Bigger Oscar field means tougher choices

Wed Oct 28, 2009 12:03pm EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - At a recent screening for "An Education," as star Peter Sarsgaard and director Lone Scherfig moved through the crowd, a debate broke out about the movie's relationship between a 30-year-old man and a teenage girl in 1960s London.

"There's an ick factor," a thirtysomething female journalist said. "I don't want to see someone hitting on a teenage girl. It's creepy."

Standing next to her, a fiftysomething publicist begged to differ. "That's the way it was if you were a girl growing up in the 1960s," he said. "A man could come and sweep you off your feet."

As the awards season gets under way, the question about Scherfig's picture could easily be projected onto the entire field of contenders. Will voters embrace movies that make them feel good, or will they tilt toward the films that focus on uglier and, well, ickier truths?

Most years, the coterie that votes for major awards gets seized by a mood. Movies that fit that mood gain an edge; movies that run counter to it don't.

That was evident two years ago when "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" -- both laying bare man's baser tendencies -- swept through the season. And it was equally apparent, from the other side, when the cheer of "Chicago" trumped the bloody cynicism of "Gangs of New York" and the loneliness of "The Hours" in 2002.

This year, many Oscar pundits are going 10-slot crazy, wondering whether the additional five spots in the best picture race will go to the multiplex or to the art house.

Whatever answers emerge, it's clear that with an expanded field, voters will have to make tougher choices than usual -- if not when mentally filling out their list of 10, then when they start anointing movies from among that list.   Continued...

<p>Actors Peter Sarsgaard (L) and Carey Mulligan, stars of the film "An Education", pose at the film's premiere in Hollywood, California October 1, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>