Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oscar Predictions

Look, not that I want to make this site a political soapbox or anything, but there are disturbing developments afoot in this country, dude. No, I'm not talking about your pithy War in Iraq or the decline of good ol' family values. There is an assault on human rights more distressing than anything else you could have anticipated. And I'm only half-kidding.

"Recreational dancing is not a form of expression protected by the federal or state constitutions." (NY Post)

New York, I think someone missed snack time. Are you fucking kidding me? Of course this is unconstitutional and will be shot down, but this city that is supposed to be a paragon of tolerance and progressive ideals is seriously considering putting a conditional ban on dancing? I'll dance on your cabaret licenses' face, podnuh. (Good look on the Footloose nod though, Dareh Gregorian. You jammed a lot of information into that article. But you did repeat "bar" twice in five words and use the germanism "difficult-to-get." I'm giving you a B.) There are so many ways to ridicule this entire idea. "Recreational dancing" is not a protected use of freedom of expression? So if I'm dancing in an attempt to pace a girl, if I'm not having fun, is that protected? What about if I'm dancing to actually get somewhere, like shuffling to the bar? How does one define dancing? My stepdad performs the time-honored "driving the truck" on the dance floor? Can he be arrested? Who is going to be an odious enough government agent to enforce this? We're two steps away from feelies and soma, TANBRines. Anyway...

The Academy Awards are tomorrow, and for some reason I still care. It's quite obvious they're a popularity contest, but the Oscars are also even more useless than the Grammys, since most of these films are already out on video and won't be as affected by sales as they were back in the day. I'm getting ready for four hours of irrelevance. At least Billy Crystal won't be hosting again.

For whatever reason, here is a rundown of the tried-and-true "who should win" and "who will win." With regards to space, I'll only cover the main categories, though I am pretty opinionated on Sound Effects Editing. No, seriously.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Borat - Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer
Children of Men- Alfonso Cuaron Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
The Departed- William Monahan
Little Children- Todd Field & Tom Perotta
Notes on a Scandal- Patrick Marber

Borat felt mostly improvised. Sometimes that belies good writing, but in this case, I think it is what it is. Structurally, there isn't much going on anyway.

Children of Men is dense, surprising, dark, and poignant. No chance.

The Departed is crackling with snappy dialogue, and it moves quickly. Perhaps due to editing though, the beginning seems rushed and murky. Still, its grand, swelling movements and memorable characters are what matter in this category. It would be an interesting script to read separately from the movie.

Actually, the weakest link of Little Children may be its screenplay. Although its third-person narrator gets his share of laughs, the tone of Little Children is all over the place, and it ends abruptly.

Notes on a Scandal is a very well-done film, but it doesn't feel significant or lasting. I can't point out many flaws, but it seems like more of an acting exercise than a true film.

Should Win: Children of Men
Will Win: The Departed


William Monahan: a face for writing. It must feel weird to know that your speech will be cut off within thirty seconds, no matter how good or funny it is.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Babel- Guillermo Arriaga
Letters from Iwo Jima- Iris Yamashita
Little Miss Sunshine- Michael Arndt
Pan's Labyrinth- Guillermo del Toro
The Queen- Peter Morgan

Arriaga's work is always strong, but I didn't feel as if he connected all of his own dots thematically. Great work, but also very forced in some places (most notably the end). I wouldn't be surprised if the Oscar went to this out of a desire to keep Babel from going home empty-handed.

Letters from Iwo Jima sucked balls. It's amazing that a writer who is actually Japanese created such blatant Japanese stereotypes. Oh wait, Paul Haggis has a story credit. That must have been it.

Little Miss Sunshine actually gets better as it goes, which is pretty rare. It stays sharp and funny throughout and supports and individually develops six separate characters. Plus--and this counts with the Academy--it seems more fictional and original than the others. Even though The Queen will give it a run for its money, that film still depends upon historical circumstance. This shouldn't make a difference, but it usually does.

It's gotten very trendy to nominate a foreign film in the screenplay category, but that nod probably should have gone to Volver instead. The script of Pan's Labyrinth is good, what with its tricky fable-like tone and violence balance, but it never hit home with me.

The Queen has an excellent, wry screenplay. Symbolism, complex characters, searing intimacy. Besides what I've already mentioned though, the Academy is always a little wary of scripts that incorporate a lot of stock footage, which The Queen does.

Should Win: Little Miss Sunshine
Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Adriana Bazzara- Babel
Cate Blanchett- Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin- Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson- Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi- Babel

I don't like many of the nominees in this category. Shareeka Epps should have been nominated, but I can understand why she wasn't.

Adriana Barazza was the stronger of the two Babel nominees, but both she and Rinko Kikuchi will cancel each other out, both because they're both in the same movie and because no one knows who they are.

I think the fact that Cate Blanchett is so uniformly incredible in every film she's in hurts her when it comes to awards. She'll get nominated for about fifteen Oscars in her career and take home two. This is not her year.

No, of course she's not in the same league as some of these other actresses. But this is more of an honor for the film and the idea of Little Miss Sunshine herself. And don't be surprised if she wins due to the Dreamgirls backlash.

Jennifer Hudson is supposed to win this. We've known that since December, and it's quite possible that the push Paramount has given her will spell her doom. She's very good, but not so good that people would be outraged if she didn't win. That's pretty much the recipe for an upset.
Should Win: Cate Blanchett
Will Win: Jennifer Hudson

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Alan Arkin- Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley- Little Children
Djimon Hounsou- Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy- Dreamgirls
Mark Wahlberg- The Departed

Okay, the Academy kind of crapped the bed on this one. I would have included maybe one or two of these guys. But Michael Sheen in The Queen, Steve Carrell in Little Miss Sunshine, and maybe even Brad Pitt in Babel should have taken some of these spots.

Alan Arkin is a sentimental pick for a guy who has been a dependable character actor for a few decades and sinks his teeth into a juicy role. Nothing wrong with that.

Jackie Earle Haley didn't have enough screen time in Little Children to have a good chance at this, and I wasn't too impressed by him. But for God's sake, this is the guy who played Kelly Leak in Bad News Bears.* That comeback makes John Travolta's look expected.

Yes, dude was Kelly Leak a few decades ago. Looks like he spent a bit too much time on that dirtbike.

My favorite Djimon Hounsou performance was as Nightclub Doorman in an episode of "Beverly Hills 90210." It's the only time he wasn't out of his league. Blood Diamond is a terrabull movie, and he only makes it worse.

There are few celebrities I hate more than Eddie Murphy. At every opportunity, he has cashed in and not cared about the quality of his work. ("If you had gotten paid what I got paid for Best Defense, you would have done Best Defense too.") Then, to make things worse, he lampoons all the shit he has put his name on, routinely name-checking The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Dr. Dolittle 2 in interviews. Then, he actually does a film, not for money, not for fame, but for an Oscar he doesn't deserve, and we're supposed to reward him for it. Reward him for what? Doing Norbit two months later?

Mark Wahlberg is hilarious in The Departed, and his part is alternately over-and under-written. It doesn't seem like real Oscar material, but at the same time, I would like for this type of performance to be awarded more often.

Should Win: Mark Wahlberg
Will Win: Eddie Murphy



credibility- (n.) antonym for

BEST ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz- Volver
Judi Dench- Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren- The Queen
Meryl Streep- The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet- Little Children

In her native language, Cruz is twice the actress she is in English. In Volver, she's sexy, delicate, and under-stated. Still, there are better nominees in this field.

I don't like Judi Dench, but this more seething, sinister turn is a good change for her.

Helen Mirren completely embodies Queen Elizabeth. No one talks about stuff like how she played well beyond her age, because the portrayal is completely seamless. There's no show-stopping speech that the Academy drools over, but it's because she didn't need one to prove she's the center of the film. It's undeniable from the first scene.

The Devil Wears Prada was a great surprise for me, and I loved Streep in it. But I suspect a lot of this nomination is a result of being Meryl Streep. It's a comedy too, so the Academy won't be feeling it.

Kate Winslet is another actress who is so good that we take her for granted. Her presence looms largely over Little Children, but the film had a much lower profile than any of the other ones nominated here.

Should Win: Helen Mirren
Will Win: Helen Mirren

BEST ACTOR

Leonardo DiCaprio- Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling- Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole- Venus
Will Smith- The Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker- The Last King of Scotland

Not only does Blood Diamond suck, it's shocking that DiCaprio would get nominated for this instead of his scrappy, mournful performance in The Departed. I'm kind of afraid that he's becoming too intense though. If he doesn't do a comedy in the next two or three movies, he's going to become a parody of his DeNiro-aping self.

Ryan Gosling's withered, subtle work in Half Nelson is some of the best acting I've seen in any movie in any year. Like Edward Norton's performance in American History X several years ago, it would have been just plain unjust to not give him a spot.

I don't watch movies like Venus or The Pursuit of Happyness that only exist for their stars to win Oscars. I'm sure they're both pretty good, but if the actor's placement is more important than the character or the story, then fuck it.

Normally, Whitaker's lack of screen time--he's actually not the lead in The Last King of Scotland--would hurt him, but it's the historically-based, screen-chewing type of role the Academy loves. No one would ever name him in a list of our top actors, but have you ever seen a sub-par Forest Whitaker performance? Good for him.

Should Win: Ryan Gosling
Will Win: Forest Whitaker

"Nod Ya Head (Black Suits Comin')" actually came on the radio last week. I pretty much sharted myself. I must not have been "lookin' out for them M.I.B.s.

BEST DIRECTOR

Babel - Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu
The Departed - Martin Scorsese
Letters from Iwo Jima - Clint Eastwood
The Queen - Stephen Frears
United 93 - Paul Greengrass

Innaritu is a true artist who will go down as one of the best of his generation, and he would win most years.

Here's the thing: Martin Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker of all time. Obviously, I want him to win, even though I think his personal work in the past has been much stronger. I'm just glad that when he does win, it will be for a film with a lasting impact, instead of the pity-party that would have been an Aviator or Gangs of New York win. I'm glad he'll be winning it instead of having it given to him, since I know it's important to him as a film historian.

Fuck Clint Eastwood. I hate his self-righteous movies and their two-note scores. How about instead of nominating him because we're supposed to, we praise the daring, lyrical work of Alfonso Cuaron? Seriously, how many people have come out of Letters from Iwo Jima raving about it? Even feeling strongly about it in any way? It's a dull prestige film built for this awards nonsense.

Stephen Frears doesn't pull out too many tricks in The Queen. He mostly lets the subtle beauty of its script and performances do the heavy lifting, but there are few directors with as varied and consistently interesting choices as his. I admire his work greatly.

Thank God someone thought to reward Paul Greengrass here. "Atmosphere" is usually a dirty word for a flim, something insinuating style over substance (paging Tim Burton). But it's the best way to describe the panicked, confused haze with which Greengrass infuses United 93. There have been more auteurs nominated in recent years--I'm thinking Fernando Meirelles and David Lynch a few years back--and that sure beats pacing whoever directed Best Picture Nominee X.

Should Win: Martin Scorsese
Will Win: Martin Scorsese


"Take the picture. Take the picture. I look like a director--take the damn picture." I mean, Clint directed Space Cowboys seven years ago. Where was the love then?
True story: I was in the elevator of the late AMC Galleria 8 in 1999--True Crime was out at the time. This old dude elbowed me and said, "I bet you're goin' to see some Clint Eastwood, eh, my boy?"
I walked out of the elevator and said, "Clint Eastwood sucks. I'm going to see Cruel Intentions." Holla.

BEST PICTURE

Babel
The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

You know by now how I feel about all these flicks, and I'll save you more Eastwood-drubbing. Here's why each movie will or will not win the big prize:

1. Babel- At first, no film was the front-runner, and this won the Golden Globe Best Picture- Drama, which is usually a good indicator. It's a tough film to get through though, and I don't think many Academy members actually watched the whole thing. It happens. Furthermore, its DVD release was too late and didn't generate enough buzz for a late push. On the other hand, it screams "important" and "epic," which are two hallmarks of the Best Picture Oscar. It has a chance.

2. The Departed- It's a crime picture, and genre flicks aren't usually given awards. Other than that though, it has everything going for it. It's anchored by dynamite, big-name performances, it's directed by a filmmaking legend, it's long, it timed the DVD release perfectly. Plus, it has that intangible timelessness, that thing Oscar pissed away with Million Dollar Baby and Crash. (Or pretending that Chocolat deserved a nomination more than Almost Famous, which I'm still pissed about.) Even though I liked Little Miss Sunshine more, this feels more like what the Academy Award is supposed to represent, and if I want to honor what that idea still means to me, I have to believe in this.

3. Letters from Iwo Jima- No one saw or liked this movie. Let's move on.

4. Little Miss Sunshine- The Departed and Babel feel like the sweeping epics the Oscars pace, but the trend is going away from that. As they did in 1996, when Shakespeare in Love upset Saving Private Ryan, I think people will just go with the flat-out most enjoyable movie. It's the path of least resistance, people. Catch the fever. It's the inverse of Letters of Iwo Jima: name someone you know who didn't like this flick--and if you didn't, show yourself in the comments. If it happens, you heard it here first.

5. The Queen- Miramax isn't the publicity machine it used to be. Plus, not enough people saw this movie for it to really get any momentum. Chili dog.

Should Win: The Departed
Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine

* I, of course, love Bad News Bears and, by extension, Kelly Leak. I can't count how many times I tried to bare-hand a pitch and throw it back while calling out, "Throw it faster." But one part always confused me: when we're first introduced to Kelly, he's hustling a bunch of grown men in air hockey at an arcade. What kind of mustachioed men hang out at arcades during the day, betting foul-mouthed kids five bucks a game? Does this phenomenon actually occur?

2 comments:

Ryan said...

Love the article. If Letter from Iwo Jima wins anything, I'll be pissed. Same thing with Babel. I'd lke to see The Departed or Little Miss Sunshine win. The Academy should just give the best picture to one of those two, even if it didn't have the most votes. Make the public happy for once.

Tank said...

6/8.

Pretty much average for this type of thing, but I missed Best Picture, which is kind of important. I guess everyone liked The Departed too.

"This whole thing makes me kind of despise movies." - Griffin