With five months remaining in 2010, it may be folly to reserve a spot on the Best Picture Oscar ballot for Christopher Nolan's 'Inception.' But let's say it came to me in a dream; this multi-genre blockbuster is in, and may go all the way.

True, there are at least three dozen movies with Oscar potential yet to be seen, among them films by such admired directors as Terrence Malick, David Fincher, James L. Brooks, Peter Weir, Robert Redford, the Coen brothers and the always-peaking Clint Eastwood. But it will be a bigger Oscar surprise than an Ashton Kutcher nomination if there are 10 better movies coming than 'Inception,' or -- to acknowledge the film's small but vocal core of critics -- 10 with better reasons for Academy members to vote for them.

Like James Cameron's 'Avatar' a year ago, 'Inception' is a money-making spectacle that is priming the pump at the sagging multiplex, getting people back in the mood to spend their hoarded leisure bucks on movies. Unlike 'Avatar,' it is not the brainchild of an insufferable egotist. But a brainchild it literally is.
With five months remaining in 2010, it may be folly to reserve a spot on the Best Picture Oscar ballot for Christopher Nolan's 'Inception.' But let's say it came to me in a dream; this multi-genre blockbuster is in, and may go all the way.

True, there are at least three dozen movies with Oscar potential yet to be seen, among them films by such admired directors as Terrence Malick, David Fincher, James L. Brooks, Peter Weir, Robert Redford, the Coen brothers and the always-peaking Clint Eastwood. But it will be a bigger Oscar surprise than an Ashton Kutcher nomination if there are 10 better movies coming than 'Inception,' or -- to acknowledge the film's small but vocal core of critics -- 10 with better reasons for Academy members to vote for them.

Like James Cameron's 'Avatar' a year ago, 'Inception' is a money-making spectacle that is priming the pump at the sagging multiplex, getting people back in the mood to spend their hoarded leisure bucks on movies. Unlike 'Avatar,' it is not the brainchild of an insufferable egotist. But a brainchild it literally is.

And as Academy members will be reminded over and over between now and the final Oscar deadline, they can make history by making 'Inception' the first sci-fi movie ever to win. If it weren't for the Oscars given to the third 'Lord of the Rings' entry and 'The French Connection,' they could also make 'Inception' the first fantasy film winner and the first chase thriller to collect the top prize.

One more thing in the movie's favor is the snub of Nolan's 'The Dark Knight' two years ago. Its absence from what proved to be one of the weakest Best Picture ballots in decades ('The Reader' ... what were they thinking?) caused such a roar of reprimand, even within the industry, that significant numbers of voters may feel obliged to make amends.

The Academy itself tried to make amends by doubling the Best Picture ballot from 5 to 10. They figured that would discourage voters from discriminating against movies on the basis of genre, box office or sexual preference. In other words, there should be room for a popcorn movie that is also a great artistic achievement.

In any case, the bias against science-fiction films has clearly ebbed. Before last year, only three -- 'Star Wars,' 'E.T.' and 'A Clockwork Orange' -- had even been nominated for Best Picture. Last year's doubled ballot had two, 'Avatar' and the South African indie film 'District 9.' There was even room for 'Up,' an animated movie in which a widower and a Boy Scout fly a house halfway around the world under a bouquet of party balloons. Now, if we could only go back in time and right the wrongs (the snubs) done to the sci-fi classics 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' and '2001: A Space Odyssey,' we'd be getting somewhere.

Whether it makes history or not, 'Inception' is going to have a big presence at the Oscars. Even the second-wave critics who greeted 'Inception' with the warmth of Captain Bligh would agree that Nolan's movie will be on virtually every craft ballot from art direction to film editing to visual effects. And if the word "original" has any meaning in the context of Academy Awards, I concede it a spot on the Original Screenplay ballot, as well. And I don't rule out a Best Actor nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio.

Having said all this, I would be happy to proved wrong by the honest appearance of 10 better movies than 'Inception.' That would make it a banner year, for sure, and put the lie to the notion that Hollywood is in the midst of a Great Creative Depression. That 'Inception,' with its complex layers of fantasy, got made at all is a bit of a miracle.
CATEGORIES Hot Topic, Columns