I don’t see any way around it. I’ve been writing about movies here now for the better part of the past year, so I can no more ignore the Academy Awards than I could Christmas, or politics, try as I might. It just finds its way into the thinking.
Someone [couldn’t have been me] once referred to the Oscar ceremony as “the gay Super Bowl” and as frattish a description as that may be, I have to recognize the kernel of truth there. Fashion play-by-play, red carpets, weepy speeches, dance numbers, catty comments, fashion commentary, and see you next year. Gay. Nothing wrong with that at all, but the fact remains: Gay.
Beyond that, though, it seems that everyone these days gets worked up over these awards, even though the results only really affect the lives of the folks involved in the making and selling of movies. I like watching the show as much as anybody, but I get weirded out by all the debating that goes on around the Oscars, by pros and laymen alike. My feeling is that the naming of anything as the “best” of anything is completely subjective, and besides, the eventual outcome rarely syncs up with my own personal perspective. I’ve effectively removed myself from all Oscar pools and prognosticating because of this reason. There’s often a disparity between what I suspect and predict will win awards, and what I wish would win awards, and I think all of it probably distracts from my purpose here and elsewhere, which is all about love – my love of movies, and how they help us communicate with each other and generally make our days just a little bit better. I’m not here to bag on anybody if I can help it; I’m here to champion the stuff I like.
That said, once the gambling and prognosticating aspects are removed from the discussion, I don’t see a problem with letting you know some of what and who I will be rooting for most, come Sunday…
Best Original Screenplay
Frozen River, Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky, Mike Leigh
Milk, Dustin Lance Black
Wall-E, Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter
Didn’t see the former pair. Loved the latter pair. But In Bruges was my favorite overall movie of last year, and that had plenty to do with the way it was written. So this category is a no-brainer for me. I’m happy to see it nominated – any attention this sweet little flick gets is good for the world. If you take nothing else away from this column, it would be the emphatic recommendation that you watch In Bruges. Again, if you’ve already done.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eric Roth
Doubt, John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan
The Reader, David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufoy
Frankly, Doubt is the only one I can compare original-to-adaptation with any authority, but I imagine that I’d be choosing that script as my favorite of these five even if I hadn’t seen the play before the movie. In many ways it’s a very simple story – the morality of the thing is what makes it complex. But original playwright turned writer-director John Patrick Shanley made smart, economical, and character-building choices in the process of expanding it from a four-character stage show to a wider cinematic canvas. There’s no guarantee that what makes a good play will make a good movie, but I can guarantee to you that in this case both works are equally good… hence my endorsement.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Taraji Henson would have the best victory moment. No question. Any of these actresses would probably be deserving of the accolades, but both in the interest of a more interesting Oscar telecast, and from having been a fan of her movie work (Hustle & Flow, Smokin’ Aces, Talk To Me) for a few years now, that’s my immediate pick out of a tough category to choose just one.
Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
This is almost always the most interesting category, since it almost always has five great performances. And this year is no different – these guys are all great, can’t go wrong with a one, but only one of them is already a Halloween costume. Heath Ledger gave the most memorable performance in the biggest movie of the decade, a unique take on a timeless pop character, and a creation that will last for as long as people care about superhero movies.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader
I’m not exactly the president of the Meryl Streep fan club, but she was perfectly cast in this role and she played it perfectly. Anne Hathaway was really good in a really good movie, but man, you just can’t argue with that killer final line reading Streep hit in Doubt. Besides, what we need in this category is for someone to check Kate Winslet into the boards. Meryl Streep has the best shot at it. Lace up them skates, Meryl…
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Sean Penn. I love all these guys in each of these nominated roles, dug all five movies, but if I have to pick one (which I technically don’t), it’s still going to be Sean Penn. He’s the one who most had me believing that I was watching someone other than the brooding actor I have been so impressed by for years. His portrayal of Harvey Milk would be great if it merely happened to be the first Penn performance one ever saw, but the knowledge of all his past work, and how vastly different this performance is from all that went before, only amplifies the impressiveness of the achievement.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is surely deserving, as are they all, from my comparatively limited experience with/ knowledge of the editing art, but I have to say that I like Slumdog Millionaire the best for this award. I think the movie is halfway a musical, and that is always the genre which has the most apparent editing maneuvers. I also believe that Danny Boyle’s movies have had a huge influence on modern film editing, in the way they match movement and story to music, and while I could make parallel claims to the movies of Fincher and Nolan, I’m still rooting for Boyle’s team in this category.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Tom Stern, Claudio Miranda, Wally Pfister, Roger Deakins, Anthony Dod Mantle. Know those names,
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Obviously an oversight to not have Christopher Nolan (or Darren Aronofsky, or Guillermo Del Toro, or CLINT) on this list. I had my minor hang-ups with The Dark Knight, but none of them had to do with my admiration for Nolan’s ability to marshal the massive forces required to make a huge-budget monolith movie turn out this excellently. But I’m going with Gus Van Sant. Danny Boyle and David Fincher are two of my very favorite directors and I will watch anything they do, and Ron Howard did a terrific job on Frost/Nixon, but still – Gus Van Sant is the horse I’m backing. I have my reasons. Read on…
Let’s hear from the pageant contestants themselves on why they want the tiara:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: “I may be a little bigger than the others, but still, I triumphed in the realms of wardrobe, makeup effects, visual effects, and production design, and I’m as mainstream an effort as my brilliant director is ever going to make. If you wanted to reward a body of work over an individual film, it would be me.”
Frost/Nixon: “I’m arguably the most viscerally compelling depiction of a seemingly un-cinematic moment in American history since The Insider, and my attention to period detail is completely absorbing. Although I probably won’t look so hot in the swimsuit competition segment.”
Milk: “Well, first of all, my attention to period detail is pretty amazing also. My lead performance is near-revolutionary, and the rest of the ensemble is just as adept at essaying their roles. My overall approach is low-key, but humanizing, and my impact sneaks up on you. If I had one wish? It would be world peace.”
The Reader: “Um… Really, it’s an honor just to be nominated.”
Slumdog Millionaire: “Just look at me. I’m full of color. I’m alive. I’ll rock all the others in any musical competition. I have social relevance, if you’re willing to think, but if you don’t want to use your brain, I’ll get you in the heart. Oh, and if you vote for me, you get to look at this face a lot more than you would’ve otherwise.”
Those nominees again, one more time…
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
And my choice is…
Why? For all the reasons suggested above, and one more besides. As far as that world peace goal goes – this is the one movie on the list that actually has a shot at moving towards it. I have a very unscientific theory: If you took ten avowed homophobes, strapped them in a seat with eyes wide open a la A Clockwork Orange, and made them watch the entirety of Milk, it’s very possible that five would walk out of that screening room with an increased sense of tolerance. (The remaining five, however, deserve to be shot into space without helmets.) Milk humanizes a highly political, still highly relevant issue, and does so with subtle cinematic craft (Harris Savides) and a collection of brave performances.
Not that my opinion counts for anything in this case, but if it did, Milk would be your Best Picture of 2008. Like someone [not me] said, it’s the Gay Super Bowl. Let’s own it all the way. Let’s get gay! I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Aniston is wearing!
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