Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Artistic Awards

The nominees for Best Cinematography are The Assassination of Jesse James, Atonement, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, No Country, and There Will Be Blood. Roger Deakins has been denied an Oscar despite over a dozen nominations and this year he has two shots - for Jesse James and No Country. Still, I think he will get beat again, this time by Atonement, a movie that manages to make a bombed-out beach look as gorgeous as an English manor. Plus, there was that virtuosic 5-minute tracking shot that involved a cast of thousands.

Best Art directions pits the fantastical and dark (Sweeny Todd and The Golden Compass) against modern (American Gangster) and historical styles (Atonement and There Will Be Blood). I think Atonement will take this one for showing a wide variety of set designs - from a stately country estate to the grungy ruins and triage hospital of WWII France.

In the Best Costumes category, the more ffantastical and outrageous costumes always trump subtlety. Atonement, Across The Universe, and La Vie En Rose each had a great variety of costumes, but they pale in comparison to the Victorian goth look of Sweeny Todd and the outrageous Elizabethan garb in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I predict that the team from Elizabeth will take the prize.

The three nominees for Makeup are La Vie En Rose, perennial nominee Rick Baker for Norbit, and Pirates 3. Norbit's achievement really is its makeup and Pirates 3 is impressive, but the makeup team from La Vie En Rose transformed Marion Cotillard into Edith Piaf in every stage of her life, from her 20's through her 60's. It was just as important to creating the character as Cotillard's fine acting and I think it will get recognized.

Best Supporting Actor

As with many categories this year, the Best Supporting Actor race features a diverse array of nominees, from fresh faces to veterans. Casey Affleck's youth may be his biggest impediment to winning for The Assasination of Jesse James..., but he does have a secret weapon - a well-reviewed lead performance in his brother Ben's directorial effort Gone Baby Gone. Voters will likely see him in that movie while they're reviewing their screeners for Amy Adams' nomination. Philip Seymour Hoffman is going for his second Oscar, for Charlie Wilson's War, but his is only one of two for that movie. Even though Hoffman is a well-respected actor's actor, only two nominations could mean a lack of support for his movie. Tom Wilkinson is no stranger to Oscar movies and his broad, operatic role in Michael Clayton is an actor's dream come true. On top of that he earns points for doing an accent. Wilkinson's biggest impediment might be his competition - Javier Bardem is the odds-on favorite, having won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actor's Guild Award. His performance may be short, but he steals the whole movie and his stoic killer character has been compared to Hannibal Lechter. On top of that, Spaniard Bardem performs his role entirely in a foreign language. But hold on! Hal Holbrook is also in the running and may cause a huge upset. He is a well-respected actor who has been in the business for decades and is currently enjoying his first nomination. Holbrook looks poised to take the award not for his performance in Into The Wild, but as a defacto lifetime achievement award. My pick goes to Bardem but I'm watching out for Holbrook to upset. All it will take is one profile on

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Michael Clayton

The pseudo-Erin Brockovich "evil-conglomerate-poisoning-innocent-people legal drama" plot in Michael Clayton is really a giant Macguffin. The U/North case and all the behind-the scenes machinations are like a giant, enclosed pinball machine inside of which the characters bounce and occasionally collide. It's the characters who are the real purpose of the movie and, though they all have different, often opposing motivations, they all have one thing in common - they live and operate on the dark side of the moral spectrum while aspiring toward righteousness.

First, we have Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) a lawyer who snaps in grand Network style, after a revelation about the morality of his life's work. He is a man who spent his life being underhanded and suddenly longs to be on the other side, going as far as to cut off all contact with his former life. This, of course, worries his firm, who has millions of dollars riding on his skills, so they send in their in-house fixer, Michael Clayton (George Clooney). Clayton is regularly called in to do the firm's dirtiest dirty work, but, like Arthur, he also longs for a blameless life. the film takes time to show his shattered family life (his attention-starved son, anxious ex, and down-and-out brother), and his dismal financial condition (insurmountable debt from a failed restaurant). The difference between Arthur and Michael is that Michael lives in a world of reality. He knows what he has to do despite his desire to do what is right. The third character is the most interesting. Corporate spokeswoman Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is really a good, kind woman who meticulously practices and polishes her strong facade, but in her increasingly desperate attempts to protect her company, she finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into moral quicksand. Arthur and Karen each stand on shaky moral ground and their falls are spectacular and sad. Only Michael - the only character who can accept who he is and what he has to do - stays on his feet.

Michael Clayton is up for seven Academy Awards - three of which are for its actors, and rightfully so. With some of the most well-rounded characters of the year, the film is an acting showcase above all else. The acting categories are tough this year, but I think Tilda Swinton has the best shot of the three. It is also up for Best Score and Best Original Screenplay, but, again, competition is fierce, though if one movie upsets Juno for writing, it will be Michael Clayton. As for Best Director and Best Picture, Michael Clayton is an intimate film that lacks the epic scope of most of its competition. I'm reminded of another movie from a few years ago (also featuring Tom Wilkinson) called In The Bedroom - a highly-nominated actors' showcase which walked away with nothing. Michael Clayton might not do quite that bad, but don't expect a sweep.

Answers to Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 2

6. Who has the most nominations for screenwriting?
c. Woody Allen

7. Who is the first performer to win an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy?
d. Rita Moreno

8. Which is the only major Hollywood studio that has never won Best Picture?
b. Disney

9. Who was the first actor to refuse an Academy Award?
a. George C. Scott

10. What movie won the most Oscars without winning Best Picture?
b. Cabaret

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 2

6. Who has the most nominations for screenwriting?
a. Billy Wilder
b. Christopher Hampton
c. Woody Allen
d. Nora Ephron

7. Who is the first performer to win an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy?
a. Liza Minelli
b. Barbara Streisand
c. Judy Garland
d. Rita Moreno

8. Which is the only major Hollywood studio that has never won Best Picture?
a. Paramount
b. Disney
c. Columbia
d. United Artists

9. Who was the first actor to refuse an Academy Award?
a. George C. Scott
b. Dalton Trumbo
c. Marlon Brando
d. William Holden

10. What movie won the most Oscars without winning Best Picture?
a. The Color Purple
b. Cabaret
c. A Passage to India
d. Saving Private Ryan

Answers will be posted soon!

Technical Awards

My big prediction for this year's Oscars is that the awards will be distributed categorically - that all the artistic awards will go in one direction and all the technical awards will go in another.

Let's start with Best Editing. Surprisingly, this year's nominees focus mostly on storytelling rather than flash. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Into The Wild, There Will Be Blood, and No Country For Old Men are all pretty standard when it comes to editing. I think it would be interesting for No Country's Roderick Jaynes to win here because he doesn't really exist - he is the pseudonym for directors Joel and Ethan Cohen, who edit their own films. The real standout, though, is The Bourne Ultimatum, a film whose elaborate and jittery editing really contributes to the style, intensity, and suspense of the movie while complimenting the performances, cinematography, and script.

Sound Editing and Sound Mixing are very different things, but often go hand in hand. This year, the nominees are almost identical in both categories. Traditionally, musicals and animated films are praised for their sound. No musicals are nominated this year, but Ratatouille could be a contender. Movies like No Country, There Will Be Blood, and 3:10 To Yuma are nominated for their effective on-location sound rather than their custom sound effects. More likely to win are the big noisy blockbusters like Transformers, however I think the winner in both categories will once again be The Bourne Ultimatum. It really offers the best of both worlds. It's a successful action movie, it was critically praised, and is also a prestige picture - a thinking man's action flick, much like The Matrix, which swept the technical awards back in '99. Count on two more for Bourne.

Three movies are nominated for Visual Effects, which I find very upsetting. I'm only a little surprised that 300 didn't get nominated for costumes and cinematography, but if ever there was a category for a 90% CGI comic-book-based Bronze-Age war movie, it would be Visual Effects. The films the voters did choose are The Golden Compass, Pirates 3, and Transformers. I think The Golden Compass might still be too controversial to win so I'm counting it out. The CGI robots of Transformers would have been a lot more impressive if the cinematography weren't so veritee. I had a hard time focusing on them with all that camera-shaking. Pirates 3 was impressive, but I think voters may have Pirate fatigue - a "been there, done that" attitude about the whole film. Even still, the maelstrom scene was groundbreaking and required new technology to be invented and the seamless blending of makeup and effects is noteworthy. I'll give my pick to Pirates by a small margin.

Best Supporting Actress

The race for Best Supporting Actress features a wide variety of performances this year. Young Saoirse Ronan got her nomination for a brief but intense performance in Atonement and Amy Ryan put forth an equally intense performance as a grieving mother in Gone Baby Gone. In both cases, I think age will work against them, especially considering the veterans who fill out the category. Cate Blanchett (the only previous winner in this group) plays electric-era Bob Dylan in I'm Not There - a role she shares with several other actors and a clever bit of casting that yielded a bravura performance. If she wins, she will be the second person to win an Oscar for playing a character of the opposite gender (Linda Hunt was the first). This could also be her second win for playing a prominent 20th-Century performer. We shouldn't count out nominee #4, Ruby Dee. Age and experience are always a factor in an Oscar race and sometimes voters will choose the veteran receiving her first nomination over the more challenging performance. I call this the "She was due" argument. Also known as the "Don Ameche Effect." Filling out the category is Tilda Swinton, who plays a reluctantly amoral corporate spokeswoman in Michael Clayton . There are a few reasons why I think she will win. First, the British actress pulls off an excellent American accent. Second, she is the most fully-formed, human character in the bunch. Swinton reveals her character's tough, polished exterior and, in private moments, her regret, fear, and insecurity. Finally, even though she has supporting screen time, she actually has the leading female role in the Michael Clayton cast. Amy Ryan may also claim that distinction, but I think Swinton's performance will get recognized. The vast majority of the voting body is actors and Michael Clayton is clearly an acting showcase above all else. My pick goes to Tilda Swinton.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Juno

Oh, kids these days. In such a hurry to grow up. In our modern, fast-paced world, kids are all too eager to abandon the simple joys of childhood but are often unprepared to handle the pressures and responsibilities of adulthood. Such is the case with the titular hero in Juno - a confident and independent-minded teenager who treats the grownups in her life as equals and quietly disapproves of her classmates' childishness. Her friend, Paulie Bleeker, is less adept at the grownup thing. He tries to put up a mature and confident front, but the anxiety of being rushed into an adult world shows through regardless.



When Juno and Bleeker (awkwardly) have sex, they find themselves surprised and unprepared for the most adult of consequences - pregnancy. Bleeker has a quiet freak-out, while Juno barrels ahead, navigating the responsibilities with a matter-of-fact attitude and a quick-witted sense of humor. With the support of her friend and the reluctant help of her parents, she strikes a deal to let a childless yuppie couple adopt her baby. The Lorrings, Mark and Vanessa, seem like the perfect potential parents. Vanessa is a responsible and sensible woman and Mark is a successful commercial musician who long ago gave up his rock-star dreams for a life of quiet suburban stability. Over the course of Juno's pregnancy, she and Mark bond over music and movies and we soon see why they can communicate on the same level - Juno is a child yearning to be a grown-up, while Mark a man trapped in a grown-up life who yearns for the freedom of his youth. As their relationship and Juno's pregnancy develop, Juno begins to see the value in her youth and slows down enough to rediscover the simple joys she had once been so eager to abandon.



Juno is up for four Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Actress (Ellen Page), Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Clearly, this movie holds the "quirky arty" slot in the Best Picture race (once filled by movies like The Full Monty, Chocolat, and Little Miss Sunshine) and a nomination is probably as far as that will go. Four other, more prestigious films are nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. Twenty-year-old Ellen Page did a brilliant job and successfully carries most of the movie, but she is up against some heavyweights in the Best Actress category. Fortunately, Juno is up for Original Screenplay - the best hope for the "quirky arty." Voters don't feel right giving major awards to "lighter" movies, but often reward them for their sharp writing. And the writing in Juno could cut glass.

Answers to Doug's Big Oscar Quiz Part 1

1. Who was the youngest Best Lead Actress nominee?

c. Keira Knightley



2. Which film's entire cast was nominated for acting Oscars?

a. Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?



3. What was the last all-black-and-white film to win Best Picture?

d. The Apartment



4. Who was the first actor to be nominated posthumously?

b. James Dean





5. What was the first movie to be released on video before winning Best Picture?

b. Silence of the Lambs

Monday, January 14, 2008

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 1

1. Who was the youngest Best Lead Actress nominee?
a. Vivien Leigh
b. Diane Keaton
c. Keira Knightley
d. Audrey Hepburn

2. Which film's entire cast was nominated for acting Oscars?
a. Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?
b. Moonstruck
c. Murder on the Orient Express
d. The Piano

3. What was the last all-black-and-white film to win Best Picture?
a. All the King's Men
b. All About Eve
c. From Here to Eternity
d. The Apartment

4. Who was the first actor to be nominated posthumously?
a. Peter Finch
b. James Dean
c. Paul Muni
d. Peter O'Toole

5. What was the first movie to be released on video before winning Best Picture?
a. Platoon
b. Silence of the Lambs
c. Rain Man
d. Driving Miss Daisy

Answers will be posted soon!