Every Oscar discussion for the next decade should begin with the Dargis Stipulation: "Let's acknowledge that the Oscars are bullshit and we hate them." But since derision alone doesn't constitute a critical stance—at least not one varied enough to get us through the next month of awards chatter—let's get started bullshitting. (Sidebar: Why is "bullshit" purely pejorative when used as a noun, while the verbal form denotes an amusing pastime?)
It was somehow vindicating that today's nominations ensured that the Cameron/Bigelow face-off we've all been dreaming of is really going happen, in living color, with blue-skinned alien hybrids battling bomb-defusing adrenaline junkies on the stage of the Kodak theater. Both films got exactly nine nominations; they'll be coming up against each other not only in the best picture, director, cinematography, and musical score categories but in hyper-technical categories like sound editing and sound mixing. I don't care how over their divorce Cameron and Bigelow are supposed to be. (For the purposes of the Hepburn/Tracy film we're casting in our minds, can we call them "Jim and Kitty"?) Anyone who's ever competed with an ex-spouse (or a current one!) for prestige or pity will be unable to resist toting up the tally as the ceremony rolls along. (For the record, I'm totally Team Bigelow, much as I unexpectedly enjoyed my trip to Pandora.)
Like you, I've been enjoying Gabby Sidibe's stealth campaign on the talk-show circuit. In fact, I think I'm enjoying it more than I did her performance in Precious. Not that Sidibe was bad in the role, but I thought the movie gave her little to do other than serve as Mo'Nique's punching bag. My problems with Precious are well-documented, but I'll be happy to see Mo'Nique collect her near-inevitable and deserved trophy for best supporting actress. I also really hope she again gives the red-carpet photographers a peek at her unshaven legs as she did before the Golden Globes. That gesture was as ballsy as anything that happens onscreen in Precious. It's one thing for a woman to deglamorize herself for a role (a gambit that has become standard Oscar-seeking practice), but it's something else again to buck prevailing standards of female attractiveness on the red carpet.
Penélope Cruz (your love object and erstwhile stalking victim) was indeed nominated for the wrong film. She shone in Almodóvar's Broken Embraces as the trapped mistress of a controlling millionaire, while her character in Nine was merely, as A.O. Scott wrote, "a married woman with serious mascara issues." The likely reason for this oversight is as simple as it is sad: Most Academy voters probably lack the patience to sit through a subtitled movie.
Your question about Jeff Bridges—will he, in character as Bad Blake, barf into a trash can during his performance of the nominated song "The Weary Kind" during the ceremony?—inspired this meaningless epiphany: For the first time this year, both a best-actress nominee (Sidibe) and a best-actor one (Bridges) will have played characters who vomited in trash cans during the course of their respective movies. I actually think the wrong song was nominated from Crazy Heart—the one you find yourself singing for weeks afterward (and if you're me, listening to right now in iTunes) is "Fallin' n' Flyin.' " In the song category, though, I fear it will come down to Randy Newman competing against himself for two songs from The Princess and the Frog. Unless the song from Nine wins, in which case I will be the one barfing into a trash can.
And if you'll permit me a final nerdy tech-award wish: I would really love to see Janet Patterson win for best costume design for the exquisite Jane Campion film Bright Star. More than any film I can think of this year (including the likely winner, Coco Before Chanel), Bright Star was a movie in which the power of textiles loomed large. Abbie Cornish's character, Fanny Brawne, was a passionate amateur seamstress whose outlandish frocks were explicitly compared with the creative output of John Keats. Patterson's thoughtful costume design served as not only a decorative element but a narrative one, and Fanny's dresses were as luscious and tactile a special effect as the iridescent forest in Avatar.
Do you share my sense that Fantastic Mr. Fox got shafted by receiving only two nominations, for animated feature and score? And do you think Quentin Tarantino—never particularly beloved by the academy, and Oscar-less since his screenplay win for Pulp Fiction in 1994—stands a chance of being shut out entirely?