Oscar the Grouch

The Oscars are coming! Hooray! Or, well, not actually hooray, according to an unimpressed Conor Barry

Oscar buzz is at fever pitch… or so I’m told by people who talk like that. Yes, it’s that time of year again when the industry gathers together to give themselves a royal pat on the back and say, “We’re brilliant!” And, to be fair, the last year has been quite impressive, with 2009 being less franchise-encrusted than previous years. Does this mean that there’s going to be a close call for the number one spot? Well, no, but we’ll get to that.

A new addition for this year’s awards is the choice to have ten shortlisted nominations for Best Picture, rather than the standard five. Which begs the question: well, why? In theory, it sort of makes sense – it gives a broader group of films the opportunity of winning that little golden man of their filmmaking dreams. But in actuality it does no such thing, because it’s pretty much been pre-determined who’s going to win. Sure, there’s a little bit of fighting going on between Avatar and The Hurt Locker for that number one spot (and, at a push, Inglourious Basterds) but that leaves seven others being teased with their nomination. And apart from maybe District 9, there’s nothing especially unusual on the list.

There’s Crazy Heart – pretty much The Wrestler with a guitar. There’s Precious – which seems to be trying too hard to be “an Oscar film”. If the idea is to broaden the kind of films voted for, the Academy could, at least, have put Star Trek in there. Hell, if they were going for variety, why not throw in Paul Blart: Mall Cop?

Of course, there are more awards than just Best Picture and some of them are pretty tight races. For instance, the Best Actor category is anyone’s call between Jeff Bridges, George Clooney and Colin Firth. But other sections hardly even need to be contested, with the competitive aspect seeming more out of courtesy than anything else. Best Animation? Up. Best Supporting Actor? Christopher Waltz (the Nazi in Inglourious Basterds. Yeah, he was great). The Academy, in reality, might as well just skip the whole process and just send the inevitable winners their little men in the post. And is there really even any point in having any films other than Avatar in the visual effects category? Apart from the visuals it’s really not got much going for it.

Of particular interest this year is the Animated Feature category. Sure, Up will definitely win, but it has impressive competition. In comparison to last year’s Bolt, Kung Fu Panda and WALL-E, this year actually varies from the whole ‘CGI animal does something whacky’ genre, and has a mixture of stop-motion and hand-drawn features to liven things up – not to mention The Secret of Kells, an Irish-produced feature. Still, Up will slaughter it, but it’s lovely that we’re being considered nonetheless.

What else is there to look forward to? There are all the other nominations for documentaries, editing, and the illustrious sound mixing categories, but these people aren’t as attractive as the George Clooneys of the night, so let’s move swiftly on. According to fashionable women, the evening’s dresses are a point of interest. Here’s hoping that Marilyn Monroe outdoes herself this year, because last year’s ill-concieved gorilla costume was frankly a bit of an embarrassment. But what may actually turn out to be the most genuinely interesting part of the night is the choice of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin as co-hosts. Although everyone would prefer to witness their inevitable on-screen chemistry in some sort of buddy cop sitcom, their sure to be charming segues should suffice.

All in all: women will wear nice clothes, the chosen favourites will probably win, and famous people will have a nice big party. Boy howdy, it’s going to be a tight race. Except it won’t; it will be a really unfair race with too many contestants. Perhaps I’m just bitter because I know A Serious Man has practically no chance – and  in fairness, The Hurt Locker more than deserves to win a statue or two. The main fear is Avatar. Sure it looks pretty, but if James Cameron’s 3D Pocahontas manages to pull another Titanic we may as well just give up on films now. But perhaps that’s a tad over-dramatic. We may live in hope.