But Iraq is passé. The economy is what's on everyone's minds right now. People are scared and angry. How to tap into that negativity and still make a feel-good comedy? Jason Reitman shows us in the surefire Best Picture nominee Up in the Air, which will also likely get Best Director, Best Actor (George Clooney), and two shots at Best Supporting Actress (Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick).
And if we're making a lighthearted film about unemployment and corporate ruthlessness, why not one about the Holocaust? Count on Quentin Tarantino not to disappoint with his outrageous exercise in Reich revenge, Inglourious Basterds. Expect Best Picture and Best Director nods, and also Best Supporting spots for Christoph Waltz as everybody's favorite SS officer and Diane Kruger as Goebbels's favorite starlet.
How about the charming side of pedophilia? Lone Scherfig's An Education makes it seem almost uplifting, and the Academy will agree, offering it a slot in the Best Picture race and a Best Actress nomination for the old-beyond-her-years Carey Mulligan. (But no Best Director — two female nominees? And a Danish one at that? Get real.)
Is the evil of homophobia in need of some sprucing up in this post–Proposition 8 age? You can't find a more chic-looking portrait of a beleaguered, closeted, early-'60s-era gay man than designer Tom Ford's debut feature, an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man. For that, it deserves at least Best Actor recognition for Colin Firth and his wrenching performance as a natty professor mourning his dead partner.
Then there's Crazy Heart. It's been ages since Tender Mercies and the last time we celebrated an aging, alcoholic country singer guilty of child neglect and spousal abuse. Give Jeff Bridges a guitar and a story as stereotyped as the original songs he's singing and make way for the Dude's fifth Best Actor nomination.
Finally for Best Picture, we have Pixar's Up. Its bittersweet look at those grimmest of specters, old age and death, will nudge it out of the Best Animated Feature ghetto.
All this fun and we still have space left for the requisite boring high-minded extravaganzas! At least in the acting categories. Nobody remembers or cares about that blowhard Russian novelist and pre-pinko pacifist Leo Tolstoy, but we can still shed a few tears at his final days in The Last Station, especially with the charmingly bearded Christopher Plummer in the role. That's worth a Best Supporting Actor nomination. And throw in Best Actress for Helen Mirren as his long-suffering harridan wife, because as of yet we have no competition for Bullock's harridan wife in The Blind Side — and because, after all, she is Helen Mirren.
And Meryl Streep is, after all, Meryl Streep, and her Julia Child in Julie & Julia will make you forget forever Dan Aykroyd's version on SNL. It might even make you forget the self-involved, whiny, blogging character whose name is the other half of the title.