Sunday, February 22, 2009
"And now let's head down to the awards - the Hollywood Awards!"
Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle, Penn, Winslet, Ledger, Davis. Those are my predictions for who will take home Oscars tonight, and who cares why. Tonight promises to be one of the most predictable Oscar ceremonies in memory, and I don't know anyone who feels tonight's nominees reflect the best that 2008 had to offer (after the one-two punch of Scorsese and the Coens winning, the comedown was inevitable). Here's who I'll be rooting for tonight, in any case (longer write-ups of some of these are still ahead):
Best Picture - Slumdog Millionaire is as sure a bet as I can remember, and it's totally undeserving. The Mumbai-set Cinderella story is sometimes entertaining and features a terrific performance by Anil Kapoor as a game show host, but I was unmoved by the generic central romance, and there are literally hundreds more interesting devices to explore the machinations of fate than a game show. It's superficial and patronizing and, at its worst, borders on exploitation of its impoverished child actors. I haven't seen Frost/Nixon or The Reader. Milk was a bit more conventional than I'd hoped, but it's still a very good film and its heart is in the right place, so I wouldn't mind if it won. I guess I'm rooting for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher's strange and compelling epic; still, it's the first time in thirteen years that no film I truly love is in the race, so I won't cry at its inevitable loss to the chai wallah.
Best Director - Same. Not much else to say except, really, Danny Boyle is becoming an increasingly superficial director, and I'm sick of that self-satisfied grin plastered on his face at every awards ceremony like he's the cat who got the cream. Still like Trainspotting, though. Also, consider that Stephen Daldry now has as many Best Director nominations as Stanley Kubrick.
Best Actor - It's great seeing Richard Jenkins finally get some recognition, and his performance in The Visitor is subtle and impressive, but the movie is kind of boring. Brad Pitt is better in Benjamin Button than people are giving him credit for, but he's better as Chad Feldheimer. Sean Penn goes full-gay in Milk and gives the warmest and most moving performance of his career, and he certainly deserves the win. Still, it would sting to see even Penn take it away from Mickey Rourke, whose Randy the Ram is the most heartbreaking performance of the year. He knocks it out of the ballpark, everyone loves a comeback, and who doesn't want to hear the Mick's acceptance speech?
Best Actress - Kate Winslet is my favorite actress working today and I'd love to see her win, but I keep putting off seeing The Reader because it frankly sounds terrible and I fear this is indeed a "Career Achievement Award." I haven't seen Changeling, and though Meryl Streep and the rest of the cast of Doubt does strong work, I can't separate the performances from the hoariness of the script and direction. Melissa Leo is terrific in Frozen River, and if she won it'd be a great "triumph of the underdog" moment. But I'll be rooting for Anne Hathaway, who as the self-destructive Kym in Rachel Getting Married manages to invoke our sympathies for a complicated and potentially unlikable character.
Best Supporting Actor - This is maybe the strongest category this year, but I'd hate to be the actor who, in a surprise victory, steals it from Heath Ledger. His victory has been preordained since early last year, which would be irritating if the Joker wasn't also the performance of the year. I love Robert Downey Jr., but if the geezer faction of the Academy gives it to him as some statement that Iron Man was better, it'll be as groan-worthy as Rob Lowe and Snow White.
Best Supporting Actress - If anyone from Doubt is going to win it should be Viola Davis, who lent the film its few moments of emotional plausibility, and I suspect she may upset frontrunner Penelope Cruz (who was great as a passionate, impulsive artist in Vicky Cristina Barcelona). I like Taraji P. Henson more than most, I suspect. But I'll be rooting for Marisa Tomei, whose aging stripper Pam is as responsible for The Wrestler's emotional impact as Rourke, and who totally proves herself worthy of that first Oscar.
Best Original Screenplay - I said this in the Muriels comments as well: I just don't get In Bruges, and I say this as someone who acted in a McDonagh play and found it brilliant. I'm willing to have someone explain this to me. Milk is very good, but my few problems with it can be traced back to the script. I haven't seen Happy-Go-Lucky, and I was slightly less enthusiastic with Frozen River as a film than with Leo's performance. So I'll go with Wall-E, because nobody puts as much importance in story as Pixar, and because it should have been nominated for Best Picture.
Best Adapted Screenplay - Hmmm. I haven't seen two of these, didn't care for two more, and the flaws that kept Benjamin Button from masterpiece status are clearly attributable for Eric Roth's script. Whatever.
Best Cinematography - Some strong nominees here. I did like the look of Slumdog Millionaire, though Anthony Dod Mantle's gorgeous cinematography was rendered incomprehensible by the seizure-inducing editing. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has perhaps the most gorgeous digital cinematography yet, but the need to shoot slo-mo scenes on 35mm (including the movie's most striking image) points to the format's ongoing limitations. I'll definitely be rooting for the IMAX-enhanced beauty of The Dark Knight.
Best Editing - Ditto The Dark Knight. Where others saw incoherence, I saw a brilliant economy of storytelling.
Best Art Direction - Gotta go with the attractive, antiseptic surfaces of Revolutionary Road that threatened to suffocate those poor Wheelers at any moment.
Best Costume Design - I hope the fashions on display in Milk come back very soon.
Best Makeup - All of these would be fine winners, but I'll go with the aging makeups of Benjamin Button...
Best Visual Effects - ...which were seamlessly blended with some of the subtlest, most believable CG character work in memory.
Best Sound - The squeal of the Batpod winding through an office building rocked my socks off.
Best Sound Editing - Consider that everything in Wall-E had to be created from scratch, and it's the obvious winner. Go Ben Burtt!
Best Score - Danny Elfman's score for Milk is surprising even as it recalls some of his best work, but Thomas Newman's score for Wall-E is weird, romantic and delightful.
Best Song - After three weeks of Slumdog Millionaire at Images Cinema, I've heard enough "Jai Ho" for this and the next lifetime. Go, Sledgehammer!
Best Animated Film - Wall-E.
Best Documentary Feature - Man on Wire will probably win, and it's very good. But how great would it be to see Herzog up there?
No opinion on shorts, etc., so I'll stop here. Here's hoping for a night of Rourke and Herzog acceptance speeches, and if not that, let's hope Jerry Lewis says "Polack" at least once. Good luck staying awake, everyone!