Which is not to say it isn’t already… I certainly don’t place much value in my own opinions for anyone other than myself. But I do always try and write a blog or two about this subject every year. And the subject I am referring to is the Academy Awards. I have only just now gotten around to watching the five nominated films and I wanted to post my thoughts about that. Hey… Maybe tomorrow I’ll even post a little top ten list of what I consider to be the best films of 2008. Or, in any case, the best that I saw. How’s that for timing?

So… As I was saying, I finally got to see the five nominated films and here they are in the order I saw them in.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
David Fincher exploded onto the movie scene by attempting to make a popcorn movie on his own terms. That film was Alien 3. The fact that he didn’t succeed led him down a path making decidedly unconventional genre films, culminating in his masterpiece – Zodiac. And so it’s interesting to me that he should come full circle now and be let into the pantheon of mainstream acceptance with this, his most staggeringly commercial and safe film. It’s almost a kid’s movie this thing. What surprises me is that all signs pointed to it being an odd, surreal movie. The subject matter certainly lent itself to that treatment. Instead you have this cute little epic about a guy aging in reverse. There have been comparisons made with Forrest Gump. They are apt and predictable and I won’t bother to repeat them here. It’s a film I enjoyed without being as completely enraptured as I hoped I would be. In the months leading up to it, I was hoping it would be Fincher’s best film. Instead, I found it to be his worst. Not because it’s bad. It’s actually quite good. But I don’t want Fincher to make movies I can take my grandmother to see. And as for Pitt? Good performance. But a lot of it is a cute accent and some dazzling special effects. I would not want Brad Pitt getting a reward for this. If the film doesn’t win best visual effects, though, that’s another story.

The Reader
Forget the silly and pointless German accents of the two British actors. Forget the cold, efficient professionalism of the filmmaking, which reveals this as a classic Miramax picture from the late 90’s. You know… The ones that used to clean up at awards time when people still gave a shit about the Weinsteins. You know… Back when they could still get arrested. And forget that this movie will probably get dick. Other than Winslet… Maybe. And, I have to say, deservedly so. Anyway… Forget all that. I want to talk about myself and how glad I am that I watched this movie completely alone on a rainy afternoon in my bedroom. I am glad this happened because the last half hour of the picture would have been embarrassing beyond belief.

I’ll explain…

I had read the novel years ago and found it to be a crisp, engaging read. Interesting story, good writing.

But I was not moved. I was simply engaged.

I sat down to watch the film knowing beat for beat what would happen, the memory of the novel still fresh in my mind. And then the film started into its final 30 minutes and I found that I began to weep buckets.

Buckets, I tell you.

I don’t know why, exactly, but the movie worked on me. This is buckets we’re talking about here, remember? There I was, sitting in my chair rocking back and forth with my head in my hands, shaking and sputtering… And terribly glad no one was there to see it happen.

So, it’s not a great film. But, for me at least, it was an effective one. And all that talk about it asking the audience to sympathize with a Nazi is a bunch of bunk. It is a movie about choices. We all make them at one time or another and they will always have a profound consequence. And our past inevitably shapes our present. This is what the movie is about. That one of the characters was a Nazi does not mean that they were not also just a flawed human being who made a bad choice.

But, anyway, when that montage began with Ralph Fiennes and the tapes and all that, a nerve was struck and I was weeping. I will always remember that about the experience of watching The Reader. Even as I may forget the film itself.

More weeping. But this time of a different kind. The type you do on the inside with a grapefruit swelling at your throat… You are taken from Harvey Milk’s intimate 40th birthday celebration to the heartbreaking vigil to grieve his death and what an exquisite journey that is. Funny, moving… And even when walking soap opera Diego Luna stops in for a snack you put up with him because the rest of the company is just so damn pleasant.

This is absolutely a movie about its performances. Sean Penn is excellent and he is joined by a tremendous cast. Emile Hirsch blew me the fuck away. James Franco did not disappoint. And Josh Brolin’s somewhat over-the-top portrayal of homophobia was very appropriate for the character he was playing.

Terrific period detail from Gus Van Sant and his production crew. A solid, effectively told biopic. We are drawn into this man’s crusade… We glimpse his life and we mourn his passing. And it’s all done with honesty. I ask for truth in the movies I watch. Even the bad ones. Even the guilty pleasures… Commando has truth.

So does this.

And speaking of truth…

I did not expect to be so entertained by a movie that is essentially a group of angry people trying to wring an apology out of an asshole and succeeding.

That’s all it is. It’s people saying “Apologize, you fuck!” for two hours… Then: “Apology accepted, you fucking prick.” Roll credits.

Along the way, we are reminded, much more eloquently and succintly than Oliver Stone and his 7 and a half hour biopic of some years ago, that Richard Milhous Nixon was a deeply sad man. It’s not necessary to hate him when we can simply pity. In some ways, it’s a worse punishment for his crimes. He always thought he was a loser. Treat him like one.

Again… Good performances are what this movie is about. Totally blown away by Sheen and Langella in the title roles. Frank Langella gets all the attention because it’s the Oscar bait “full retard” part. But Michael Sheen matches him beat for beat with his portrayal of a charismatic man who is more shrewd and intelligent than even he himself realizes.

Oliver Platt is great. Sam Rockwell is terrific… Toby Jones is spectacular in his small role. And Kevin Bacon is his usual reliable self.

It’s all about the performances and one of the most professional movies Ron Howard has made. I get the feeling that, although this feels like a little break between his glossy blockbusters, this is the sort of picture Howard wishes he could make more often.

Slumdog Millionaire
And, finally, the big cheese. The head honcho. The one to beat and all that.

Yes. It’s entertaining. Yes. It’s energetic. It’s a great feel-good film. Everything I heard basically turned out to be true. And yet…

Look. Don’t get me wrong. It’s probably going to win the award. And of the nominated films I’d say it’s the one that may deserve it. (Though Milk is no slouch either. But bare asses and dicks seem to make the Academy nervous. Just ask Ang Lee.) Okay… So this is the one. I guess we all agree. Ben Button has all the spectacle and astounding technical proficiency in its attempt to be Forrest Gump meets Titanic. But this one has the soul. This one is all about the warmth. And, very often, Oscars are all about that warmth. They walked out of the theater grinning like morons, then waltzed over to Sam Goody to buy a copy of the soundtrack. This is the world we live in (oh-ooohhh-oh!). People embraced this movie because it is exotic yet accessible. Also, it’s a popcorn movie that makes you feel smart because it’s shaped like an arthouse movie.

So it’s the best of both worlds I guess. You don’t have to be “ashamed” to say you loved this one. It’s not like admitting to liking some rags-to-riches “chick flick” with Jennifer Aniston and/or Drew Barrymore. Even though, stripped of all its ornamentation and social context, it’s basically the same thing. A guy goes on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to impress a girl. And there’s nice photography and shots of the Taj Mahal and all that.

Wonderful. It’s why Edison invented the camera. I get it.

People really like fairy tales. And Danny Boyle made one they can be proud to say they liked. Basically, stop bashing Twilight. I haven’t seen it. And probably won’t. But I imagine that if Twilight took place in Timbuktu or something and was about a feud between two tribes and a romance in the middle of it, that film would be the toast of the town for all your friends who go to the Angelica and have a cappuccino while waiting for the theater to open.

Ok. So, all in all. I am still surprised The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated. It is a terrific crime thriller and as good as any of these films right here. I am well aware of the shit I may get on the boards for admitting this and I don’t care: I consider it the best movie of 2008. I have not had the chance to see The Wrestler yet. From what I’ve heard, that seems to be the only one that would potentially bring it down for me. And, although I have not seen it to know for sure, I want Mickey Rourke to get the award on general principle. I like the guy. And the idea of The Expendables being sold on the strength of “Academy Award winner Mickey Rourke” just makes me gooey.

And that’s that.

Tonight, I will watch Hugh Jackman host an Oscar telecast and have the usual fun. Who gets the highest applause on the In Memoriam? My money’s on Newman. But, Don LaFontaine will bring the house down too. Just you watch.

Let’s pretend we’re watching it together.

Yup. I actually said that.