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Good as Gold: Oklahoman entertainment writers offer their Oscar picks

BY GENE TRIPLETT, GEORGE LANG AND BRANDY MCDONNELL Modified: March 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm •  Published: March 5, 2010

The battle of the exes is the main event on an Oscar night that promises to be long and arduous thanks to the wisdom of Academy governors, who figured doubling the number of best picture nominees would boost the show’s sagging ratings.

It’s really down to two of the 10, with former spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow facing off for top picture — plus director prizes, too — unless Quentin Tarantino and his "Inglourious Basterds” spring a surprise attack.

Other top categories seem easy to call. Or are they? Here’s how The Oklahoman’s film critics see things playing out.

Best picture
→Gene says: Jason Reitman’s heartbreaking and timely comedy-drama about a high-flying bachelor who fires people for a living and can’t make connections of the human kind is my favorite of the contenders, but "Up in the Air” lost some altitude at the Golden Globes when Cameron’s blue giant "Avatar” weighed in with its stunning technical virtuosity and novelty appeal. But it’s tied with "The Hurt Locker” in nominations (nine each), and after blowing away the competition at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards in London, this taut indie war drama from producer-director Bigelow could defuse her ex-husband’s 3-D box office rocket. Barring an "Inglourious” upset, that is.

Should win: "Up in the Air.”

Will win: "The Hurt Locker.”

→George says: Ask me three months ago, and "Up in the Air” was a sure bet for a best picture victory. Then Cameron achieved a technological mind-meld with humanity, and while Oscars are not technically awarded for commercial success, a sizable portion of the Academy wants to recognize a well-received film that lined many coffers during an economic slump. "The Hurt Locker” could pull an upset, but last month one of its producers, Nicolas Chartier, sent out an e-mail asking voters to vote for his film and not "a $500 million film.” Chartier has been barred from the ceremony, but he will still get an Oscar if his film wins. His action likely didn’t help the chances for this richly deserving film

Should win: "Up in the Air.”

Will win: "Avatar.”

→Brandy says: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ much-ballyhooed, ratings-driven decision to expand the category to 10 nominees created a perfectly split field between $100- million-plus-grossing movies — "Avatar,” "The Blind Side,” "District 9,” "Inglourious Basterds” and "Up” — and their small but mighty counterparts — "The Hurt Locker,” "An Education,” "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire,” "A Serious Man” and "Up in the Air.” Appropriately, the category comes down to a David vs. Goliath matchup between Bigelow’s low-budget "The Hurt Locker” and Cameron’s mega-blockbuster "Avatar,” with Tarantino’s "Inglourious Basterds” possibly playing spoiler. A truly revolutionary visual spectacle, "Avatar” boasts a less-than-Oscar-caliber story. Tarantino’s twisted World War II revenge fantasy "glouriously” won me over as my favorite film of 2009. But Bigelow’s nerve-thrumming and thought-provoking Iraq War drama was a close second and carries explosive momentum into the Oscars.

Should win: "Inglourious Basterds.”

Will win: "The Hurt Locker.”

Best actor
→Gene says: Some voters might think George Clooney was simply playing himself as the frequent-flying playboy of "Up in the Air,” but he actually gave the most perfectly nuanced and affecting performance of his career, imminently worthy of Academy gold. But Clooney and co-nominees Colin Firth ("A Single Man”), Morgan Freeman ("Invictus”) and Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker”) will have to step aside for The Dude. Jeff Bridges has said Bad Blake, the booze-soaked, washed-up country singer he portrayed in "Crazy Heart,” was a part he was born to play, and he’s right. He nailed it. After four no-wins in as many decades, it’s time to recognize His Dudeness.

Should and will win: Bridges.

→George says: Clooney nearly had the Oscar in hand three-quarters of the way through "Up in the Air,” when Ryan Bingham nearly breaks down on the phone with Alex (Vera Farmiga), but then Bridges’ role as Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart” completely altered the landscape. It is Bridges’ greatest work in a career full of skilled performances, some of which are revered to almost religious levels, but this is his most fully realized role. Bridges has been sweeping awards since the beginning of the year, and he is not done. Call it for the dude or His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

Should and will win: Bridges.

→Brandy says: Freeman maintains his astounding run of Oscar-nominated portrayals — with "Invictus,” he’s been nominated five times and won once — while Renner and Firth boost their careers with their first nods. For the second time, Clooney gives a nuanced performance to carry a remarkable film only to be upstaged by an acclaimed thespian making the showing of a lifetime. In 2008, it was Daniel Day-Lewis as an unhinged oilman in "There Will Be Blood”; this time, Bridges breaks hearts, croons country songs and will finally win an Oscar on his fifth try for his turn as a washed-up singer with a "Crazy Heart.”

Should and will win: Bridges.

Best actress
→Gene says: Getting nominated for a Razzie ("All About Steve”) and an Oscar ("The Blind Side”) in the same year has gotta be a first, but Sandra Bullock pulled it off and laughingly said she’s proud of both honors. You have to love her for that. Everyone seems to love the strong, sassy football mom portrayal that won her an Academy nod, too. Brilliant newcomers Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious”) and Carey Mulligan ("An Education”) still have some dues to pay, and while Helen Mirren ("The Last Station”) almost invariably gives Oscar-caliber performances, it’s Meryl Streep who’s most deserving for her funny, sensitive, spot-on reading of Julia Child in "Julie & Julia.” But with Golden Globe and Broadcast Critics awards already gracing her mantle, odds seem to favor Bullock.

Should win: Streep.

Will win: Bullock.

→George says: Half the time it seems as if I end up writing about the strategy and politics behind Oscars, but sometimes it’s all about positioning.


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