Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscars 2009: The One No One Cared About

They said we were washed up, that we couldn't even predict Sean Penn making himself look like a douchebag. But here we are, and the only ones who can tell us whether we can predict meaningless awards or not, are you three people who have time to read this before the Oscar Ceremony starts. If I can get the Internet where I'm going, Chris and I will try to post some thoughts on the ceremony here or on twitter.com/jeremymathews.

Here's to Snow White and Rob Lowe giving it another go.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams, "Doubt"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"

Wasn't Kate Winslet the favorite here? Where could she have gone?

Jeremy says: The Supporting Actress category is known for its surprises, and this year it arrives lacking a clear favorite thanks to the surprise promotion of Kate Winslet’s performance in "The Reader" to a leading role. The signs currently point to Penelope Cruz, whose performance isn’t only excellent, but full of the spunky verve that Academy voters love. Cruz straddles the line of insanity with humor and passion, letting us understand her character’s emotions, even when they go off the rails. Plus, the win would prove that Woody Allen hasn’t lost his knack for helping his actors to Oscar glory.

Tomei would also be a strong choice for her heartfelt portrayal of a past-her-prime stripper in "The Wrestler." But unless Academy voters decide that they want to quell the ridiculous rumors about Tomei’s "My Cousin Vinny" win, she’ll probably go home empty-handed.

In the case of a Cruz loss, I’d favor one of the "Doubt" women, with the edge to Davis. While Adams has been building her cred in recent years, Davis, with much less screen-time, delivers more of the wow-factor that Oscar loves (by design).

Also, Jane Lynch should have been nominated for delivering complete nonsense with the authority of a great orator in "Role Models."

Chris says: First things first: Screw the rumors, Tomei fucking deserved that Oscar for "My Cousin Vinny." The Academy even legitimized comedy, for once!

Secondly, we agree on Jane Lynch – probably her best supporting outing yet, in a long string of scene-stealing performances. I’d also throw in Rosemarie Dewitt for "Rachel Getting Married" – providing a more subdued contrast to Anne Hathaway’s self-indulgent Kym, and doing so with mesmerizing hints of pain and anger and love, and as if all three were the same emotion – and the great Samantha Morton for "Synecdoche, New York."

I agree on everything you said about Cruz and I think she easily deserves it – her brilliance in the outdoor lunch scene is enough to net an award on its own. However, I think the attention is leaning too heavily toward Viola Davis, an actress I’ve always quite liked in underappreciated roles ("Solaris," "Out of Sight") who is getting recognized probably for the wrong reasons. The heartstrings always seem to win out. Also, I’m morally against anyone winning for less than five minutes of screen time – unless that five-minutes-or-less are so powerful and enduring that they affect the rest of the movie. Judi Dench in "Shakespeare in Love," I’m looking at you.

Jeremy says: Yeah, I agree that Davis has a good chance of taking it, but I really want Cruz to get it!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road"

Three crazy people, a politician and a child molester walk into a bar ...

Chris says: I doubt that four of these nominees have the thunder to pull off an upset, but that won’t stop Oscar promoters from milking this race for all it’s worth. Should there be a revolutionary upset, it would be a dark night indeed.

Hahahahaha! I’m Gene Shalit!

But seriously, folks – it’s a one-man race. Finally, Heath Ledger will defeat Philip Seymour Hoffman, just as he should have in 2005 for "Brokeback Mountain" ... even I couldn’t complain back then because Hoffman should have won eight Oscars by that point already and was pretty damn good in "Capote" in his own right. Anyway, I couldn’t become indignant back then, but now that Ledger is dead, I can.

Where was I? Oh yeah – Ledger’s Joker, which redefined an already well-explored character to the extent that it will be difficult to separate it from any future incarnation of the character. Then again, Steve Martin probably doesn’t give a shit, so he’ll probably try to make a new Batman movie 10 years from now, annoy us with a bad Heath Ledger impersonation and then blame critics for the movie’s failures. Hoffman is almost always Oscar-worthy, but his performance in "Doubt" has nothing on his supporting turns in "Almost Famous," "Magnolia," "Boogie Nights," "Punch-Drunk Love" and "Happiness," all of which earned him nothing but snubs.

Wait, where was I? Oh yes – the other nominees. So Michael Shannon. Here’s my impression of an imagined conversation between myself and his character, John Givings:


Me: Hey man…so I’m gonna get a glass of water. You want anything?

John: I want you to get me a tire iron so I can beat my mother in the face with it! I won’t even be sad, I’ll just break up laughing! Then maybe I’ll jump in front of a train! Urp.

Me: Whoa, you’re crazy.

John: Yes.

Me: I’m scared.

John: You are scared of failure, Chris, and you are scared of being reduced to mediocrity, Chris. This self-doubt has caused a fracture between your life’s dreams and expectations. You would rather run than accept who you are. By the way, I’m crazy. You are trying to escape the shadow of your father. Also: I’m crazy.

Me: Oh my God…you understand me so well, John…this is so ironic…there is irony at play here…because you’re, like, crazy…and yet you’re the only one who understands me. IRONY!

John: The American dream has crumbled.

Me: The wheat! To die before the harvest…the crops, the grains, fields of rippling wheat…wheat, all there is in life, is wheat!


Wait, where was I? Oh yeah—the snubs. While I’m all for Robert Downey Jr.’s nomination (which was more like recognition for his comeback this year and for both of his great performances, in "Tropic Thunder" and "Iron Man"), the Academy would have done well to nominate Eddie Marsan for his incredible performance as the suppressed, rage-infected, misanthropic driving instructor in "Happy-Go-Lucky," or Ralph Fiennes for playing against type as a Cockney crime boss in "In Bruges." Fiennes got more supporting-actor attention this year for "The Duchess," mainly because he got to dress up in a costume and wig, two of the primary prerequisites for award consideration when it comes to British actors. In "In Bruges," however, he got to say the word "cunt" a lot—including the phrase, "my cunt-fucking kids." I’d like to see him pull that off while facing down Keira Knightley in a corset.

Wait, where was I? Oh yeah—Michael and Brad Pitt (not related) both could have been nominated as well—for "Funny Games" and "Burn After Reading," respectively. Not to mention Javier Bardem for playing unstoppable sociopathic killing machine Anton Chigurh in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Jeremy says: As long as we're talking about "Revolutionary Road," I'm going to erupt into a completely unmotivated fight, YOU WEAK-WILLED OSCAR PREDICTOR. YOU LIKE TO LIVE IN THIS NICE, NEAT BLOG, BUT YOU'RE A COWARD, AFRAID OF MAKING BOLD PREDICTIONS IN FAVOR OF MICHAEL SHANNON. HE'S CRAZY AND YET UNDERSTANDS THIS SUBURBAN PRISON, YOU WORTHLESS FUCK!

So yeah, Chris pretty much covered this one, snubs and all. Ledger all the way, and deservingly so. Vlad Ivanov also deserved a nomination for "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." But that's silly – he doesn't even speak English!

Best Achievement in Makeup
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – Greg Cannom
"The Dark Knight" – John Caglione Jr., Conor O’Sullivan
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" – Mike Elizalde, Thomas Floutz


Jeremy says: The at-times noticeably bad makeup was one of the best parts of "The Curious Case of the Boring, Terribly Written Exercise in Emptiness that Chris Inexplicably Likes." It was certainly better than the CG airbrushing of Cate Blanchett’s face to make her look like a freakishly artificial 20-year-old. Unfortunately, pretty much every actor other than Brad Pitt looks like some intern slapped some base, powder and/or latex on them while the top artists spent hours making Brad Pitt look like a freakish kid with an old man’s head – oh wait, the CG folks helped with that. So yeah, it’ll win, even though the other two films show better overall craftsmanship. As evidenced by "Gladiator’s" ludicrous Best Special Effects win nine years ago, the Academy doesn’t really like to look too hard at the quality of the work.

The "Hellboy II" crew deserves the statue not only for the fine center-stage work, but for all the details they put into each and every peripheral creature. "The Dark Knight" folks also deserve credit for their part in completely retooling the look of an iconic villain (as well as several other characters). Caglione and Sullivan lose points, however, for joining the ranks of all the other makeup artists who failed to make the guy who plays Richard Alpert on "LOST" look as if he isn’t wearing eyeliner.

Chris says: Ignore Jeremy’s comments on "quality of work" – this is the same guy who, in the same year that "Gladiator" won for its hit-or-miss special effects, touted "The Perfect Storm" as a quality alternative. (And I guess it makes sense—that CGI water really did look like CGI water.)

Anyway, I forgot to mention that this will be my favorite part—the part where Jeremy, uncharacteristically imitating the worst impulses of a critic, decides that, because he didn’t like "Benjamin Button," then everything about it was bad. Not only that, but he will inexplicably misunderstand what proponents of the film say about it (i.e. me – twice). See, there’s the difference – I can absolutely detest a piece of shit like "Revolutionary Road" and still argue that its Oscar-worthy cinematography got snubbed; or an even bigger piece of shit like "The Village," while pushing for it to win Best Original Score. But alas…that’s where we are – if "Benjamin Button" sucked, fine. But that’s not enough—the makeup sucked, the special effects sucked, the acting probably sucked, too. The cinematography probably sucked. The editing probably sucked. The score probably sucked. The art direction probably sucked. The costumes probably sucked. David Fincher’s mom was probably a cunt, Eric Roth probably molests children; I’m prepared for anything at this point.

It’s an absurd tendency, and I’m disappointed to see it reveal itself with this one particular movie. I have no problem with someone disliking or hating "Benjamin Button"—in fact, some of my favorite write-ups on the film that I’ve read have been of the negative variety—‘cause that’s one thing. But arguing that clearly-excellent makeup work is somehow one of the film’s major pitfalls—and that Jeremy is somehow the only person to have realized this—is pure delusion. The makeup, and 90 percent of the special effects, have every fucking Hollywood technician in the business going apeshit, and that praise is completely separate from any judgments of the quality of the film as a whole (which I’m sure range from "terrible" to "great").

All that being said, I would prefer to see "Hellboy II" take this category – not only for reasons Jeremy correctly stated above, but because certain sequences (i.e. the Troll Market) represented a triumphant and large-scale return to the now "old-fashioned" sensibility that things can be created with models and makeup rather than CGI. Great work all around.

Jeremy says: Uh, you might see some nice things about the work in "Benjamin Button" on other posts, but I'm not going to pretend that the middle-aged Pitt makeup wasn't distractingly bad. And I'm not alone here. Several people have commented on how bad the old Blanchett looked. Slant even predicted that the makeup was so distracting that "Hellboy II" would win. No shit. And those guys said Fincher should win Best Director. So if you want to pretend that I'm only complaining about the makeup because I don't like the movie, go ahead. But don't pretend I'm the only one who found fault.

Chris says: I wasn’t talking about other posts – I was talking about all articles and interviews I’ve read with experts in the field. That’s all. The old Blanchett looked great – to the extent that I’ve seen comments by, once again, other technicians who asked Fincher after the film who the woman was who played the old Daisy. No shit. Perhaps people’s psychology is playing into their reactions – that if they assume or know that it is an extremely recognizable actor wearing makeup, they see flaws (even ones that aren’t there) because the person’s face just looks so wrong.

And unless I’m missing something, that Slant article doesn’t even have a critique of the Makeup category – just a prediction. So what? If Brad Pitt’s face weren’t so well known already, I bet my year’s salary you wouldn’t know the difference if you saw a scene with his middle-aged self.

Jeremy UPDATES: So, in the rush to get this out, I didn't even see this bit, but as a commenter pointed out, Chris was missing something, thanks to Slant's completely whacked Oscar page, which apparently just doesn't show the older stuff. Lame. Anyway, I don't feel compelled to believe experts over my own eyes. Maybe the film was too well focused—hell if I know.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
"Australia" – Catherine Martin
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – Jacqueline West
"The Duchess" – Michael O’Connor
"Milk" – Danny Glicker
"Revolutionary Road" – Albert Wolsky

Quick, which of these period pieces goes back the most in time?

Chris says: Everyone knows that the only movies that actually have costumes are movies with Europeans, corsets, old-fashioned dresses, powdered wigs and, of course, take place in castles. If the movie doesn’t take place in a castle, then what the hell do they care what people are wearing? Be serious.

Sure, they could have nominated the fantastically creative costumes in Tarsem’s "The Fall," or those in the Troll Market sequence in "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," or even the understated 1920s garb in "Leatherheads." Instead? A mediocre movie that nobody saw featuring 18th-Century formal wear will take it. Unless, by some miracle, since nobody saw it, nobody realized it was a period piece and they honor the more interesting period clothing of "Milk" or "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Nah.

OK, let’s make a deal, Academy – you can give do what you always do and honor "The Duchess," but only if you have Keira Knightley and her co-star recreate that weird lesbian scene from the middle of the movie on stage. Then they can have their damn Oscar – I’ll be too tired to argue with you anymore.

Jeremy says: Yeah, after the "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" debacle, I can't argue against "The Duchess." My own preference would be for Danny Glicker's subtle work in "Milk," and Jacqueline West's work on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which was both detailed and spanned multiple decades.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
"The Conscience of Nhem En," Steven Okazaki
"The Final Inch," Irene Taylor Brodsky, Tom Grantt
"Smile Pinki," Megan Mylan
"The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306," Adam Pertofsky, Margaret Hyde

Best Short Film, Animated
"La Maison en petits cubes," Kunio Katô
"Ubornaya istoriya – lyubovnaya istoriya," Konstantin Bronzit
"Oktapodi," Emud Mokhberi, Thierry Marchand
"Presto," Doug Sweetland
"This Way Up," Alan Smith, Adam Foulkes

Best Short Film, Live Action
"Auf der Strecke," Reto Caffe
"Manon sur le bitume," Elizabeth Marre, Olivier Pont
"New Boy," Steph Green, Tamara Anghie
"Grisen," Tivi Magnusson, Dorthe Warnø Høgh
"Spielzeugland," Jochen Alexander Freydank

Some of these films are longer than others, but none of them are long.

Jeremy says: Is it wise to bet against the Holocaust at Osar time? If not, then you better favor "Spielzeugland" ("Toyland") for Best Live Action Short. It’s about a mom who tells her son that the Jews are being hauled off to Toyland. This, of course, only makes the boy want to go to this paradise with his Jewish friend. In one scene, the mother tells him he can’t go because it’s too far away, but then wisely volunteers that they have enormous teddy bears to play with there. Why not also tell him that he can’t go because he’ll get sick from all the candy? "The streets of concentration camps are paved with chocolate and the houses made out of gingerbread, son, but seriously, you don’t want to go there!" I’d give the award to "Manon sur le bitume" ("Manon on the Asphalt"), a tone poem about life in the context of death, although I also enjoyed "Grisen" ("The Pig.")

For animation, I’ll have to favor "La Maison en petits cubes," the only film that goes for emotion and nostalgia over laughs. The Academy doesn’t reward comedies because its members hate joy. "Maison" also offers the most expressionistic, beautiful visual scheme of all the entries. With the exception of the line-drawn "Lavatory Lovestory," the other works are slapstick 3-D CG that won’t hit the voters’ hearts. "Oktapodi," an amusing two-minute chase, and "This Way Up," about two undertakers who can’t seem to get their corpse to its grave, offers a fun series of gags, but neither match the ingenuity of my favorite nominee, Pixar’s "Presto," a consistently inventive play on the magician-bunny relationship. Pixar shorts never win unless Pixar’s feature loses. I don’t anticipate a "WALL-E" upset.

I haven’t seen any of the documentaries, but have heard that they’re all pretty strong, and their subjects make Oscar cream his pants. Just kidding. Oscar doesn’t wear pants. He just sprays semen all over the Shrine Theater’s floor.

Anyway, the category offers two shorts about impoverished children in India, one featuring recollections about the assassination of Martin Luther King and one about the Khmer Rouge. Come on, throw us predictors a bone! The Academy loves all that shit. Uh, assuming that a "Slumdog" tie-in helps the Indian nominees, we can choose between "Smile Pinki," about the difficulties of poor kids with cleft lips and the noble plastic surgeons who help them for free, and "The Final Inch," about people trying to stop the spread of polio. Hrm. I’m gonna go with polio.

Chris says: Unlike many other years, I haven’t been able to see many of the shorts yet. But I can guess what they’re about based on their titles and form my opinions that way. "The Conscience of Nhem En" is probably about Vietnam or Cambodia, so that sounds important. I’m guessing "The Final Inch" is a documentation of Jeremy’s recent penis enlargement surgery. That’s probably also the subject of "Smile Pinki." Let’s see ... "The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306" has the coolest title and is probably about a sniper. Sounds like a winner.

"La Maison en petits cubes" is probably about diminutive cubist masons, combining sinister religious practices with midgets and the avant-garde, three of my favorite subjects. "Ubornaya, etc, etc…" is Russian, and I think we’re still fighting them. "Oktapodi" is probably about octopuses, who murdered a friend of mine—that one is right out. "Presto" is the one I actually saw, and it was awesome. "This Way Up" is probably just 30 minutes in the life of a fragile parsel until it gets delivered at the correct address in a prompt amount of time—and it’s probably made by that guy who did the Zidane documentary. I’ll be rooting for "Presto," but I’m going to say that the diminutive cubist masons take it.

As for the last one…let’s see. "Auf der Strecke" is probably a remake of its namesake, "On the Line," which starred Lance Bass of N’Sync fame. That one’s out. "Manon sur le bitume" is probably a remake of "Manon of the Spring," since the first word is the same. That one’s out. "New Boy" is probably about childbirth, so a vagina might be involved. "Grisen" sounds like "Grayson" in a thick Aussie accent, which leads me to believe it’s about Batman’s sidekick, Robin (real name: Dick Grayson), and he was a retarded character. And "Spielzeugland" sounds like it’s about a secret country only rich people know about. (Tipping my hat to "30 Rock.") I’m saying that’s the winner.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton, Craig Barron
"The Dark Knight" – Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Timothy Webber, Paul J. Franklin
"Iron Man" – John Nelson, Ben Snow, Daniel Sudick, Shane Mahan

Chris says: This is the part where I anticipate Jeremy’s turbulent reaction to the very possibility of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" garnering any Oscars whatsoever, even in a category it so clearly deserves. To be clear: The visual effects on display are not all perfect; there are some problem areas. But by and large, they do work, and they are the result of rare artistry, a (usually) keen sense of detail and even some technological breakthrough. That’s the definition of this category.

That said, the effects in both "The Dark Knight" and "Iron Man" were quite good as well – not to mention the criminally overlooked work on "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" and even "Speed Racer." And let’s take a moment to thank the Academy for not nominating "The Incredible Hulk" or some other special-effects monstrosity.

Jeremy says: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" will win because not only are many of its effects wow-inducing, but it tackles the medium in such a broad way, touching on its many different facets. However, I won't let Chris's crazy accusations sway me from criticizing it. I live by a rule that if the special effects are so distracting that they detract from multiple scenes in a movie, they're probably not award-worthy. Ironically, the scenes featuring the freakish not-old-man-not-baby Brad Pitt look amazing.

Like in the makeup department, it's the smaller stuff that looks shoddy. Many shots in general look overly processed (that Tugboat was really distracting), but the worst are the ones in which the CG tries to turn Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt into their young selves with freakish airbrush computer effects worthy of "The Polar Express." Seriously, if "Benjamin Button" had been cut to an 85-minute highlight reel, I'd dip my recently enlarged penis—now famous thanks to the short documentary nominees—in gold and give it to the effects team myself. But we have to judge the whole film, and there are effects in it that just plain suck. I'm sorry if this proves my evil plot to destroy David Fincher.

"The Dark Knight" doesn't necessarily equal the best moments of "Button," but its stunning depiction of Gotham City, created through augmentation of existing Chicago architecture, deserves to win. (But I agree that "Hellboy II" really deserves the award.)

Chris says:: That’s fair, and I apologize for assuming you’d just be criticizing everything. I was mistaken. One of my points was few films—even those with great special effects—have perfect special effects, and the more effects you have, the greater the chance that some are going to be flawed. However, I will repeat much of what I said before— if you didn’t know Brad Pitt from Adam and simply happened upon that ultra-youthful version that waltzes into the dance studio, you wouldn’t know the difference. I’ve re-examined the scene and it’s a stunning effect – off-putting, because we know Pitt’s face so well. The face has texture, it has the natural lines and creases that even young faces have and, most tellingly, it looks just like Brad Pitt circa “A River Runs Through It.”

But I do completely agree on some of those middle scenes with Cate as a dancer, with her distractingly over-airbrushed face.

Best Achievement in Sound
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Mark Weingarten
"The Dark Knight" – Ed Novick, Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo
"Slumdog Millionaire" – Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke, Resul Pookutty
"WALL-E" – Tom Myers, Michael Semanick, Ben Burtt
"Wanted" – Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño, Peter Forejt

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
"The Dark Knight" – Richard King
"Iron Man" – Frank E. Eulner, Christopher Boyes
"Slumdog Millionaire" – Tom Sayers
"WALL-E" – Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood
"Wanted" – Wylie Stateman

Jeremy says: I would give "WALL-E" the award, for creating immersive, subtle soundscapes that bring its brilliantly designed environments to life. But the Academy tends to prefer loud shit, Best Picture winners and stuff that showcases how deaf people hear. I mean, there’s hardly any dialogue in "WALL-E," so they didn’t have to do anything with the sound! Given the absence of the latter and the low-profile of "Wanted," I narrowed this one down to "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Dark Knight." I’m going to assume that the "Slumdog" land won’t slide this far, and go for "The Dark Knight" in both categories. But it’s a hard call – "Slumdog" could at least win mixing.

Chris says: When it comes to the winner of this category, they usually go for most sound rather than best sound. In that case, I think "Wanted" would win. Then again, look at the guy who’s nominated for that movie – Wylie Stateman. There’s no way that’s a real name, or a real person. That sounds like a cartoon chipmunk who goes around wearing a business suit or something. Disqualified.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d say they’ll try to make up for "The Dark Knight’s" best picture snub by giving it the second- and third-most prestigious categories – sound and sound editing. But despite my insistence that "TDK" is the best movie of the year, "WALL-E" gets my vote in both of these categories. There’s so much subtle and clever work in the sound design that I found myself enjoying just listening to the movie once when I was in the other room.

However, my favorite sound design of the year – for a movie that was roundly ignored – was for Gus Van Sant’s "Paranoid Park," as it is absolutely the central piece of the film’s mood and style. Props also to the sound work on "The Wrestler" (didn’t any Academy voters watch the final scene?!) and "Reprise"…which, of course, nobody saw.

Jeremy says: Just wanted to agree with Chris about "Paranoid Park." And "The Wrestler" definitely deserves a nod.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Alexandre Desplat, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Danny Elfman, "Milk"
James Newton Howard, "Defiance"
Thomas Newman, "WALL-E"
A.R. Rahman, "Slumdog Millionaire"

Chris says: Wait, what the fuck? Didn’t John Williams score a movie? Wait, didn’t he score all of those movies? Doesn’t he do the music for everything? Are those all pseudonyms? You clever dog, you.

Oh, I see what the problem is—John spent most of his time scoring that subpar "Indiana Jones" sequel using the series’ already-established score, which probably would have gotten it disqualified anyway. So there you have it. Since the Academy didn’t nominate my favorite score of the year—Carter Burwell’s work for "In Bruges"—I’ll have to go with Alexandre Desplat for his "Benjamin Button" score, a brooding and evocative piece of music that blended seamlessly into the drama. (Right about now, Jeremy’s all like, "But the movie sucked! Therefore it doesn’t deserve ANY awards given for individual merit! WAAAAAAAAAAA! My stogie! WAAAAAAAA!")

One of the interesting things about this category is that Elfman, Howard and Newman are three of the best and most well-established composers in the business, yet they don’t have a single Oscar between them in 22 nominations. I admired Elfman’s stylistic departure in "Milk" and have always been a great fan of Howard, but don’t think "Defiance" is the work for which he should be recognized. (Then again, the ship sailed on his "Unbreakable" and "King Kong" scores…)

Jeremy says: Well, I was gonna pick Desplat as my favorite, but Chris just said I couldn't, so instead I'll just say this: But "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" sucked! Therefore it doesn’t deserve ANY awards given for individual merit! WAAAAAAAAAAA! My stogie! WAAAAAAAA!" So it'd be nice to see Elfman or New-ton or -man win, but A.R. Rahman made a shitload of noise in "Slumdog Millionaire," and the music is both entertaining and an important part of the "Slumdog" experience that the Academy loved so much. So it'll get the award.

Chris says: Once again, my apologies. I just remember you said you couldn’t support it winning any awards, so I made a false assumption. That, and I wanted to get a Baby Herman reference in there. Now THAT movie was a technological breakthrough.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
"Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire" – A.R. Rahman, Sampooran Singh Gulzar
"O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire" – A.R. Rahman, Sampooran Singh Gulzar
"Down to Earth" from "WALL-E" – Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman

Jeremy says: Well, this one will deservedly go to Bruce Springsteen for his excellent song, "The Wrestler," from the film of the same name. The song nails the story and its character so well, you could swear it was an age-old Springsteen relic, resurrected for its quiet, noble beauty.

Wait, what the fuck? "The Wrestler" was passed over so we could have two fucking songs from "Slumdog Millionaire"? I didn’t even know there were two songs in "Slumdog Millionaire." There wasn’t one memorable one.

I guess my favorite of the nominees is "Down to Earth," but shit, I don’t know which one will win. Thomas Newman has been nominated for 10 Oscars – why would he win one now?

The titles don’t help me out. Is that even English? I can’t understand these silly fake languages! Give it to "Jai Ho."

Chris says: I could just sit here and call the Academy a bunch of fucking twats for not nominating Springsteen’s "The Wrestler," then follow up that gem by doing a jerk-off motion with my right hand. But I’ve got my friend The Anonymous Academy Member sitting here with me—via hologram technology, of course—and he’s racked with guilt at the unforgivable snub and wondering what he should do.


Academy Member: Should I call all the people we’ve snubbed over the years, and apologize?

Bruce Springsteen: You call, you ask them how they are and see if they’ve forgiven you.

AM: Yeah, and then I feel good. And they feel good.

Bruce: They feel good, maybe. But you feel better.

AM: I’d feel clean and calm.

Bruce: That’s what you’re lookin’ for, you know, get ready to start again. It’d be good for you.

AM: Great, even.

Bruce: Give that big final good luck and goodbye to your top-three songs of the year and just move on down the road.


I abstain from making a prediction, based on mitigating factors.

Best Achievement in Art Direction
"Changeling" – James J. Murakami, Gary Fettis
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – Donald Graham Burt, Victor J. Zolfo
"The Dark Knight" – Nathan Crowley, Peter Lando
"The Duchess" – Michael Carlin, Rebecca Alleway
"Revolutionary Road" – Kristi Zea, Debra Schutt

Chris says: Castles, expansive gardens, tea parties, pretty costumes, wheeeee! It’s the 18th Century again! Ergo, art direction Oscar! We don’t even have to pay attention to the stunning design of the troll market in "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." Was Hellboy wearing a powdered wig? No, he wasn’t, duh. Ergo, no Oscar!

Wait…what’s that? "Rachel Getting Married"? There definitely wasn’t any production design there. Did you see Anne Hathaway walking around in a poofy dress through an expansive marble corridor? I didn’t think so.

That said, this category actually has a chance to go not to "The Duchess," but to "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and deservingly so.

Jeremy says: Yeah, I think "Button" can take this one from "The Duchess." It spans a lot of periods, and the work is fine in each of them. I'm quite fond of "The Dark Knight's" Gotham via Chicago, which of course Nathan Crowley started in "Batman Begins." And the understated, working-class stylings of "The Changeling" are quite impressive, especially if you don't count the special effects against them. All in all, this is a category of respectable nominees, although both "Hellboy II" and "WALL-E" deserved nods, along with a few other films that had no chance because, good god, they were contemporary stories!

Best Achievement in Editing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter
"The Dark Knight" – Lee Smith
"Frost/Nixon" – Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill
"Milk" – Elliot Graham
"Slumdog Millionaire" – Chris Dickens

Jeremy says: OK, so I suppose I have to predict Chris Dickens’ "Slumdog Millionaire" work for this, even though the editing is uneven and often goes for the same cheap suspense as … wait for it … wait a little longer … OK, I’m gonna tell you now … once you wait once more … really now … the same cheap suspense as…a TV game show.

But "Slumdog’s" owes much of its kinetic vibe to Dickens, and I can’t see him being overlooked. I’d go for the more deserving "The Dark Knight" as a potential upsetter, due to its position as an action film full of showy set-pieces, but think that the complaints over its spacial incoherence may kill its chances.

"Frost/Nixon" only stands out for the cross-cutting in the interview scenes, and will remain forgotten for the entire Oscar ceremony, except when presenters read the nominees out and the three audience members who are paying attention say, "Oh yeah, ‘Frost/Nixon.’" "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" actually displays disciplined, consistent editing, but unfortunately that editing works toward a pace slower than the earth-recovery plan from "WALL-E."

Elliot Graham deserves to win for his willingness to let the takes in "Milk" play out, and his refusal to fall back on predictable cutaway shots. Of course, if you ain’t cutting, the Academy ain’t noticing, so forget about an award for "Milk" here. Plus, according to my local politician and personal hero Chris Buttars, "Milk" may be responsible for 9/11 and the fall of the economy.

Chris says: Whoa, whoa – disciplined and consistent editing. Woo-hoo! I like it, comrade! Next thing you know, I’ll have persuaded you to compliment the excellent title cards.

But you and I agree! Yep, the editing is pretty fuckin’ disciplined and pretty fuckin’ consistent. "The Dark Knight" should win for editing, undeserved complaints over "spatial incoherence" notwithstanding. But since it’s not nominated for BP, it has no chance in this one. "Slumdog" it is.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
"Changeling" – Tom Stern
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – Claudio Miranda
"The Dark Knight" – Wally Pfister
"The Reader" – Roger Deakins, Chris Menges
"Slumdog Millionaire" – Anthony Dod Mantle

Chris says: I was a bit surprised that Anthony Dod Mantle won the American Society of Cinematographers’ annual feature-film award this weekend—mainly because the other nominees seemed to be so much stronger. There was a lot of visual energy in "Slumdog Millionaire," but its overall visual style was like a family-friendly "City of God"-lite. I’d much rather see Claudio Miranda’s gorgeous photography on "Benjamin Button"—with its rich, old-fashioned color palettes and barrage of shots that you could freeze-frame and put on your wall—or Wally Pfister’s impressive work on "The Dark Knight" get honored. But it looks like Mantle is emerging as a favorite. However, his name reminds me of former Yankee Mickey Mantle, which causes me to distrust him.

The Academy would have been wise – and ballsy – to recognize "WALL-E" in this category, but naturally, animated films don’t seem to get taken as seriously in this category, either. I’d also consider "The Wrestler," "Reprise," "Standard Operating Procedure" and, perhaps most obviously of all, "The Fall" in this category.

I would love to see the world’s best cinematographer, Roger Deakins, finally win one, but I’m a bit confused as to how much work he did on "The Reader" and how much credit goes to Chris Menges instead. Either way, I thought Deakins’ better work this year was in "Revolutionary Road," where he utilized a really interesting blend of pastels and muted greys to express what the film otherwise couldn’t. It was the best part of a film that was otherwise an enormous piece of dogshit that pitted two characters in a mind-numbing battle royale of who could say the emptiest things the loudest, written by someone who seems to have all the emotional and intellectual maturity of that depressed ninth grader who sat in the back of the class dressed all in black, never talked and wrote crappy poetry about despair, yet somehow got a few people to take it seriously.

Chris’ Sixth-Grade English Teacher: That last sentence was a run-on, Chris.

Chris: You’re a condescending bitch and I’ve always wanted to tell you that.

Jeremy says: My sixth-grade teacher was very supporting of my writing. Oh yeah—cinematography.

It seems that all the awards organizations got together and decided that it'd be silly to honor any film that isn't "Slumdog Millionaire." I mean, come on. No other film was any good. Come on! Oh, we have a guest to add something:


GOB Bluth: Come on!


Thanks, GOB.

As for my favorite, Wally Pfister's work on "The Dark Knight" was nice and moody, and deserves to win amongst the Claudio Miranda's cinematography was often evocative and beautiful, although I've already commented on the over-processing on many of his shots. I'd like to see Sam Levy here for the observant, rich colors of "Wendy and Lucy."

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – Eric Roth, Robin Swicord
"Doubt" – John Patrick Shanley
"Frost/Nixon" – Peter Morgan
"The Reader" – David Hare
"Slumdog Millionaire" – Simon Beaufoy

Jeremy says: Sweet Jesus. Are these really the choices?

I mean, really?

Simon Beaufoy looks to be the winner for "Slumdog Millionaire," a script that executes its serial structure reasonably well, and creates two compelling characters. But the film owes more of its success to the emotionally on-the-nose direction and the charismatic actors. And it’s hard to give the screenplay a free pass for the incredibly sloppy handling of its third principal character. But the entire Academy was apparently balling at the end of the film, and that’s all that counts.

"Button" screenwriters Eric Roth and Robin Swicord don’t even seem to know whose story they’re telling as they drift from one dull character to the next without ever creating a meaningful interaction. Then they trade narrators three-quarters in, just so they can go on saying nothing for a little longer.

David Hare managed to work a more compelling structure into "The Reader" than he did "The Hours," but it remains a fairly run-of-the-mill prestige screenplay that falls apart if you don’t buy the mid-film revelation. [Author's note: This was written at four in the morning as we were rushing to get this done, and I have no idea what I meant to say. It definitely wasn't what I actually wrote. I think it was maybe about following the same characters as it moved through time, or something. Anyhow, after I reread it I was going to delete it prior to publication, but then since Chris responded directly to it, I left it in.

My should-win choice favors the two playwrights who changed their font to Courier and reformatted the pages of their scripts. But while Peter Morgan’s "Frost/Nixon" apes a fairly simple underdog sports structure, John Patrick Shanley’s "Doubt" continually challenges expectations and heads in surprising directions. I’m not saying there aren’t parts of the screenplay about which I have my doubts (wink, wink), but amongst this sorry lot, I have my certainty.

Chris says: Uh ... "Doubt" continually surprises us and challenges expectations? You mean, like, that one time it does?

Uh ... the structure in "The Reader" is more compelling than that of "The Hours"? Is it? Explain one thing to me—why does the film use Fiennes as the framework from the very beginning? What purpose does his older self serve until the third act? Just so we can see he’s reminiscing, and how sad and detached he is? Aww. More likely, they were just looking for a way to increase Fiennes’ screen time. Not to mention how banal and lifeless the whole story is – not to mention its absurd idea of redemption. I’m not exactly crazy about "The Hours"—which appeared on your top-10 list, let me remind you – but it was much more interesting than this lazy piece of shit.

Jeremy interrupts to say: Fair enough. Just a reminder—I don't think any of these films deserved nomination, and was merely trying to work with what I had. I thought "The Reader" pulled off its structure better than its characters. And I didn't really think the character earned redemption. As for "Doubt," it continually moved to different plot points than I expected. Maybe you were more in tune with it.

Chris continues: Which brings me to "Frost/Nixon" – a better movie than "The Reader," but certainly not a great one. When it all comes down to it, here’s what our structure is – we’ve got a bunch of interview segments, during which people talk about a televised interview from the past, during which people talked about something else from the past. How many different things can you reminisce about in one movie without actually getting to anything? Peter Morgan also decided to throw in Rebecca Hall as a meaningless puppet whose character serves no purpose whatsoever, just for good measure. And he managed to make this story far less interesting than a documentary on the same exact subject would have been. Now that is an accomplishment.

As for "Benjamin Button" – first of all, Swicord didn’t write it, she only got the story credit. Aside from that, the screenplay (and film as a whole) is a far more complex study than you give it credit for, examining—as I said before, in an aborted addendum to our debut podcast following your post-recording session non-sequitur—a great many truths and paradoxes about the human experience. The way it utilizes Benjamin’s backward-aging plight as a kind of connective tissue between contrasting elements, and explores how those elements (young/old, hope/regret, past/future, perception/reality, wisdom/naivete, knowledge/discovery, design/chance) are pulled apart or pushed together depending on circumstance is a rare treat. That which in real life comes as a surprise is, in "Benjamin Button," merely an inevitability. The mutually exclusive become the inseparable.

Your complaint about the structure – that he arbitrarily moves from character to character – is unfair; that’s a very common screenplay technique that I don’t recall you having a philosophical problem with before. It is the road movie; the travelogue. It is episodic by design, because the most important element, as with those aforementioned prototypes, is the character on the road, the character writing the travelogue. As for the meaning of these characters…look, if you couldn’t see how Benjamin and each major character he encountered served as mirrors for one another…well, I don’t really know what to tell you. Even the clockmaker story isn’t nearly as disconnected as you seem to think. The starting of the clock is clearly the moment of Benjamin’s birth (or conception, if you prefer) and that should have been clear. To me, that suggested that he was a product of a world of disorder; a representative anomaly. That he dies shortly after the clock is taken down should have made it even more clear. And that the clock washed away—along with Daisy and the book which held all the evidence that this anomaly ever existed—should have made its purpose clearer still.

But that’s OK! That’s the way it goes. Be fascinated by "Doubt," by all means.

But I kid, I kid. On the plus side, you were right on about "Frost/Nixon’s" hackneyed sports-movie structure, and I think we’re in total agreement on "Slumdog Millionaire" – although I don’t think either of us has mentioned Freida Pinto’s unconscionable hotness. Shame on us.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
"Frozen River" – Courtney Hunt
"Happy-Go-Lucky" – Mike Leigh
"In Bruges" – Martin McDonagh
"Milk" – Dustin Lance Black
"WALL-E" – Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Jim Reardon

Chris says: The absurd and unwarranted hype surrounding "Frozen River" is most absurd, and most unwarranted," in this category. You’re going to leave a baby out in the middle of the frozen river, and that’s your idea of honest dramatic tension? Really? You’re going to introduce the Ominous-Looking Police Officer, then cheaply (and transparently) try to tease us with one of those "did you know you’ve got yourself a busted tail-light?" scenes? Really? You’re going to make everything magically better at the end? Really? Really, Courtney Hunt? You put your name on that?

Well, since they somehow didn’t nominate "Rachel Getting Married" in this category and, as expected, didn’t honor the funniest, most complex and most insightful script of the year in "Synecdoche, New York," I’m actually going to go with "In Bruges" in this one. The film is full of surprises – both the drama and comedy seem to come out of unexpected moments and come up with unique insights in the process. I’d love to see "Happy-Go-Lucky" get honored, but given how much the film’s success (and that of most of Mike Leigh’s work) has to do with his direction and the improvisation between the actors on set, it wouldn’t necessarily be the best category for it to win. Then again, that category was Best Actress, and the Academy fucked that shit up something awful. So I’d be fine with that.

"WALL-E" is a masterpiece and it deserves attention here, but I would have rather see it nominated in the Best Director or Best Picture races. This seems like the "throw this movie a bone" category ("Borat"? "Children of Men"?), and I disapprove.

Having said all that, I think "Milk" is going to take this category—mainly because I don’t think it will take Best Actor. The film deserves some attention and Dustin Lance Black wrote a very good script. However, I would like to disqualify it solely on the basis of the absurd character of the anonymous teen who is not only in the closet, and not only suicidal, but—yep, that’s right—he’s in a wheelchair, too. Really? He has to be in a wheelchair, too? Why don’t you just make him blind and an immigrant, too, while you’re at it?

Jeremy says: Yeah, a gay guy in a wheel chair? Seriously! Whoever heard of that? It was an amplification of the trapped feeling, dude. Black's screenplay was good, but not as good as "WALL-E" or "In Bruges," and certainly not as good as Mike Leigh's funny, observant and poignant "Happy-Go-Lucky."

I completely agree with Chris about "Frozen River." This feels like a student screenplay. It's great to see the Academy recognize an independent screenplay, but why not a good one? Like the fucking "Wrester."

"WALLl-E's" screenplay is totally awesome, and voters loved it, BUT—and here's the thing—there's not a lot of dialogue. And we all know from categories like editing and Costume Design that in Oscarland, Most is Best. So this one will go to "Milk."

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
"Bolt" – Chris Williams, Byron Howard
"Kung Fu Panda" – John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
"WALL-E" – Andrew Stanton

Jeremy says: Ignoring the "Kung Fu Panda" upset at the Annies, it seems to me that "Wall-E" is in a league all its own on this one.

Chris says: Uh ... "WALL-E" is a masterpiece. "Kung Fu Panda" was made by DreamWorks. "WALL-E" is more sophisticated than most non-animated movies; "Kung Fu Panda" was made by DreamWorks. (But that one moment in the acupuncture scene had me on my ass.)

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
"Der Baader Meinhof Komplex" (Germany)
"Entre les murs" (France)
"Revanche" (Austria)
"Okuribito" (Japan)
"Vals Im Bashir" (Israel)

Chris says: As I speak German, I can already tell that the German entry in this category translates to, "The Baader Meinhof Complex," and it sounds intriguing. However, I don’t think that anything is going to stop the momentum of Ari Folman’s "Waltz With Bashir."

Jeremy says: Well, "The Class" might. That means "Entre les murs" in English. Voters do have to watch all these, so it's a hard call.

Best Documentary, Features
"The Betrayal" – Ellen Kuras, Thavisouk Phrasavath
"Encounters at the End of the World" – Werner Herzog, Henry Kaiser
"The Garden" – Scott Hamilton Kennedy
"Man on Wire" – James Marsh, Simon Chinn
"Trouble the Water" – Tia Lessin, Carl Deal

Jeremy says: I saw all these films except for "The Garden," and "Man on Wire" has both the powerful story and the filmmaking chops to take the gold. It’s such a crowd pleaser that if Academy voters weren’t afraid of non-narrative features, it’d probably be up for Best Picture. Marsh weaves a thrilling tale of a heist-like prank that defied death and created a beautiful, surreal, singular moment in history. Honorable mention goes to Herzog’s observant study of the personalities who occupy Antarctica, "Encounters at the End of the World."

The only film I didn’t appreciate here was the aimless "Trouble the Water," which Chris and I mocked in our debut podcast. The film is sloppily assembled and relies more on the likability of its subject than any story it attempts to tell.

And sorry Errol Morris – you may have thought your days of Oscar snubs were behind you, but you were wrong.

Chris says: Yep, you said it, Jeremy – "Man on Wire" was one of the best movies of the year and seems like a lock for this award ... unless voters’ hearts got collectively heavy and they go for ... OK, I almost just suffocated myself. Kind of like "Trouble the Water" suffocated its audience with its shitty filmmaking. (I know, that was lame, but it’s early in the morning.)

"Man on Wire," on the other hand, is an absolutely stunning example of storytelling – the heist-movie dramatics, the beautiful moments when he walks on the wire (and even his previous walks), our own discovery of what this one innocent event meant to these people, before, after and since. It is the kind of film that inexplicably causes you to stop your breath; I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

I did not think "Encounters at the End of the World" was among Herzog’s best work – though I did like it, and it’s nice to see him nominated. Not, however, at the expense of Morris’ "Standard Operating Procedure."

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

Chris says: The Academy are a bunch of fucking twats with cunt-fucking kids. You’ll excuse me, as that is certainly a tame reaction considering their inexplicable snub of Sally Hawkins for Best Actress. That was one of the best performances in years and years, and they didn’t even bother giving her a nod. Poppy is such a full-bodied character that it puts the others in this category to shame – what a warm, cheerful, courageous and charming person, and what an exacting performance. As much as I loved Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married," I’d trade everyone in this category and just nominate Hawkins five times.

As it turns out, Kate Winslet has emerged as the odds-on favorite, which compels me to repeat one scene from the third episode of Ricky Gervais’ great "Extras":


Kate Winslet: I don’t think we need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It’s like, how many have there been? You know, we get it, it was grim. Move on. No, I’m doing it because I’ve noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar. I’ve been nominated four times – never won. The whole world is going, ‘Why hasn’t Winslet won one?’

Andy: Yeah ... yeah.

Kate: That’s it. That’s why I’m doing it. ‘Schindler’s bloody List,’ ‘The Pianist’ – Oscars coming out their ass.


But if there’s to be an upset, leaving the rest of the world outraged at Winslet’s lack of Oscar glory…who’s the likeliest choice? Oh, I have doubt – I have so much doubt!!!

As such, Meryl Streep is disqualified for delivering the worst, most unintentionally funny closing line in the history of closing lines. I’ll say Hathaway, my favorite of the bunch, takes it if Winslet doesn’t.

Jeremy says: I don't even have to look at the list. Sally Hawkins should and will win.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Jeremy says: OK, you can cross out everyone but Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke, especially the terminally boring Brad Pitt, who should have been nominated for carrying "Burn After Reading" from a supporting position.

Now, Penn has a lot going for him. His film is an inspiring biopic, and in it he plays a person who really existed, capturing all his mannerisms. He also imbues the part with a warm, loving personality that takes the character of Harvey Milk away from a historical figure and into a real person. That last bit probably doesn’t concern the Academy, but they saw some old documentary footage of Milk, and Penn sounds just like him!

In the other corner, Rourke taps into the soul of a character who never learned to function in the real world, and only feels comfortable when taking abuse in the professional wrestling ring. The character isn’t imminently likable, and does a lot of bad things, screwing things up for himself and those around him.

Looking only at the facts of the performances on paper, it seems like an easy win for Penn. However, don’t forget how much Hollywood loves a good story. This is Rourke’s big comeback picture, if you don’t count "Sin City" as a comeback picture – and why would you, you churl? The film lived up to all its hype with what is easily the greatest male performance of the year, rivaled only by James Franco in "Pineapple Express."

This might be Rourke’s only shot. Penn, on the other hand, has always given great performances, and will continue to give great performances. And he already has an Oscar. His work in "Milk" will be remembered, but this ain’t his year.

Did that sound authoritative? Because I really have no idea if I’m right. Rourke isn’t the most likable of all Hollywood stars, but then again, neither is Penn. Too bad we didn’t get Tom Hanks’ best performance since "Big" this year, or he could smile, laugh and clear some more room on his mantle.

Chris says: Yeah, but he gave THREE performances in "The Polar Express," each one more creepy and off-putting than the next. Now THAT is impressive.

I’m going to slightly disagree with you on this one, Jeremy. But it’s only slight. I agree with everything you said about Rourke’s performance and found the film as a whole to have a deep understanding of this broken, self-loathing man who has driven himself into a rut. The humanity that Rourke brings out of the role is a stunning display of that unusual, Brando-esque ability to combine a powerful and masculine exterior with a sensitivity and pain that we cannot help but believe, and love.

I also loved Penn’s performance – for an actor who comes across as so intensely unlikable in every interview, he’s able to make us completely forget while we understand this character as a man first, and a political symbol second.

For that matter, while I know they have no shot, I also loved the performances of Jenkins (though I had mixed feelings about "The Visitor") and Pitt. You may call him terminally boring if you like, but I thought the performance was fascinating – the way he reacted to his backward adolescence, his reserved facial expressions throughout his upbringing, the way he becomes more and more distant as the film moves along, forever a complete outsider, someone not quite in on the joke. I thought it played beautifully. However, he’s out – and, for that matter, I would have rather seen him win for "12 Monkeys," or get nominated for "Fight Club," "Snatch," "Burn After Reading," or "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

But that’s beside the point. I think that Rourke is going to come out with it – I don’t see anything stopping his momentum – though I would have liked to see the Academy think outside the box and nominated Colin Farrell for his poignant and hysterical role as a guilt-riddled one-time hitman in “In Bruges,” or Philip Seymour Hoffman for “Synecdoche, New York.”

But back to the actual nominees – call it a gut feeling or a cynical one, but I somehow see a slight chance of an out-of-the-blue, Brody-esque upset, and that would be in the form of Frank Langella. Now, this has nothing to do with my opinion of his performance, or the film as a whole. In fact, throughout the movie, never for one second was I not aware that this was an actor, putting on a fake voice. It’s too obvious. Why must he try to sound just like him, in order to portray him? On stage is different; this is a film, and the relationship between audience and performer is completely different. You already look nothing like him, Frank – why must you pretend to sound like him? The performance would have been much better off if he had just found a comfortable speaking voice – one that sounds reminiscent, sure, but not one that sounds like you’re just doing sketch comedy – and created the character from within, rather than through superficialities.

Anyway, Langella seems to be enormously respected throughout the industry, he’s been doing this for a long time, he’s never won anything, and he certainly has more friends in the Academy than does Rourke. I’m not saying it will happen; I’m saying I wouldn’t be completely shocked.

I mean, for God’s sake, he was Skeletor.

Best Achievement in Directing
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire,"
Stephen Daldry, "The Reader"
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Gus Van Sant, "Milk"

Chris says: Look, when it comes to directors, we plebians need look no further than the cinematic bible itself, Entertainment Weekly. After all, they said in a recent issue – in one of their bulletproof top-25 lists – that Ron Howard is the 20th best director alive, two spots ahead of Paul Thomas Anderson? How wrong we all have been, all this time. There must be something I – not to mention everyone else – am not seeing with his exceedingly competent, yet impersonal and imitative directorial style. This is an Oscar winner, folks.

All kidding aside – and yes, I can only assume that an EW list that ranks Zack Snyder as the 16th best director on the planet is all done in jest – there are two great directors on the list (Fincher and Van Sant), two decent ones (Boyle and Howard) and one OK one (Daldry). Or maybe two OK ones. Whatever. That’s right, guys – don’t nominate Christopher Nolan for changing the face of a genre; nominate the guy who got to spend hours a day with a naked Kate Winslet, and all for a movie no one really liked. Nice job.

Anyway, I think the director and picture races will split this year. I don’t think "Benjamin Button" will get any of the major categories, and it won’t win the top prize. But since it got 13 nominations, and since Boyle is hardly considered a visionary, I say they honor Fincher, even if it’s for the wrong reasons – the wrong reasons being, "hey, it’s an expensive, star-studded epic, it MUST be great!" And while I would have gone for other films and other directors if I had my way, Fincher’s my horse in this race, so I’ll be happy. Here, he crafted a beautiful film so exacting in its detail and unique in its stylistic and thematic approach that even the great Jeremy Mathews (and I mean that genuinely) can’t seem to understand it. ’Tis a shame.

On that note, ladies and gentlemen, without further adieu—the guy who mocks "Benjamin Button" but who somehow didn’t think "Irreversible" was a cheap, shallow gimmick, let’s have a round of applause!

Jeremy says: Ouch—a pre-emptive strike in the form of an attack on a film I reviewed seven years ago! You cut me to my core, my formidable opponent. My problem with "Benjamin Button" isn't Fincher's impressive, usually detailed direction, but that Eric Roth's screenplay is so terribly shallow that Fincher can't seem to find anything to do with it. While there are a few inspired segments, the film lacks any real thrust to its story of a life that is pretty much like any other life, except the guy looks goofy. He doesn't even look like an old man as a child, just as a weirdo. Most of his experiences are like everyone else's—not very interesting. Fincher approaches the overt weepiness that the screenplay pushes toward—especially in its logically inconsistent ending—with a calculated, distant and technically excellent approach. But at the same time, certain parts of the film are over-processed and distractingly so. It might not bother some, but it annoys the hell out of me.

I was also tempted to predict a split with Best Picture, in the form of my favorite director of the bunch, Gus Van Sant, but I think that "Slumdog Millionaire" is just too much of a juggernaut, and Boyle will win easily. I hope I'm wrong.

I would have liked to see Cristian Mungiu', Mike Leigh, Darren Aronofsky, Kelly Reichardt, Andrew Stanton, David Gordon Green or the other Gus Van Sant here, too, but whatever. The Best Director nominations were just as boring as the Best Picture choices. Speaking of which…

Best Motion Picture of the Year
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" – Cean Chaffin, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall
"Frost/Nixon" – Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Eric Fellner
"Milk" – Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks
"The Reader" – Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Donna Gigliotti, Redmond Morris
"Slumdog Millionaire" – Christian Colson

Jeremy says: Nothing can stop the surprise "Slumdog" rampage that has dominated this whole award season. The film is undeniably entertaining, and as an emotional roller-coaster through pop poverty, it works. But it sadly lacks any real punch, especially when it comes to the big brother, a weak caricature who lacks any dimension.

While I'm overall quite unimpressed with these nominees, Gus Van Sant's "Milk" stands out as the strongest of the bunch. Through intimate personal observations, Van Sant brings weight and emotion that many by-the-numbers biopics lack. Also, Van Sant made "Paranoid Park," which should have been nominated for Best Picture.

I'm happy that Chris found so much meaning in "Benjamin Button," but I can't help but wonder how he found such an interesting collection of emotions in such a tired collection of clichés and bad metaphors. I have no problem with episodic structures, so long as they serve a purpose. In the (curious) case of "Button," the film seems merely to be killing time between changes in Brad Pitt's makeup. Other than the bittersweet Tilda Swinton section, Button is so aloof and so inconsequential that he doesn't react or glean anything meaningful from his encounters, which is why they feel so pointless and rudimentary. (Also, I understood the implications of the clock opening—just not the purpose of the story.)

"Frost/Nixon" and "The Reader" are both standard award bait, and the Academy bit. What a shame that a year after "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" earned nominations, we've gone back to the kind of shit that Oscar is routinely mocked for. Bravo.

Chris says: I agree that the nominations were disappointing overall—to the extent that I’m less excited about this awards show than in many years past. Especially since the rumors about Ricky Gervais didn’t come true—boy, he would have had a field day with “The Reader.” But even while I was a big fan of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” if it were up to me, none of these five would be nominated. The Academy would have been brave to nominate two smash hits like “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E,” instead of opting for such easier, typical Oscar fare that happened to be about Very Important Things. Damn you, Harvey Weinstein!

“Slumdog” seems like the clear winner, so I’m not holding out hope for anything else. But in the spirit of “The Wrestler,” if this were a WWE event (and let’s be honest, its credibility is teetering on that very ledge), they would announce “Slumdog” as the Best Picture winner, and right when the winners were walking up the steps to the stage, Christian Bale would fly onto the stage in full costume, Christopher Nolan would leap from the rafters and scissor-kick Danny Boyle and grab the Oscar out of that movie’s undeserving hands.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Slant article HAD a Best Makeup thing, but it seems to have been pushed off the page, as it was one of the first ones they did. Chalk it up to bad coding.

http://www.slantmagazine.com/blog/default.asp?display=337

"It's probably foolish to immediately write off the movie nominated in 12 other categories, but if there was one moment in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that threw me clean out of the movie's up-to-then pretty seamless illusion, it was the moment the crane shot landed on Brad Pitt on that fishing boatthe precise point where the visual effects team hands the reigns of ancient Pitt over to the makeup team, who handle middle-aged Pitt. Granted, the movie doesn't truly get lost in Uncanny Valley until the VFX team makes their encore performance to turn the clock back (forward?) on Pitt's face, suggesting a PIXAR remake of Legends of the Fall. In any case, Benjamin Button has to have a better shot than The Dark Knight, unless all 38 Academy members who are both male and under 40 want to show their gratitude for helping them out with their Halloween costumes this year. (Like elderly Pitt, Two-Face is really more a VFX triumph.) Though Academy members might find its rogue's gallery a lot less Alice in Wonderland and a lot more Hellraiser, we're betting Guillermo Del Toro's Oscar goodwill continues here."

Stewf said...

I just want you to know that in all my years of internet addiction this is the longest blog post I have ever read. And I don't give a hoot about the Oscars.

Jeremy Mathews said...

Brent Sallay dubbed one edition of it "the only Oscars article that's longer than the Oscars." That year, however, the article was probably twice as long.

Chris Bellamy said...

Stewf, I speak for both Jeremy and myself when I say that we take that as a challenge. We're going twice as long next year.

Jeremy Mathews said...

For more detail about how we plan to make it twice as long, see "The Final Inch."

Jay said...

Dr. King Deserves Better in Charlotte, NC!

http://drkingdeservesbetter.blogspot.com/2007/02/dr-king-deserves-better.html

Brent Sallay said...

Here is my contribution to this year's discussion of the Oscars: Yawn.

For the record, if this will settle the debate at all, I would like to point out that I didn't really find the make-up in Ben Button distracting, though in the interest of full disclosure, I did watch a crappy bootleg of it on my 17" computer monitor, all the time with my hand on my forehead, just waiting, waiting for it all to end. So I dunno, that might have impacted my viewing experience a little.

That, and The Reader was one of the worst pieces of garbage in a year full of garbage in which no one came to collect the garbage and so now there is all this garbage left here, what am I supposed to do with it? Seriously, they should put an X after Kate Winslet's name in the annals of Oscar history, like they do for those athletes that set records while on steroids.

Ah well, at least Wall-E won something...

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