Missed Oscar Nominations: Is ‘Moon’ The Most Criminally Underrated Film Of 2009?

The 2010 Oscar nominees were announced this morning and, as has been the case with just about every other awards event this season, one film in particular from last year was overlooked once again. I am talking about “Moon,” the inventive one-man sci-fi show from newcomer filmmaker Duncan Jones.

Part of the problem with “Moon” — for awards-giving folk and wide audiences alike — is that it’s difficult to sum up the key points without spoiling any major plot details. The basic setup isn’t nearly enough of a draw: Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is a mining technician stationed on Earth’s moon. The only company he has is a facility-controlling artificial intelligence called GERTY (Kevin Spacey). The story opens as Sam’s stay is approaching its end, until an accident occurs which leads to some surprising revelations about how things really work at the mining facility.

That’s really all you can say without spoiling some of the film’s most inventive tricks. In “Moon,” Jones has crafted a work of sci-fi that eclipses even “District 9” — a Best Picture contender, among others — in terms of its originality. And that’s saying nothing of Rockwell’s performance, which is great for so many reasons– again, many of which cannot be discussed without spoiling key plot points.

“District 9,” while a perfectly excellent film and well-deserving of its Oscar nomination, is an easier sell. There are secrets, but the high concept pitch — following an unexpected incident, a government agent falls in with the very alien beings he’s tasked with keeping in line — sells itself very well. “District 9″ also had an admittedly larger budget than “Moon,” though it was still small in comparison to other summer blockbusters. You could argue that effect budgets were made the most of in both films, but “District 9″ definitely had more visual punch, more of the sort of epic scale that appeals to summer moviegoers.

Compare this to the quiet, contemplative thriller that is “Moon.” In some senses, it’s the sort of movie that wins awards. Its strengths rest in the writing, the performance, the direction. It looks beautiful in motion, even with the modest budget behind it. I think what ultimately defeated “Moon” during this awards season is the very mystery that makes it such a compelling story.

There’s a moral here: see “Moon.” See the crap out of it. It’s a great piece of storytelling, one that doesn’t deserve to be forgotten as we look back over the perceived “best” of 2009.

Note: “Moon” DID score some awards love in the UK, with two BAFTA Awards 2010 nominations and seven British Independent Film Awards 2009 nominations, two of which it won: Best British Independent Film and the Douglas Hickox Award for Jones.