I'm not entirely sure what to expect with this year's Oscar race. Throw everything you know out the window, because for the first time in a long time the nominees are too long a list to predict. It's just a feeling game at this stage. And here's what I feel so far:
All the above movies are looking pretty strong right now. A Serious Man, Bright Star, and The Hurt Locker are all movies the Academy may or may not love as much as their strongest critical supporters. On the more commercial front, a similar argument can be made for District 9, Star Trek, and Inglourious Basterds (meanwhile, there is a wait-and-see approach with Avatar). If one of these movies doesn't make it, I'm sorry, but the Academy's experiment of opening up the Best Picture category is a complete and total failure. The whole point should be to award all types of really good movies, not just more of the Academy mold.
There's one movie, however, that fits neither the commercial nor the typical Academy-ish drama billing, and because of it's red-headed stepchild lot in life, it isn't getting nearly enough buzz. And that movie is In The Loop.
I've seen this film three times now and I can't get enough of Peter Capaldi's blistering, hilarious performance (I've yet to watch The Thick of it, but after watching Capaldi here it's definitely on my list). Everybody talks about Alec Baldwin's work in Glengarry Glen Ross and for good reason. But when I think of that movie I also think about the masterful profanity-laden tirade Al Pacino unleashes upon poor Kevin Spacey. It lasts only two or three minutes, but it's just an epic verbal beat-down. And that's pretty much how I feel about Capaldi with every other actor (especially poor Tom Hollander) in this terrific film. Capaldi doesn't just curse you out, he uses his venomous tongue lashings to paint a Sistine Chapel of mental abuse that is so awe-inspiring you almost have to thank him for it.
Capaldi can thank the five-man screenwriting team (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Ian Martin, Tony Roche, and director Armando Iannucci) for my gushy behavior. In The Loop plays like an outrageous political satire, but the really amazing thing is that at its core it feels very real; it all makes sense and feels grounded in legitimate truthiness. Within our and Britain's political systems, there really are pit bulls like Capaldi who bark about "walking the line." There are stooges like Tom Hollander's character. There are less-than-glamourous crusaders in Washington like Mimi Kennedy and snakes with their own agenda in the form of David Rasche. Washington is overflowing with opportunists like Chris Addison or not-quite-courageous-more-career-conscious types like Anna Chlumsky's character. I watch this movie and I no longer think how wonderfully ridiculous it is, but how perceptive a political satire the filmmakers created.
I've been telling everyone I can to watch In The Loop in the theater, on demand ... however. The story of its box office may already have been told, but I'm hoping its recognition with the Academy is still prologue. This movie is entertaining, smart, and critically adored. It doesn't need an Academy Award nomination to legitimize it. But it sure deserves it.
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Dre writes for Film.com weekly. Email him!