Without A Net | Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

Random thoughts on the Oscar nominations

• Having 10 nominees for Best Picture takes away a bit of the meaning of being a Best Picture nominee, but I like that it makes the Academy Awards more accessible to the wider movie-loving public, even if it's being done for largely commercial reasons. As a history buff, I also give the Academy points for their citation of the fact that early Oscars also featured 10 nominees, and even up to 12 nominees in 1934 and 1935.

• Can we just hand the Avatar team the visual effects trophy now?

• I've seen most seven and a half of the Best Picture nominees (I still need to see Precious and An Education, and I have the Hurt Locker at home via Netflix and still have to finish the last hour), and I think it's a fair field with no film coming to mind as a glaring omission. The one that made me raise an eyebrow was The Blind Side, a good but not great movie, but I do have to give it credit for telling an emotional story, and it also features Sandra Bullock's best performance of her career as a southern belle who feels like a real person; it's a performance worthy of that Best Actress nomination.

• I love that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is nominated for an Oscar. Anyone who hasn't read Roger Ebert's review of the film absolutely must, as Ebert is always on his game for reviews of films he finds truly awful.

• I expect Best Supporting Actress to go to Mo'Nique for her abusive mother role in Precious, but another performance in the category that stuck with me was Vera Fermiga in Up In The Air. It was another character who felt like a real woman, stripped of the usual Hollywood tropes of a standard love interest. Up In The Air, much like (500) Days of Summer, was a love story that wasn't really a love story, and Farmiga pulled that off perfectly while also projecting a magnetism that let her go toe to toe with George Clooney in every scene.

• It was a pleasant surprise to see the Secret of Kells in the animated feature film list, though I expect that both Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox have a far better shot at getting the award, with Up being the favorite. The Secret of Kells tells the story of a young boy in a monastery who wants to be an artist, illuminating manuscripts; the movie is about the life of an artist, told with lush, unique animation. It's well worth going out of your way to see; it's supposed to have a wider release in March for St. Patrick's Day and to follow up on the awards season. Still, with the powerful emotion in Up's first 10 minutes alone, it's going to be a hard one to beat.

• I'm rooting for Up In The Air in the best adapted screenplay category; it's the screenplay that's the most relevant to our time, while also communicating timeless truths that will make it worth watching once our nation's current economic woes have passed. It was my favorite film of 2010. The marketing has portrayed it as something that it's not (a romantic comedy), but on its own terms, it's wonderful.

Actor and Off-Ramp commentator Barry Cutler handicaps Oscar noms
Roger Ebert's review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)