An Attempt to Care About the Oscars

Blog? What is this blog you speak of?

Oh, sigh. My apologies, all 12 blog readers, for having been so buried in this week’s top ten movies story that I have sorely, horribly neglected this little box here. There are always so many things to blog about — the movies I wish I hadn’t had to leave off that list, for one thing. But hey, it’s Oscar weekend! And the predictions are just so damn predictable! So let’s play a little game I like to play with the Oscars. It’s called Who Will Win, Who Should Win, and Where the Academy Went Wrong.

OK, it’s not really called that. I just made it up. But Oscar commentary is a time-honored and slightly pointless tradition I’m not about to give up on now, even if I still have a couple of movies left to see. It’s not all about the roles, after all; it’s about the gossip and the politics and the nonsense that shouldn’t matter. Let’s take a peek.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Richard Jenkins in The Visitor
Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn in Milk
Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
Will win: Rourke. Everyone says so. The movie is this year’s Last King of Scotland: unremarkable, but built around a major performance. Is it the best performance of the year? I wouldn’t say so, but I bet the Academy voters do.
Should win: Tough call between Jenkins, Langella and Penn. Penn has his Oscar (for Mystic River); Jenkins is a long-time character actor carrying a sweet, quiet piece; Langella owns Frost/Nixon, especially in the last half hour. I’d probably pick Langella, honestly.
Should’ve been nominated: Mathieu Almaric in A Christmas Tale is the first that comes to mind; just ’cause they’re in French doesn’t mean his last few roles haven’t been award-worthy. And heck, Robert Downey Jr. WAS Iron Man. If we can nominate Pitt for such a shallow, pretty, vague role as Benjamin Button, why not Tony Stark?

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie in Changeling
Melissa Leo in Frozen River
Meryl Streep in Doubt
Kate Winslet in The Reader
Will win: Winslet. It’s her year! Everyone says so! And Meryl Streep already has plenty of Oscars. If Kate wins, it’ll be one of those incredibly disappointing years when an actor wins for (what’s perceived to be) one of their weaker roles. It happens.
Should win: Melissa Leo. No argument; her performance in the underseen Frozen River is unfussy and natural and incredibly believable. Hathaway was very good, too, but the overlooking of her costars makes it harder for me to get invested in her chances.
Should’ve been nominated: Honestly, I think this category is a disaster of overlooked performances. In short: Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy, Kristin Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You So Long and Anamaria Marinca in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, to name just a few (let’s not bicker about technicalities of release dates, shall we? These movies had U.S. release in 2008, so in my fantasy world, they’re eligible. And they sure weren’t nominated before).

And the rest of the categories are …

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Josh Brolin in Milk
Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road
Will win: Heath. No one will ever forgive the voters if he doesn’t.
Should win: Heath. Because he was really good.
Should’ve been nominated: I’m having a hard time coming up with obvious snubs here, though I’m sure someone will correct me. Although I did think Javier Bardem did a nice job as the pivot point around which Vicky Christina Barcelona turned.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in Doubt
Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis in Doubt
Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler
Will win: Most money is on Penelope, but I think Rebecca Hall is the best actress in Vicky. There’s also the chance, if we’re being a bit cynical, that voters will want to reward the powerhouse roles of Doubt without rewarding previous winners, and go with Viola Davis.
Should win: Marisa Tomei. I don’t like The Wrestler. I don’t even think Mickey Rourke is that amazing in it. But Tomei — whose My Cousin Vinny Oscar I thought totally undeserved — lights up the movie every time she’s on screen; her ability to delineate where fantasy and real life split is far more fascinating than the way Rourke portrays the two as inextricably linked.
Should’ve been nominated: Samantha Morton in Synecdoche, New York; she’s the only thing that kept me watching. OK, so did Michelle Williams. And Emily Watson in her tiny part. Also Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married.

Best animated feature film of the year
Bolt; Kung Fu Panda; WALL-E
Will win: WALL-E, easily.
Should win: WALL-E, easily.
Should’ve been nominated: Waltz With Bashir, easily.

Best documentary feature
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon); Encounters at the End of the World; The Garden; Man on Wire; Trouble the Water
Will win: Hard to call, as I’ve only seen two, but people do like Man on Wire
Should win: … and by “people” I also mean “me.”
Should’ve been nominated: Again, Waltz With Bashir, easily.

Achievement in directing
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher
Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard
Milk, Gus Van Sant
The Reader, Stephen Daldry
Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle
Will win: Danny Boyle, barring a last-minute push for Van Sant.
Should win: In this case, I’m kind of on the side of the masses: Though I thought Slumdog‘s story was weak and its characters paper-thin, I think the film had an incredible sense of place and, in its first hour at least, a vivacity that was pretty striking (I also adore the closing credits, for what it’s worth). I’d rather see it win for directing than win Best Picture, though I think that’s a losing argument at this point. Fincher deserved an award for Zodiac more than this one, and Van Sant deserves it for both his 2008 movies, but as long as Ron Howard doesn’t win, it’s cool.
Should’ve been nominated: I accidentally skipped this one the first time through. Well, given that my favorite movie of the year was The Fall, I’d say Tarsem, but I realize that exists in a different universe than the one in which the Oscars take place. So, more realistically, Mike Leigh for Happy-Go-Lucky, at the very least, and hell, I’d throw Christopher Nolan in there for The Dark Knight, just for fun.

Best foreign language film of the year
The Baader Meinhof Complex, Germany; The Class, France; Departures, Japan; Revanche, Austria; Waltz with Bashir, Israel
Will win: Seems likely Bashir will pick this one up — not least because it got snubbed in or disqualified from two other categories — but people do also like The Class. (Caveat: I’ve only seen Bashir.)
Should win: (Caveat: I’ve only seen Bashir.)
Should’ve been nominated: Though this is harder to call given the strange rules about release dates and such, I would have liked to see pretty much all of the foreign films on my top movies list nominated where eligible, but particularly Let the Right One In. The Academy needs to acknowledge more genre films, especially when they do interesting new things with familiar elements.

Achievement in cinematography
Changeling, Tom Stern
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Claudio Miranda
The Dark Knight, Wally Pfister
The Reader, Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
Slumdog Millionaire, Anthony Dod Mantle
Will win: A lot of money on Slumdog here, too, and Mantle surely has a lot to do with the lovely sense of place in the film.
Should win: I’ve not seen Changeling or The Reader, and none of the other nominees wowed me the way last year’s sad loser The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford did, so I’m a touch indifferent.
Should’ve been nominated: The Fall, period. I don’t care whether you liked the story or the characters or anything else about it — it was still astonishing to look at.

Adapted screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, screenplay by Eric Roth, screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Doubt, written by John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon, screenplay by Peter Morgan
The Reader, screenplay by David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy
Will win: Part of a Slumdog juggernaut, I expect.
Should win: I find myself not the least bit invested in this one.
Should’ve been nominated: Probably Let the Right One In, at least.

Original screenplay
Frozen River, written by Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky, written by Mike Leigh
In Bruges, written by Martin McDonagh
Milk, written by Dustin Lance Black
WALL-E, screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter
Will win: A tossup between Milk (which may not win anything else) and WALL-E.
Should win: I’d love to see Mike Leigh win something for Happy-Go-Lucky, but I’d be happy with WALL-E and delighted with Frozen River.
Should’ve been nominated: Ever so many things, again, largely foreign and on my top 10 list. But Rachel probably also deserved a nod here, to be fair.

Best motion picture of the year
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Frost/Nixon; Milk
The Reader; Slumdog Millionaire
Will win: Slumdog Millionaire. And then Hollywood will pat itself on the back for being so cool and, like, aware of the world outside L.A. (Me? Cynical? Never!)
Should win: Of this bunch? Not a one of ’em. But I’d pick Milk, then Slumdog Millionaire, just based on the options.
Should’ve been nominated: The biggest omission here is WALL-E, I think; it’s pure animation snobbery. A lot of folks would have liked to have seen The Dark Knight nominated, which would have made things interesting. Like the other overall categories, my list of snubbed nominees is pretty much my list of favorite movies of the year, but realistically, I’m mostly cranky on behalf of the animated robots.

And the other categories, briefly (skipping shorts as I’ve seen none of them, yet):

Editing: The underrated yet incredibly important category. Very possibly another Slumdog win, especially for that great chase at the beginning, or a rare Dark Knight moment — except that there were more than a few complaints from the peanut gallery about some of the action sequence editing. (Not from here, mind you.)

Art direction: A very tough call. Be a nice place to recognize that while Revolutionary Road wasn’t great, it sure looked great — ditto The Duchess. But Button and Dark Knight were gorgeous as well.

Costume design: Catherine Martin (Australia) has a few little gold men already, I believe, but they’re always deserved. Still, Kate Winslet’s precise Revoutionary dresses — or the period garb Keira Knightley was laced into in The Duchess — could nab this one.

Sound editing/mixing: Always, for me, the toughest awards to feel like I’ve got a grip on, which is silly given how much the way a movie sounds has to do with its effect on a viewer. Wanted is a terrible movie, but it sounds amazing; still, if these don’t get caught up in a Slumdog sweep, I could see ’em going to anything. Genre does tend to get a bit of technical due here.

Visual effects: Button. Done. Which other film have you read so much about the effects for? Not even the semi in Gotham could beat this one. I think. I could be wrong. But it’s “achievement” in visual effects, not “freaking awesome action sequences,” so … there’s that.

Makeup: I love that Hellboy II is nominated for this. Possibly it deserved an art direction nomination as well. But give it to the big red guy’s creator already.

Original score: Four of the five nominees — Desplat, Howard, Elfman and Newman — are fairly frequent flyers in this category, but I’m not sure that means A.R. Rahman will win for Slumdog; if memory serves, the score winners tend to go a little traditional. The most memorable of the traditional bunch was Milk — I think? Nothing is really standing out here.

Original song: The only question is, Which Slumdog song will it be? (And why did the Academy only nominate three songs? Lame, guys. Lame.)

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