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Will Michael Jackson’s “This” be it?

I’m not a big proponent of 10 Best Picture nominations because I fear it waters down the field. We annually have – at most – two frontrunners in the months-long Oscar race. This season, instead of three also-rans with no real shot of taking home the top prize on Oscar eve, we’ll now have as many as eight films that are “just happy to be nominated.”

Yet the expansion has made for some interesting discussion about which films will compete for slots 7 through 10, assuming the prestige pictures like “Up In the Air,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Invictus,” “An Education,” “Precious” and “A Serious Man” connect with Academy members and score valuable nominations. Will “Avatar” get in? Did “Nine” find a large enough audience? Does Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” have a shot, or will Paramount’s summer blockbuster “Star Trek” steal its position?

One out-of-left-field picture seems to be acquiring buzz – both positive and negative – at the right time, and I’m more than willing to throw my support behind it: Kenny Ortega’s surprisingly entertaining Michael Jackson documentary, “This Is It.”

Now, not everyone is on board. Kris Tapley at InContention.com says a “bunch of number 10 slots (on Academy ballots) aren’t going to cut it.” But Pete Hammond writes on his L.A. Times blog “Notes on a Season” that Oscar voters he spoke with are preparing to place the concert doc on their ballots, and a wave of support could carry “It” to a nomination. Hammond goes on to say that “after seeing the genuine continuing enthusiasm within the academy I’m beginning to feel it’s (shot is) legitimate.”

We’ll know soon enough who is right, as nominations are announced Tuesday, Feb. 2. But the inclusion of Ortega’s cobbled-together tribute to Jackson’s creativity would be a welcome surprise. I consider the film to be one of 2009’s most pleasant surprises, a dynamic party and a ferociously entertaining send-off to the King of Pop that celebrated the man’s artistry, ignored his oft-covered quirks, and permitted Jackson’s career to end on a high note. I don’t think it could win a Best Picture Oscar. But I do believe a nomination would be a worthy victory for Ortega and his crew.

About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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One Comment

  • December 29, 2009 | Permalink |

    Great details Sean, an interesting dark horse in the new Best Picture world. That said, I can’t decide if it’s a stupendous idea or wholly ridiculous that the category now has ten nominations.

    The good? Self-congratulatory awards ceremonies, at their core, are petty and slightly moronic anyway, so why not share the wealth?

    The bad? As you mentioned, dilution. And more opportunities for subpar films to snag a nomination thanks for fantastic marketing. I know through anonymous folks that getting behind Gladiator as Best Picture option was a light-bulb marketing idea at Dreamworks. And you just know that the Weinsteins, suffering some strain already, were going to push Nine for Oscars even if the public and critics responded negatively (which many have).

    The politics should only get heavier and raunchier. In the long run, a nomination only counts for one thing: More box office and/or DVD take. And I guess that’s okay too…

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