Sunday, February 24, 2008

Obligatory (Pre-) Oscar Post

It's Oscar night. What better time to clear up some confusion about the purpose of the Oscars. The Oscars are not, as only the feeble-minded could possibly believe, meant to celebrate outstanding achievement in the cinematic arts or anything like that. On the contrary, they are an important cultural touchstone precisely because they provide the bronze standard against which the rest of us can measure our own snobbishness. How could self-defined, self-important film critics like me showcase our superior intelligence and taste if we didn't have an establishment account to disagree with? How could we prove that we are serious film people, except by showing off our familiarity with all the contenders (unlike certain other people) and our opinion on their relative merits? Without the Oscars we would run the risk of actually finding ourselves in agreement with everyone else. This way we can play it safe.

Of course, just beating up on the Oscars afterwards is a tad unsporting. To keep things fair, one must have the decency to pick the nominees one thinks should win beforehand, rather than ascribe merit afterwards to those who lose. With that in mind, here's my list of films I'd like to see winning tonight - films I think should win are marked with a #, films I haven't seen are marked with a *.

Best motion picture of the year
"Michael Clayton"*
"No Country for Old Men" #
"There Will Be Blood"

I'm not really that fond of No Country, but of the three nominees I've seen, it's easily the best. Now if I'm Not There / Across the Universe had been nominated, this would have been a different story.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
George Clooney in "Michael Clayton"*
Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" #
Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah"*
Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises"*

Ya, ya, let's get it over with already. I'll be happy if that's the only Oscar There Will Be Blood wins.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"*
Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men"
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War" #
Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild"
Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton"*

I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by Bardem's Chigurh. It's probably because my mental picture of the character from reading the book was so much scarier. Also, what was with that haircut?

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"*
Julie Christie in "Away from Her"*
Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose"*
Laura Linney in "The Savages" #
Ellen Page in "Juno"

I'm going to plump for Linney on this one, partly because I haven't seen either Cotillard or Christie's performances, and partly because I think The Savages deserves to get something.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There" #
Ruby Dee in "American Gangster"*
Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement"*
Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone"*
Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton"*

Okay, so Blanchett's is the only performance I've seen, but it doesn't matter. She was the best thing about a very good film, and probably deserves to win anyway. Now if only we could convince her to come accept the award in character. That's one Thank You speech I'd love to hear.

Best animated feature film of the year
"Surf's Up"*

All I can say is, why did they even bother nominating Surf's Up?

Achievement in cinematography
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"*
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" #
"No Country for Old Men"
"There Will Be Blood"

Watch the film. Really. Just watch the film.

Achievement in directing
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", Julian Schnabel
"Juno", Jason Reitman
"Michael Clayton", Tony Gilroy*
"No Country for Old Men", Joel Coen and Ethan Coen #
"There Will Be Blood" , Paul Thomas Anderson

I think it's about time the Coen brothers won a Best Director Oscar, don't you?

Best foreign language film of the year
"Beaufort" Israel*
"The Counterfeiters" Austria*
"Katyn" Poland* #
"Mongol" Kazakhstan*
"12" Russia*

For me, the best foreign language film of the year is Bela Tarr's Man from London (I haven't got around to watching Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days yet, though I plan to soon) Of the films nominated here (none of which I've seen), I'd pick Katyn, if only because it's Wajda. What the Academy should do is institute a Scorsese award - given every year to a director / performer the Academy has been too boneheaded to reward when it should have. At least that way they'd stop playing catch-up with the current year's awards.

Best animated short film
"I Met the Walrus"
"Madame Tutli-Putli"
"Même les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)"
"My Love (Moya Lyubov)" #
"Peter & the Wolf"

Best live action short film
"At Night" #
"Il Supplente (The Substitute)"
"Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)"
"Tanghi Argentini"
"The Tonto Woman"

(for both short film awards, see here)

Adapted screenplay
"Away from Her"*
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" #
"No Country for Old Men"
"There Will Be Blood"

I know the popular argument here is for No Country, but I can't help feeling that the Coen Bros. had it a little too easy. The person who really should be getting an award here is Cormac McCarthy (not like he needs anything as trivial as an Oscar). I can't say that the Coen Bros. script added much to the book, and I think there were several key elements that they took out of it, which weakened the story considerably. On the other hand, I thought The Diving Bell and The Butterfly did a fascinating job of taking the thoughts inside Bauby's head and finding a way to bring them alive on screen. I haven't actually read Bauby's book, so I don't know how much of it is coming straight from there, but the way the hospital staff / friends respond to Bauby's predicament is pitch-perfect. And someone should get an award for that.

Also, is there a reason Persepolis is not nominated here?

Original screenplay
"Juno" Written by Diablo Cody#
"Lars and the Real Girl" Written by Nancy Oliver*
"Michael Clayton" Written by Tony Gilroy*
"Ratatouille" , Screenplay by Brad Bird;
"The Savages", Written by Tamara Jenkins

I will say that I thought Tamara Jenkins' script for The Savages was interesting - if only because of the way it deployed Brecht, but I think Cody's script is just brilliant at so many levels - both in its quick-witted surface energy and in the way it challenges and subverts its audience's expectations. I would have liked to see a slightly less cheesy last twenty minutes, but I suppose that's asking for too much.


Space Bar said...


1. I was wrong about having seen none of the films. I can actually comment authoritatively on Ratatouille, The Bourne Ultimatum and Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest. :D

2. Are you choosing the films you 'want to see win' or the ones you think will win? Because if it's the former, I thought you were plumping for Depp over Day-Lewis.

3. I haven't actually read Bauby's book, so I don't know how much of it is coming straight from there, but the way the hospital staff / friends respond to Bauby's predicament is pitch-perfect.

Ah...see - this is the attitude you should have had to the rest of the entries. Make definitive statements, man. Don't let the fact that you've only seen Cate Blanchett stop you from having an opinion on the other performances.

Right. I'll admit it. I'm actually left with nothing this Oscars except the red carpet. That means waking up at 4.30 my time. Bah.

Space Bar said...

Meant to say - I saw Moya Lyubov on youtube (there's part 2 also up, did you know?) but it was very frustrating on account of no subtitles.

Falstaff said...

SB: Choosing films I want to see win. And no, I wouldn't plump for Depp over Day-Lewis. I think Depp is order of magnitude sexier than Day-Lewis, but that doesn't change the fact that I thought his performance in Sweeney Todd was mediocre.

If it's any consolation, I haven't seen either The Bourne Ultimatum or Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest.

And yes, I know the other parts of Moya Lyubov were on YouTube, but as you say, they didn't have the subtitles, plus (more to the point) you really need to see thing on a big screen to appreciate the colors.

zedzded said...

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" totally deserves to be in the Best foreign language film category and win the award. Every aspect of the film is amazing. Oleg Mutu is a Chota God.

Szerelem said...

Ya, ya, let's get it over with already. I'll be happy if that's the only Oscar There Will Be Blood wins.

Meh. Why so snarky?? Also, did you see DDL actually bothered to comb his hair for the ceremony? I think the biggest news of the evening was that he decided to show up looking hot(ter than usual).

Falstaff said...

zedzded: Just watched it. And yes, absolutely. Yet more evidence (if any was required) that Cannes is the festival to pay attention to.

szerelem: I guess because I think There Will Be Blood is seriously overhyped. DDL deserves his Oscar, but the whole movie feels too much like a vehicle to help him get it. And I have this unhappy feeling that we're going to spend the next twenty years being subjected to movies that are built around characters that DDL can play.

And, oh, I never watch the awards. My way of following them is to read the liveblog over at the Guardian. All the key facts plus loads of snarky commentary. All good.

Winnie the poohi said...

Waiting for the post on post-oscar hoopla :)

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