With those slots doubled to 10, as is the case this year, 'Up in the Air' is as much a slam dunk as Lebron James on a fast break. Being named the top movie of the year by the National Board of Review only confirms that. A year ago, it would have been hard to argue that Jason Reitman's corporate downsizing comedy/drama 'Up in the Air' would land on Oscar's Best Picture ballot. Not because it isn't a good movie, but because it might not have been deemed good enough for one of the traditional five spots.
With those slots doubled to 10, as is the case this year, 'Up in the Air' is as much a slam dunk as Lebron James on a fast break. Being named the top movie of the year by the National Board of Review only confirms that.
What are 'Up in the Air's' Oscar bona fides? you may ask. Well, it is top-heavy in the areas that make Academy voters think of it as a contender. It has a serious contemporary subject, a terrific script adapted (by Reitman and Sheldon Turner) from a well-regarded book (by Walter Kirn) and showy performances by a past Oscar winner (George Clooney) and an actress who's due (Vera Farmiga). It is also directed by a filmmaker on a rocket-fast trajectory.
Jason Reitman, the son of veteran comedy director Ivan Reitman (the 'Ghostbuster' movies, 'Meatballs,' 'Dave,' among many others), proved himself more than a chip off the old block with his debut film, 'Thank You for Smoking,' a satirical comedy whose hero is a shill for, of all things, the tobacco industry. Though 'Smoking' was shut out at the Oscars ("Beginner's luck," one can hear wizened Academy members mumbling), Reitman and his star Aaron Eckhart received a slew of nominations from critics' groups and the film did enough box office -- $25 million -- to earn the respect of Hollywood's bottom-line watchers.
Reitman's second film, 'Juno,' was the very smart and sassy comedy about an ordinary teenage girl whose sexual curiosity results in pregnancy and a fast learning curve about maternity and the emotional fall-out of adoption. With a box office gross of $143.5 million and Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, Screenplay (a win for Diablo Cody) and Best Actress (the adorable Ellen Page), the movie was a breakthrough for just about everyone involved.
The question awaiting Reitman's third film was whether it would be a case of the sophomore jinx deferred (rule of thumb has it that a great rookie film is inevitably followed by a disappointment) or the one that confirms him as a front-line filmmaker. The first bit of good news for him was that the lead role of Ryan Bingham, a corporate grim reaper who delivers pink slips to laid-off middle managers while enjoying the friendly skies, had attracted the actor for whom the role might have been written.
Clooney has been on his own rising trajectory ever since his embarrassed (rather than embarrassing) performance as the Caped Crusader in 1997's dreadful 'Batman & Robin.' Having proven himself in everything from farce ('O Brother, Where Art Thou?') to serious drama ('Syriana,' 'Michael Clayton') to Rat Pack cool (the 'Ocean's' movies), he slipped into the skin of the smooth, cynical Ryan Bingham at the top of his game. And he delivered.
"In 'Up in the Air,' Clooney gives his most fully felt performance to date as a smooth hedonist who comes to realize that he may be drowning. This is movie-star acting of the sort that no one else today can bring off," raved Owen Gleiberman, in his review for Entertainment Weekly.
Clooney, who is the closest today's Hollywood has to yesteryear's (take your pick) Clark Gable, Cary Grant or Paul Newman, and he is in line for a Best Actor Oscar to go with the Supporting Actor statuette he took home for 'Syriana' four years ago. And from the reviews and the campaigning of critics, it's likely that he'll see his co-star Farmiga at the Oscars, too. Farmiga plays a fellow traveler who becomes Ryan's, uh, let's call her "love buddy" ("Think of me as you with a vagina," she tells him early on) and moral doppelganger.
As I filed this post, news arrived that the National Board of Review, a club of dues-paying movie lovers in Manhattan, have opened the annual fan/critic awards season by naming 'Up in the Air' the year's Best Picture and George Clooney and Morgan Freeman ('Invictus') as co-winners of Best Actor. Let the games begin.
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