It's down to the wire for the upcoming 82nd Academy Awards, which will be televised worldwide on Sunday, March 7. On Thursday night, film enthusiasts from South Orange and neighboring towns gathered at the South Orange Library to participate in their own lively discussion about which films and moviemakers will walk away with the coveted 8 1/2-pound gold-plated Oscar statuette.
South Orange resident Allen Barra has been hosting this event for the last 15 years. A former film critic for the Star-Ledger, he currently writes for publications including The Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice, Salon.com, The Daily Beast and American Heritage. He's the author of "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee," published last year.
Barra came into the meeting room wearing his 3-D glasses used to view "Avatar" to set the tone for a night of cinema talk. "This evening is a way for everyone to share their opinions and knowledge with other people. I like to see what these film viewers think, devoid of any hype," he said before everyone had arrived.
Mel Mayes of Branchburg is a long-time participant at the library's Oscar night. As guests were still filtering in, he and library program coordinator Phyllis Kalb bantered about whether or not the ending of "Up in the Air" was realistic. She said yes; he wasn't sure, but they enjoyed comparing their thoughts.
As soon as the crowd, nearing 30 people, settled in, Barra gave his pick for Best Actor: "We can go home early tonight because Jeff Bridges is going to win for Crazy Heart. Bridges has been lined up on the runway for so many years… and he's given so many great performances. Very often, Oscar is a debt for two or three decades of good work."
Group consensus for Best Picture seemed to tilt towards "The Hurt Locker," the drama about an elite army bomb squad in Iraq. Some voted for the coming-of-age film, "An Education." Barra commented that while "An Education" is a great small movie, it doesn't have the weight to be a contender for the gold. Barra is leaning towards "Up in the Air" for Best Picture if "Hurt Locker" loses. Only a few people rallied for "Avatar," despite its high-grossing power.
Little dispute was heard when Barra named Christoph Waltz as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Quentin Tarantino's Nazi war story, "Inglourious Basterds." As an aside, Barra said he was surprised that Colin Farrell could do such a good job singing in "Crazy Heart."
Many in the audience concurred with Barra that Carey Mulligan gave an Oscar-worthy performance in "An Education." Barra was dismayed that Sandra Bullock, widely seen as a lightweight actress, will likely win for "The Blind Side." Vera Farmiga ranked as the favorite for Best Supporting Actress for her part as a not-so-conventional woman in "Up in the Air."
"What's the more prestigious award, Best Picture or Best Director?" asked a participant. Barra asked, "What makes a film receive Best Picture award?" "Money," chimed in the audience. The consensus was that "Avatar's" James Cameron might receive it, and his ex-wife, "The Hurt Locker"'s director Kathryn Bigelow, might then win for Best Director.
South Orange resident Selma Dalton has been coming to Oscar night every year. "Allen has interesting observations on everything. He has a sense of humor and is right on target."
On the way out, attendees helped themselves to handfuls of Gourmet Kettle Corn popcorn, chatting about who the winners will actually be on Sunday night.