A Look Way Back: Steve Ranks the 2009 Best Picture Nominees

I have finally seen all of the 2009 Oscar nominees for the Best Picture, so I’ll add my ranking to our blog.  However, in working on this blog, I’ve become even more aware of two distinct ways in which movies are rated.  There is the consideration of artistic merit, which includes both style and storytelling.  Generally, this is what so-called “critics” focus on.  Then, there is simply reflection on whether a movie provides a fulfilling experience.  This is what “fans” seem to base their ratings on and also points to which films are likely to be watched more than once.  I find myself thinking about movies in both ways, so I’m going to rate them both ways.

2009 Best Oscar-nominated Pictures by Artistic Merit

1. Inglourious Basterds – The strongest combination of style and storytelling of the ten.  However, Taratino’s style definitely isn’t for everyone, even though this is actually less violent than much of his work.  Also, some find his themes of revenge troublesome, not to mention the rewriting of history, but this movie does raise the interesting question of what would be an appropriate action if one had the opportunity to rid the world of Hitler.  This is dazzling filmmaking.  Style with substance, I say.

2. The Hurt Locker – Not a terrible choice for best picture, but I didn’t find it to be nearly as strong as Basterds.  Whereas Taratino was clearly rewriting history, The Hurt Locker was presented as realism, but too much of it rang false for me.  Still a great movie, though.

3. District 9 – This is a love it or hate it movie and I loved it.  I love the mishmash of styles, beginning as a cheesey documentary and then passing through the territories of drama, thriller, horror, all with a strong undercurrent of social commentary.  That is where it blows away the next movie on this list.  It makes you think deeply about not simply apartheid, but prejudice in its many forms.

4. Avatar – This movie ranks this high simply for style.  Yes, it’s a good looking movie (although I think the floating mountains are simply ridiculous!), but it’s severely lacking on the storytelling side of the equation.  Think deeply?  Nope, this is a James Cameron movie.  In too many ways this is Dancing with Wolves in Outer Space.  Given all that, I’m surprised I’m putting this at no. 4, but that’s how good it looks.

5. Precious – I hesitated for over a year before seeing this because I thought it would be too depressing.  It is a sickeningly sad story…poverty, rape, incest, abuse…but it is well done.  I place it here mostly for the strength of the acting.  I also liked the directing for the most part, especially her flights into imagination to escape the torment of her world.  I wish the ending had a bit more of the hope of that imagination in it.

6. A Serious Man – Being a Coen Brothers film, you’d expect this one to gain a few more style points, but this is one of their most reserved and subtle movies.  However, as with most of their work, this one grows on you with repeated viewings (see the list below).  It is a marvelous modern telling of the Job story.

7. Up in the Air – I wanted to love this movie.  George Clooney!  Jason Reitman!  I didn’t love it.  It was an interesting examination of our culture and the loss of deep relationships, but that is also where it failed for me.  I didn’t like the way the affair was handled.  Alex gets mad when Ryan nearly exposes their affair to her husband.  I’m sorry, Alex, you were in an affair.  Affairs hurt people, destroy relationships and this one detracted from the movie for me.

8. An Education – Hmm, if affairs are bad, how about an older man preying on a young girl and nearly ruining her life?  This movie explores what a person will do to escape what they think is a dull life and the wrong turns we can take in trying to find a meaningful relationship.  It is well done, but I found the character of David to be such a creep and it turns out I was right.

9. Up – Many people love this.  Not me.  It was o.k., actually quite good in spots, but I thought they added too many elements.  It felt disjointed to me.  I don’t think it was even the best animated film of 2009.  I’d give that honor to The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

10. The Blind Side – Style? Sappy!  Storytelling? Clichéd!  Does it deserve to be considered for Best Picture?  Of course not!  But, I cried my eyes out and enjoyed nearly every minute of it.  This is the kind of movie that has me wondering what I mean, what anyone means, when they say a movie is good.  And look where it is on the other list!

2009 Best Oscar-nominated Pictures by Desire for Multiple Viewings

1. Inglourious Basterds

2. A Serious Man

3. District 9

4. The Blind Side

5. Avatar

6. The Hurt Locker

7. Up

8. Up in the Air

9.  Precious

10. An Education