good enough to beat a bunch of tall blue people.

Up in the Air

George Clooney stars in Jason Reitman’s third film (and already second Best Picture nominee) as Ryan Bingham, a professional in the field of firing people from their jobs. Bingham is a field operative for a company hired by executives of other companies who are too passive to lay off employees themselves. Bingham is flown on site to deliver the bad news to each individual person and give his best “it’s an opportunity” spiel before moving on to the next job. When the integrity of the face-to-face confrontation is threatened by the ingenuity of a wunderkind (Anna Kendrick) Bingham is forced to fly around the country with her in order to both test her more cost-effective idea to laying people off and prove why it will fail.

Why It Could Win: George Clooney is one of the most beloved figures in Hollywood, Up in the Air focuses on subject matter that is most relevant and sensitive to modern American audiences, and it sticks its landing of balancing the seriousness of the unemployment issue with the frequent light-hearted laugh. George Clooney’s smile alone gives it an automatic five vote padding.

Why It Would Not Win: It may be too slight of a film to compete with the hard-hitting gut punches of contenders like The Hurt Locker, and even though it fared well at the box-office it didn’t make the kind of humongous splash to make an impression on voters. Though, these are probably the exact same comments someone would have made in 1999 when Shakespeare In Love took home the prize over Saving Private Ryan.

Final Prediction

What Will Win: Probably The Hurt Locker. It can conceivably remain the most talked about movie of 2009 long after the effects-driven Avatar loses its appeal for future generations.

What Should Win: Again, probably The Hurt Locker, but Inglourious Basterds or An Education winning would also make me happy.

In other news, the last seventy-five percent of this write-up was typed with my toes.

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