That Jeremy Renner's film "The Hurt Locker" already has been touted as a likely Academy Award nominee at first seemed a little silly to me.After all, the Oscars are almost always solely based on the highbrow fall/winter film season, when studios trot out their intellectual fare. Sure, summer films are nominated here and there, but generally the thrillers, action movies and blockbusters get the cold Oscar shoulder.
But after seeing "The Hurt Locker" on its opening day last Friday, I definitely started to get what all the award buzz has been about.
Also buzzing within the buzz is the idea that Renner, the 38-year-old Modesto native that stars in the film, could be in line for one of those pretty gold statues, himself. How cool would that be, Modesto?
Pretty darn cool.
A Renner nomination is very much up in the air. The film, though? With the list of best films expanding to 10 this year, I can't imagine that it won't be among them. Honestly, I can't imagine it wouldn't among them if the list came in at the same old five.
Why? Well, it's simply superb, for one. But that isn't always enough for the film industry. A movie -- especially an indie -- also needs intangibles to attract Oscar's real attention. Seemingly small elements actually prove huge with industry insiders.
Here are five of those reasons why "The Hurt Locker" will be nominated for best picture come Feb. 2:
1. Kathryn Bigelow. The director is getting major attention and lauds for her unique effort in this drama about explosive ordnance (aka bomb) disposal specialists in the Iraq War. Her skill with the film is apparent, but that's not why the academy will honor her. It will nominate her because she's a she.
Oscar lives in PC land, and only three female directors ever have been nominated -- Lina Wertmüller for "Pasqualino Settebellezze," Jane Campion for "The Piano" and Sofia Coppola for "Lost in Translation."
The academy would love to add another female to its male-centric rolls. And if the director is nominated, chances are darn high the film will be, too.
2. The Iraq War. There have been a few attempts to capture the drama of this hugely topical war on film -- most to mixed if not blah reaction.
"Rendition," "In the Valley of Elah" and "The Kingdom" all took the war to the big screen. Sure, Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for his performance in "Elah," but that was just Jones-specific.
None of those films captured the heavy interest of critics or of moviegoers. "The Hurt Locker" is grabbing both by the lapels. Critics are falling all over themselves about it and it just notched the No. 14 spot at the box office last weekend, taking in nearly
$2 million ($6.8 million total in six weeks in theaters) despite playing on only a paltry 523 screens.
3. The cool casting factor. By cool, I mean blasé to the idea of giving meaty roles to big stars. Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce are big screen names. But neither has more than a few minutes of screen time here. (Note: David Morse, another recognizable name, has to be in the award running for his wee but powerful supporting role).
The big names are bit players. That's got cool cachet in Oscar's world.
The meaty roles went to lesser-knowns, and all delivered big time. The film had name heft but retained its indie darling spirit.
Oscar loves his indie darlings.
4. Intensity. "The Hurt Locker" never lets viewers off the hook. You're on the edge of your seat almost every single minute. The characters are multifaceted and unpredictable. You don't know when the next bomb or the next bomb specialist will go off.
A scene with the specialists trapped in a desert shootout is nothing less than riveting. It's also pivotal in showing the multiple layers within the top three characters.
Oscar's a pushover for intensity and multilayered characters.
5. A breakout performance. OK, so this one is all about the hometown guy. But I'm not anywhere near the only one saying it. Critics are raving about Renner. He's getting accolades and attention like he's never gotten before. And he already was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for the role.
Renner -- and, really, the rest of cast -- makes "The Hurt Locker" a bit of an underdog because the world hadn't yet discovered him.
And Oscar really loves a film with an underdog.
Hmmmm. Maybe Renner will get that nomination himself, after all.
Elsewhere around the Scene: Indie music series Off the Air returns to Deva Cafe tonight with Shadow Puppet Theatre performing its final show. Also playing are Sacramento bands Sister Crayon and Agent Ribbons and local group not an Airplane. The all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. Entry is $5. Deva Cafe is at 1202 J St., Modesto.
A local boy returns home tonight, thanks to country singer Josh Turner's appearance at the Stanislaus County Fair.
Stephen Hansen reports that his nephew Justin Schipper is the pedal steel guitar and dobro player for Turner and will man those at the Turlock show. Be sure to give the local boy from Modesto and Ripon a shout-out while you listen at the 8:30 p.m. outdoor Variety Free Stage show.
Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at email@example.com.