Sunday, February 25, 2007

And The Awards Go To ...

For the better part of two decades, the Academy Awards have been my favorite television event of the year. Next to the NFL Draft and the Super Bowl, it's one of the few TV events for which I actually carve out time. But to me, the Oscars aren't great because of the Red Carpet, or to see many celebrities dressed up in their finest attire. I appreciate the celebration of movies and think that the Oscars do the best job of rewarding the best movies of the year (although they usually throw one "What the *$&%" nominee in each category).

Another reason I love the awards is that I enjoy making picks and predicting who will win what. Ever since I won a $20 gift card in my work competition when I worked at Blockbuster Video, I have taken it very seriously. I track trends, I look for patterns, and I do my research. Sure, over the last nine or ten years it has garnered me very little income (a $20 gift card) but I enjoy the challenge nevertheless.

I have yet to actually be beaten in my Oscar picks. I don't say this to brag, because let's face it, I'm a huge geek. It's simply fact. But if ever there was a year to dethrone the king, this is it. The reason is that I have been rather remiss in my moviegoing over the last year. Even my rentals have gone way down. I don't know if it's an attention span thing, but for some reason I just feel like I am way behind. If it weren't for my occasional "man-dates" with Toastie, I probably wouldn't have seen a movie in six months or maybe more.

Still, I have rallied in the last couple of months to get up to speed to defend my crown. So here they are, my predictions and opinions of this year's Academy Awards, on the record, only a few hours before the ceremonies begin.

Here are the major categories:

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children
  • Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond
  • Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls (Will win)
  • Mark Wahlberg for The Departed (Should win)

    This is actually a strong category this year. Jackie Earle Haley (who you may remember as Kelly Leak in the original Bad News Bears movies) is the comeback kid; he's been down on his luck lately and this nomination is a great story. But he has no shot at winning.

    Alan Arkin is one of my favorite actors ever. He has been great in everything from Glengarry Glen Ross, to Catch-22, to Edward Scissorhands, and in my opinion, he carried Little Miss Sunshine. But he's a long-shot; comedic performances don't usually win this award.

    Djimon Honsou has quietly created an excellent acting career, from Amistad to In America, he is quiet power personafied. I know very little about Blood Diamond, but he could be a dark horse.

    Mark(y Mark) Wahlberg stole every scene he was in in The Departed, like someone throwing a molotav cocktail into the room. It would be too weird, though, to have the guy who performed "Good Vibrations" have an Academy Award, though. I just don't see it.

    I think it's gonna be Eddie Murphy, which is just as weird, given the amount of crap he has put out in his career. I have not seen Dreamgirls, but this is exactly the kind of performance that the Academy loves. It will legitimize his career to some extent, but probably make him even more insufferable in person. Still, he is my pick.

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
  • Adriana Barraza for Babel
  • Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal
  • Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (Should/Will win)
  • Rinko Kikuchi for Babel

    Barraza and Kikuchi will probably split the votes on Babel, but the fact that both are foreign actresses and both got nominated bodes well for the performances in that film. Blanchett is becoming the new Meryl Streep, getting nominated almost as a knee-jerk reaction. It isn't to say she's not good, but from what I've heard, Judi Dench was the real star in Notes on a Scandal.

    The race, as I see it, comes down to Breslin and Hudson. The Academy likes to give nominations to little kids, and Breslin was adorable in Little Miss Sunshine. The part where she starts crying because she doesn't think she's beautiful enough to win the pageant is as good a scene as you'll see by any actor this year. But it seems like a gimmick vote for a slightly lean movie.

    Looks like Jennifer Hudson, the former American Idol contestant, who by all counts steals Dreamgirls with her version of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" (which, ironically, is the same song that brought down the house on American Idol last Wednesday). It's the kind of star-making moment the Academy loves, the same kind that won Catherine Zeta-Jones her Oscar for Chicago a few years ago. It's amazing how many people who started as non-actors (Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg, Hudson) are nominated this year.

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
  • Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond
  • Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson
  • Peter O'Toole for Venus
  • Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness
  • Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland (Should/Will win)

    I can't see Leo getting the win this year, especially since a lot of people think he should have been nominated for The Departed. (Personally, I think Jack Nicholson got robbed by not getting nominated in this category for The Departed.) Ryan Gosling (who girls will remember from playing Noah in The Notebook) apparently is remarkable in Full Nelson, but the movie is far too indie. Hopefully this movie will propel him further.

    It's a three man race. I don't particularly like Will Smith as an actor, but it appears he has removed many of his irritating Fresh Prince-isms for this movie, and he has a shot because he is well liked and the movie (about a homeless man looking for a job) is inspiring.

    Peter O'Toole has never won an Oscar, and this could be the way of the Academy giving him a make-up award. (I have to say, I hate the idea of a make-up award. Get the politics out of the voting and make it about face-value. The Oscars should be a time capsule of great performances of the year, not about righting past wrongs.)

    I would have to say that Forrest Whitaker is the odds-on favorite to win this baby. Not only is he a respected actor who has done a lot of good work in the past, but he is apparently a tour de force playing cannibalistic dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. This award has three things going for it: 1) He is black and the Academy has consciously tried to nominate more non-white actors over the last several years, 2) Whitaker is a terrific, underrated actor, and the Academy likes to reward that, and 3) It is apparently simply the best performance of 2006. I really like the guy, so I hope he wins it.

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
  • Penélope Cruz for Volver
  • Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal
  • Helen Mirren for The Queen (Should/Will win)
  • Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada
  • Kate Winslet for Little Children

    This might be the hardest to call of all the races. Four of the five nominees are considered prestigious Oscar contenders, and Penelope Cruz is apparently a much better actor in Spanish than she is in English. She has very little chance against this collection of heavyweights.

    Streep is a knee-jerk pick; she probably won't win for this comedy. She can just add this to her list of nominations. Judi Dench has already won for Shakespeare in Love and many voters will probably attribute much of her performance in this film to the chemistry she has with Cate Blanchett; the two are intertwined. Kate Winslet is another person who seems to get picked for just showing up (not to say she isn't a great actress).

    My pick is Helen Mirren, playing Queen Elizabeth II. She is a prestigious British actress, and she is playing a real person (which Oscar loves, see Forrest Whitaker above). They say her performance is not stuffy and stodgy like you would think the Queen is, and that she humanizes the figure. That alone is probably enough to win her the Oscar.

    Best Animated Film of the Year
  • Cars (Will win)
  • Happy Feet
  • Monster House

    Looks like a weak year in this category, but Cars was the populist favorite. Plus it's Pixar, which has this category locked down year after year.

    Adapted Screenplay
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed (Should/Will win)
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal

    This is a very strong category, although I'm not sure how you can put Borat in there. Don't get me wrong, Borat made me laugh harder than I have at a movie in years, and I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius, and I would love to see his acceptance speech, AND I think he should have gotten a nomination for Best Actor, but it's a documentary, even if it's a manipulated one. The best parts of the movie were those that were unscripted.

    I have heard that both of the "Children" movies are excellent: Little Children is a story of a small community's reaction to a child molester; Children of Men is a futuristic movie about a dystopia where no more children can be born and the human race is about to die out. Both are very heady, and the kind of screenplays that get attention. Notes on a Scandal is the same thing, about a teacher who sleeps with one of her students, but with some soap opera elements thrown in.

    I think that The Departed should win, with its labrynthine plot and exploration of Irish Boston politics, but it's seen as more of a director's movie (the Auteur Theory comes into play here). I think that Notes on a Scandal could be the upset, so this is my least-confident prediction. But I think the Academy really wants to honor The Departed.

    Original Screenplay
  • Babel
  • Letters from Iwo Jima (Will win)
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen (Should win)

    This category is all over the place. My gut tells me Letters from Iwo Jima, but my head tells me Babel. Babel has the same kind of hand-wringing "why can't we just all get along" vibe as Crash did last year. But Letters from Iwo Jima is brave enough to take on the Japanese perspective of WWII. (Little Miss Sunshine and Pan's Labyrinth are just happy to be nominated.) The Queen could pull a major upset, especially since it deals with the death of Princess Diana and therefore touches on a sentimental subject, but doesn't sentimentalize it.

    Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
  • After the Wedding - Denmark (Susanne Bier)
  • Days of Glory (Indigènes) - Algeria (Rachid Bouchareb)
  • The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) - Germany (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
  • Pan's Labyrinth - Mexico (Guillermo del Toro) (Should/Will Win)
  • Water - Canada (Deepa Mehta)

    Pan's Labyrinth will win. Next.

    Achievement in Directing
  • Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Stephen Frears for The Queen
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel
  • Paul Greengrass for United 93 (Should win)
  • Martin Scorsese for The Departed (Will win)

    This is going to be an interesting category this year for a couple of reasons. It is a rematch of 2004, when Eastwood (for Million Dollar Baby, the eventual winner) and Scorsese (for The Aviator) squared off in this category. I truly believe this is a two-man race.

    Iñárritu is a gifted young director, who has helmed such solid films as 21 Grams and Amores Perros in the past, but this is the proverbial "affirmative action" slot. It could have easily gone to Guillermo Del Toro for Pan's Labyrinth or Pedro Almadovar for Volver or Alfonso Cuaron for Children of Men. This is the Academy's attempt to remain global.

    Stephen Frears is an excellent working director, who has created some great films (The Grifters, High Fidelity, Dangerous Liasons), but this is a slot-filler. I am extremely happy that the Academy recognized Paul Greengrass for United 93, which was probably the best film I saw in 2006. He created a terrifying, kinetic, and ultimately heartbreaking portrait of the heroes of Flight 93 on 9/11. (United 93 should have taken the Little Miss Sunshine slot for Best Picture.) Greengrass is going to be a great director, and rent Bloody Sunday if you don't believe me.

    This leaves the battle between Eastwood and Scorsese. I elaborate on this under the Best Picture category. See below.

    Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Babel
  • The Departed (Should win)
  • Letters from Iwo Jima (Will win)
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen

    So, to be fair, I have only seen two of these movies (The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine), but if I know trends, I will be right on the money. How Little Miss Sunshine got into this category I will never know. It's a cute movie, but it is by no means a great movie, and certainly not Oscar material. If this wins Best Picture, I can guarantee you that I will not watch next year.

    Babel is this year's "conscience/message" movie, where we are meant to think about the shortcomings of our society (Crash was that movie last year, and it won). But Babel will get lost in the rest of the new "third world chic" genre (along with Blood Diamond, The Constant Gardener and other message movies). It's there for prestige. Similarly, The Queen -- which I heard is excellent -- is the requisite British movie that sneaks in with little expectations. Not a chance, regardless of how good it is.

    This leaves the two front-runners, Letters from Iwo Jima and The Departed, and this one will prove to be an epic battle. One one hand you have Iwo Jima, which not only has the cache of being directed by a two-time winner and American acting legend (Clint Eastwood), but is also a World War II movie, and takes place in a foreign country! If ever there were a movie destined for Best Picture, this is it. (Side note: Eastwood has become an outstanding director. If you took his directing career on its own merit, completely disregarding his acting career, few directors have been better for the last 8 or 9 years.)

    The only monkey wrench in the equation is The Departed, which is directed by our gratest living filmmaker, Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has lost the Best Director Oscar several times in the past, and three times to actors-turned-directors (to Robert Redford in 1980, to Kevin Costner in 1990 and to Eastwood in 2004). Oscar voters love to give "make-up" awards (like giving the Oscar to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman when he got robbed several times in the past). And this is not only the perfect opportunity to reward one of the three greatest American directors of all time, but to reward a phenomenal film. (I think it's Marty's best movie since GoodFellas, which is possibly my favorite movie ever.)

    So here is how I think it's going to shake out: I think that Marty is going to win the Best Director Oscar, and deservedly so. Marty turned what could have been a standard Irish gangster picture into a sweeping, sprawling masterpiece. His stamp is all over this one, and in nearly anyone else's hands it would have just been an average gangster movie.

    Letters from Iwo Jima, by the same token, will win Best Picture. It's about the Japanese perspective in WWII, and if there's one things the Academy loves, it's a war movie, especially a World War II movie! This will also continue the trend of splitting the Best Director/Best Picture awards, as has been happened four out of the last eight years.


What's the lesson? I need to catch up. I have seen hardly any movies this year. For someone who is one of America's premier young film critics, I am a sad sad specimen.

Epilogue:

When all was said and done, I didn't do too bad. I missed the following: Eddie Murphy as Best Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls (Alan Arkin won), Pan's Labyrinth for Foreign Film (The Lives of Others from Germany won), Cars for Animated (Happy Feet won), The Queen for Original Screenplay (Little Miss Sunshine won), and the Big Enchilada, Best Picture (I had Letters From Iwo Jima, but Scorsese's The Departed came in with an upset). Okay so maybe 5 out of 10 isn't that great. But it's half.

A couple notes from the Oscars:

  • I thought Ellen Degeneres did a very good job.
  • I'm thrilled that Marty Scorsese finally got the Oscar he should have gotten at least 3 times before. It seems like an injustice corrected, film-wise anyway.
  • Jerry Seinfeld was hilarious too
  • Did you notice that the two Lead Actor/Actress winners were "The...King..." and "The Queen"?
  • The speeches were especially boring, although Forrest Whitaker's intensity was kind of compelling.
  • How awesome was it to have Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg and Scorsese on the same stage?
  • How the hell did Pan's Labyrinth win so many awards and yet NOT win Best Foreign Film. It was a no-brainer.
  • Poor Peter O'Toole. 8 Nominations, no wins.
  • That Melissa Etheridge song was boring as hell. How did no songs from Dreamgirls win?
  • Last but not least. I promised that I would acknowledge this publicly. For the first year ever, I was defeated in Oscar picks. Doug Gorman defeated me, 38-37. The King is dead; Long live the King. (For another 12 months, anyway. Enjoy the crown while you have it, Doogie; I'm comin' hard for you next year. And this time, it's personal.)

2 comments:

d. dunford said...

I thought DeGeneres was...not good. I thought that she was very low energy, on a night that needed energy. She got one huge laugh (the Hudson/Gore joke from her monologue), had a couple of cutesy-funny interactions with Scorcese and Spielberg/Eastwood, but was otherwise...meh. I thought that Jon Stewart was better last year. After catching the musical tribute to the comedian, I want Will Ferrell to host next year.

I was also disappointed with the pacing of the awards. I loved how, in previous years, they'd start with one of the supporting actor categories. Getting all of the technical awards out of the way early might have made for better buildup and added prestige to the supporting actor categories, but it made for a drowsy first hour, and some of the least compelling Oscar time ever.

How terrible was the Michael Mann "America" montage? Jesus. I thought that he couldn't make anything less compelling than last summer's "Miami Vice" movie. I was wrong.

Alan Arkin winning was awesome.

d. dunford said...

Also, no songs from "Dreamgirls" won because they split the vote. None of them were outstanding enough to win on their own merits when separated from the other three. I wouldn't be surprised to see, were PWC to release the balloting, that the James Taylor/Randy Newman song finished second.

Besides, Beyonce, Anika Noni Rose, and Jennifer Hudson's renditions of those three songs were horrifyingly terrible shriekfests. Seriously. I have to give them credit, though - do you know how hard it is to make Melissa Etheridge's singing style seem restrained? I mean, Jesus.