The Academy Awards sometimes offers surprising upsets, like when French actress Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for La Vie en Rose in 2008 or when statutory rapist Roman Polanski (The Pianist) knocked off Martin Scorcese (Gangs of New York) for Best Director in 2003. But mostly the annual gala put on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offers upsettingly safe choices, horribly embarrassing acceptance speeches, poor performances of treacle songs and hosts who, no matter how funny they might be, always seem to stumble over themselves within the boring structure of the evening. Worst of all, it looks and feels the same year after year.
The 82nd annual Academy Awards, which airs March 7, has tried to change things up by extending the Best Picture nominations from five films to 10. Not enough in our book. So, in advance of Sunday's show, we present our own awards to the 2009 films more or less ignored by the Academy, but still deserving of something resembling praise.
Best Nostalgic Soundtrack
Any soundtrack that begins with "Bastards of Young" and ends on "Unsatisfied," both by the Replacements, gets a high grade in our book. But filling the rest of the film with Hüsker Dü, The New York Dolls, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Outfield? That's worthy of an award. Adventureland served up a spot-on coming-of-age dramedy with all the loving sincerity in the world. Scoring it with alternative classics—and not, thank goodness, with tracks from usual suspects like Madonna or Michael Jackson—gave it a sweet edge. Those of us who were the youth of that decade were gently ushered back to the days of genuine teen angst in a time of bad fashion.
Best Tribute to Bill Murray
If you haven't seen Zombieland yet, do it. In the meantime, telling you that Billy Murray makes a cameo as himself in the zombie comedy (zombedy?) isn't ruining any plotlines. The scene acts as an homage to the venerable comedian, and features the film's main characters—including Woody Harrelson—fawning over their idol...in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. We can't wait to see how the Academy uses this clip when they offer Murray some sort of lifetime achievement award in 15 years.
Best Local Connection to the Real Oscars
In 2001, just a couple of months before September 11, Livingston writer Walter Kirn released his novel Up in the Air, which had a cover featuring businessmen—one on fire—flying through the sky. It was, to say the least, not great timing. Fast forward to 2009, where director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) has turned Kirn's book—based on the story of a nomadic businessman he met on an airplane—into a film starring George Clooney. Now, it's up for six Academy Awards. Kirn, formerly a professor of non-fiction creative writing at the University of Montana, recently slammed the Oscars on Twitter for not getting him a ticket to the show. Rest assured, after a minor media storm ensued, Paramount finally nabbed him one.
Best Portrayal of a Local Stereotype
Missoula moms are a strong force to be reckoned with, whether the issue be public breastfeeding, alternative birthing methods or home-schooling. Maggie Gyllenhaal steals Away We Go with her portrayal of a gender studies professor in a small college town who takes the usual New Age parenting techniques and pushes them to a completely other level. Her best line, after being gifted a stroller and wholly rejecting it: "I love my babies. Why would I want to push them away from me?"
Best Worst Film that Almost Got It Right
It's true that Sorority Row falls more in line with the silly plot lines and bad dialogue of, say, I Know What You Did Last Summer. But the story of sorority girls who accidentally kill a sister in a prank-gone-bad leans every once in a while toward the dark, witty realm of Heathers (1988). The main characters in this film (including Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore) are generally more brazen and empowered than any role Jennifer Love Hewitt could ever play. The script's creative use of texting and Facebook references give it an almost smart take on popular culture. And Carrie Fisher's no-b.s. portrayal of a sorority housemother fends off any notion that the film takes itself too seriously. In the end, though, it meanders enough to suggest its glowing moments might be flukes.
Best Male Role
Chris Messina, the actor who plays Julie Powell's supportive husband in Julie & Julia, has three basic responsibilities throughout the foodie film: Eat tons of good food, make out with Amy Adams and watch old Julia Child reruns. Occasionally, he has to offer some encouraging words to Adams—usually while he eats. Once, he has to kill a lobster—which he will later eat. The rest of the time, he lounges on the couch—waiting for Adams to call him to the table for dinner.
Best Role Reversal
Millions of households know comedian Patton Oswalt best as the voice of an extremely talented rat chef desperate to find a kitchen to cook in (Remy in Pixar's popular 2007 feature, Ratatouille). In Big Fan, a dark look at the sadder side of sports fandom, he plays a no-talent loser living in his mother's house with no aspirations other than to root on the New York Giants. Oswalt's performance in the latter—directed by Robert D. Siegel, who also did The Wrestler—suggests he's due for more adult roles in the future.
Best Iraq War Movie
In the past two years Hollywood's gone overboard with films attempting to put the Iraq War into proper perspective—Brothers, Body of Lies, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom, The Messenger and Lions for Lambs, just to name a few. Oddly, these big-budget action flicks or overbearing dramas miss their intended targets while a satire seems to make a direct hit. In the Loop, from BBC Films and the UK Film Council, crisscrosses the Atlantic to indict both bumbling British officials and power-hungry Americans caught in the rapid ramp-up to an inevitable invasion in the Middle East sound familiar? It's rarely laugh-out-loud uproarious (unless Peter Capaldi's chewing someone out on screen, which is pretty much all his character does), but as a whole it's frighteningly funny.
Best Performance by a Goat
Banner year for on-screen billies. First, George Clooney killed one in The Men Who Stare At Goats. Then, in one of the year's best horror films, Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell, a goat plays prominently in the climactic séance. That goat—voiced by Art Kimbro, who last offered his vocal services in Osmosis Jones in 2001—still haunts us more than any of the film's other satanic demons.