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For Your Consideration

We all know that timing is everything. This axiom happens to be particularly true in when it comes to the Academy Awards. If a film’s producers really believe that their project has Oscar potential, they’ll usually jockey for a late September to early December release date because it’s a little known secret that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) have incredibly short memories. If your film was released in the summer, good luck getting a nomination. If your movie was released before June, forget about it. The most notable slights, largely attributed to bad timing, of the past few years are The Dark Knight and any of the Disney/Pixar films, but particularly, Wall-E. All were released in June or July and none received Best Picture or Best Director nominations, despite stellar reviews and anticipated Oscar gold.

This year the AMPAS has chosen to expand the Best Picture race to ten nominees, up from five. Hopefully this means that members of the Academy will take a more comprehensive look at the films of 2009 and include, in all categories, artists whose films had the disadvantage of being released before the end of daylight savings time.

Now, I am not an idiot. Meryl Streep will be nominated for Julie and Julia and they’ll probably throw in Amy Adams for good measure. Matt Damon, in Steven Soderbergh’s buzzy The Informant could easily hog all the accolades for comedic films. Expect a nomination for Damon for simply fattening up his Bourne physique. The Academy loves a fatty. The combination of Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese is like porn to members of the AMPAS, so their creepfest Shutter Island should rack up some nominations. I’m also keeping my eyes on the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and the musical Nine. However, I remain hopeful, that despite their long-shot status, the following names will be called on February 2nd.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Maya Rudolph for Away We Go

It’s often said that, in acting, dying is easy, comedy is hard and perhaps this explains why Saturday Night Live regular Maya Rudolph excels in her first dramatic role. All those years playing Donatella Versace and Whitney Houston were the challenge; playing Verona, the youngish mother to be in Away We Go was a piece of cake. With an occasionally outlandish script, Rudolph is the anchor of the film, always reminding us of the very real people at the center of the story. Her vulnerability and warmth make her a joy to watch and the film as whole succeeds because of her. A win in this most competitive of categories is unlikely, especially considering how infrequently comedies win anything. However, a nomination is more than deserved. Her main competition will probably be the one-two punch of Streep and Adams for Julie and Julia and Natalie Portman, an Academy favorite, as a war widow in December’s Brothers.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Sofia Vassilieva for My Sister’s Keeper

On the whole, My Sister’s Keeper was an exercise in excess, with tedious direction and several scenery chewing performances. But all is forgiven when you first see Vassilieva as Kate, a teenager slowly dying of cancer. The script doesn’t give her a lot to do besides look sickly but she makes the most of every minute on screen. Vassilieva never asks the audience to pity Kate; she just makes us want to cheer her on. She always manages to strike the right cord, refusing to let Kate be an archetype. In Vassilieva’s hands, Kate is a girl we all know and that’s why even the most hardened filmgoers will cry when she meets untimely end. Here’s hoping AMPAS members look past the subpar film and see the superb performance.

Best Costume Design: Patricia Field for Confessions of a Shopaholic

The Academy rarely rewards contemporary costumes, a lesson Field learned when her work on The Devil Wears Prada lost out to the period gowns of Marie Antoinette in 2007. In a film that was unable to maintain its source material’s sense of fun, Field provided some much needed whimsy with her brightly colored confections. Given the movie’s subject matter (a woman who shops herself deep into debt) and the state of the world (global recession) the clothes better look worth the trouble they give our heroine. Field doesn’t disappoint, particularly when showing the characters in their stuffy workplace. Many designers can pull of corsets and petticoats but few can spice up a plain, white suit with the expertise and flare of Field.

Best Original Screenplay: John Hamburg and Larry Levin for I Love You, Man

This is a category where comedies can get their shine and this year’s hit I Love You, Man is more than deserving. Unlike previous ‘bromantic’ comedies, I Love You, Man manages to appeal to both men and women equally. For men, there’s lots knowing nods and sheepish acknowledgement of goofy behavior; for women, it’s a surprisingly accurate window into the opposite sex. In many ways, John Hamburg and Larry Levin’s script is natural extension of the boys will be boys films, pioneered by Judd Apatow. Apatow’s work has always been funny and insightful but by finally letting women in on the joke, Hamburg and Levin take Apatow’s game to another level.

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo for The Brothers Bloom

Mark Ruffalo has always chosen interesting roles, usually in independent dramas, like You Can Count On Me and Reservation Road. With April’s The Brothers Bloom, Ruffalo finally lightened up and the results were magical. As one half of titular grifters looking for one last score, Ruffalo brings a manic energy and a surprising levity to an uneven, but often hilarious, movie. His ability to steal his sporadic scenes with a wink and a wry smile demonstrate a gifted comedian, hiding beneath a brooding leading man exterior. Ruffalo’s charms are what save the maudlin moments towards the film’s conclusion and his performance turns a middling film into a good one. This is a category that has shown love to comedic performances in the past (Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine) and it’s real possibility that love could fall to Ruffalo this year.

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

With the first film about the war in Iraq that has managed to find an audience, Kathryn Bigelow has achieved something that Ridley Scott and Sam Mendes couldn’t. Her low budget but beautifully shot film is extraordinary. Best known for cable television staple Point Break, Bigelow belongs behind a handheld digital camera. She uses it with subtly and grace, holding it steady until absolutely necessary. In her hands, The Hurt Locker becomes a tactile experience. The audience can feel the heat and taste the sand. The Best Director race has proven an extremely difficult race for female directors, with only four women being nominated in the Academy’s eighty-one year history. But by tackling a genre that is usually dominated by males and doing better than most of them, Bigelow gives herself frontrunner status in Oscar’s most competitive category.

Best Picture: Coraline

If you haven’t seen Coraline, then go and rent it immediately. The story of a nine year old girl who finds an idealized version of her frustrating home life behind her floorboards, the film is nearly flawless from start to finish. Director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), with ample assistance from lead art director Phil Brothernon, has taken animated film to a new level. An exploration into the fantasy life of a young girl has not been so beautifully, painstakingly realized since The Wizard of Oz, nearly seventy years ago. Even the voice work is excellent, especially Ian McShane as Coraline’s unlikely savior. Even with the expansion of the Best Picture field, Coraline is a long shot considering it will be competing against Disney/Pixar’s Up and it’s unlikely that the Academy will reward two animated films. Even if it is locked out of the Best Picture race, it will have a really shot at the Best Animated Film statue.

All of these films were released between February 6th and June 26th of this year, giving them a distinct disadvantage going into the Oscar-bait heavy months. The voting members of the AMPAS tend to forget easily, which is not unexpected, considering their average age is sixty-seven. 2009 has been a great year for movies so let’s hope they have their reading glasses and can look past release dates and see the amazing work produced before September.

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Sarah Hudson is a self-educated film buff who currently resides in Boston.

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