The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in their dubious wisdom, have decided their annual ceremony of self congratulation isn't quite bloated enough, so they've decided this year to double the Best Picture category to ten nominees.
Even without this new format, Jason Reitman's new film Up in the Air would be an easy choice as a shoe-in Best Picture nominee. The movie stars George Clooney as a corporate bagman who spends his time commuting from one anonymous US city to another while laying off corporate schmo's who's former employers would rather avoid the uncomfortable reality of terminating their staff. His job is to deliver this devastating news; sprinkle in some generic "this is the beginning of your new life" pep talk, get in his rental car, check into his hotel then fly to the next city and repeat. The movie is incredibly timely. Not only does it reflect the current climate of layoffs, downsizing and economic uncertainty, but it has some interesting things to say about the slippery slope of "digital" communication trumping true human interaction. The performance from George Clooney is perhaps the finest of his career. There's a little bit of his real life in the character of Ryan Bingham. Clooney lives the life of the happy bachelor, so when his character preaches about the benefits of not encumbering oneself with the trappings of relationships and the emotional toll and drain allowing people into your life can be, it's easy to think of the Clooney smoking a cigar with his feet up in his Italian villa without a care in the world. We recently spoke to writer/director Jason Reitman - who does an incredible job with this film perfectly handling the tone and the pacing of this story - for MTV News, and he spoke of the vulnerability that Clooney displays in his performance and how he considered his performance "a gift" to him as the director of the film. It really is a different side to him as an actor and he effortlessly carries the film. It requires a lot of charm and a fair bit of charisma to play such a character; a man who rejects the politics of the heart and the comforts - and madness - that come with being an active member of a family, and still make him likable and someone you root for. Clooney and Reitman manage to do it though, and it's the heart of Up in the Air. I would be shocked if George Clooney wasn't nominated for Best Actor for this role.
Despite having just two features to his credit when he began this film, Reitman has managed to build such a solid reputation with those two films, Thank You For Smoking and Juno, that he was able to populate his newest film with a lot of tremendous actors. Joining George Clooney are Anna Hendrick - who does a fantastic job as the young co-worker who tries to figure why Clooney has elected to live such a disconnected life and Vera Farmiga (who was brilliant in The Departed) as the woman that makes him consider the option of a life off the road. In supporting roles actors like Jason Bateman, Zach Galifinakis, Danny McBride and J.K. Simmons and the incomparable Sam Elliott deliver high-end performances.
Reitman is really on a roll with three solid films to start of his directorial career and this movie could see him with an nomination for Best Director at this years Academy Award marathon. And maybe having him to root for will give me a reason to sit through it.