Monday, February 25, 2008

2008 Post-Mortem

Another Oscar Night is done and the final count is Doug: 12, Oscar: 6. That's 67% - about par for me. Of those six misses, a few were genuine surprises, such as Visual Effects going to The Golden Compass. The Best Actress and Art Direction races were close and I don't feel bad about missing them. No Country's win for Best Picture was predicted by many prognosticators, but I let my personal opinion sway my choice there. My only regret is switching my picks in the Sound categories from The Bourne Ultimatum to Transformers. It was a dumb move, and it could have upped my average significantly. On the bright side, I correctly picked six of the eight top categories (75%!) and once again beat Entertainment Weekly, who only scored 55% accuracy.

I think the broadcast was okay, especially since a lot of it was put together at the last minute. This was the 80th Oscars, so you'd think they would do something really special (something other than the tired "every living Acting Oscar winner on stage at the same time" roll-call that they did for the 70th and 75th Oscars). Instead, it was pretty low-key, with a series of montages from past ceremonies and a clip from all 79 previous winners. Jon Stewart did a nice job and had some funny improvised lines - I especially liked the bit about Cate Blanchett's acting range.

Some other notable things about the 2008 Oscars: The Best Picture winner won the most awards (4), but the second-most-winning movie was The Bourne Ultimatum with three wins in the technical categories. Also, for the first time, perhaps ever, the Best Song Oscar actually went to the best song.

And now some superlatives:

Best Dressed: George Clooney was born to wear a tux. He just can't do it wrong. Apart from that, Jennifer Garner's curvy black fishtail number was great and, speaking of fish, Marion Cotillard's scale-pattern white gown by Jean-Paul Gotiller was just perfect. I'm also a fan of Nicole Kidman's dress, draped with diamonds. One of the more controversial looks was Tilda Swinton. Sure, it was a shapeless black bag, but she has a distinctive, modern style and her pale skin, shock of red hair, and angular features really made it work for me.

Worst Dressed: Conversely, Diablo Cody's shapeless leopard dress was not flattering. Yes, she has a "quirky" 80's style and proudly showed off her pinup tattoo, but there was a better way to go. Cameron Diaz's dress was nice, but maybe could have been better in a different color. And if it had the wrinkles steamed out. The absolute worst, though, was the one-two punch of Daniel Day-Lewis and his wife. Let's start with her. Her gown was lumpy, had incongruous red ribbon straps, and - worst of all - was festooned down the front with absurdly over sized clusters of crystals. She could probably power the Enterprise with that gown. As for Mr. Day-Lewis, we should go from the top down. First, there's the floppy rat's nest of hair. Then there is the pair of pirate-style hoop earrings. Then, we come to the tux with rounded lapels (never a good look) and weird brown piping (yeesh!). Finish it off with brown boots and you have one of the worst-dressed men in memory.

Best Hair: Again, I liked Jennifer Garner's tousled up-swept do. I also liked Tilda Swinton's hair. Very modern. In addition, it was good to see Javier Bardem with a normal men's haircut and I have to mention Clooney again for his perfect, dignified gray.

Worst Hair: Okay, I'll just say it. Did John Travolta look weird to anyone else? Did his hair look a little too perfect? Like a sprayed-on helmet?

Best Acceptance Speech: It could have been Marion Cotillard or Diablo Cody's tearful speeches, but my pick goes to Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, winners for Best Song. Their speeches were so heartfelt, sincere, and grateful, that Jon Stewart took time to let Irglová back on stage to finish. Another great moment was Daniel Day-Lewis kneeling before Dame Helen Mirren, as if being knighted by the Queen. I also enjoyed Joel Cohen's speech - which he gave twice - a simple "thank you" and he let his brother Ethan take the mic.

Worst Acceptance Speech: I know he's a million years old and the guy invented art direction or something, but there should be a time limit on the honorary award acceptance speeches.

Best Irony: The award for Documentary Short went to a film about gay marriage and was presented by members of the U.S. military.

Best Presenter: It seems too easy to pick Tom Hanks, but it fits. There it is.

Worst Presenter: Oh, there's a list. Jennifer Hudson's delivery was so stiff and mannered, I have to wonder how she won an Oscar for acting. I suspect Colin Ferrell might have had a drink or two before the show. He slid on the stage, walked back, and did it again. Odd. Steve Carrell's Office-esque banter with Anne Hathaway is getting tired, but Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill's faux-bickering was annoying and time-consuming. Then there's Jerry Seinfeld, presenting Best Animated Short as his Bee Movie alter-ego. When will the producers learn that animated characters presenting awards isn't cute or clever?


So there it is - another Oscar Night down! I hope you had as much fun reading this blog as I did writing it! I'll send an e-mail to friends and family before next year's Oscar season about my next blog, and if you stumbled on to this blog somehow, check back in December for more. Thanks!

-Doug

Friday, February 15, 2008

Final Picks

The Oscars are still more than a week away, but I'm ready to make my final picks. Please bear in mind that these picks are who I think will win - not nescessarily who I want to win.

Best Picture: There Will Be Blood
Best Director: Joel & Ethan Cohen
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress: Julie Christie
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton
Best Original Screenplay: Juno
Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country For Old Men
Best Cinematography: There Will Be Blood
Best Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum
Best Art Direction: Atonement
Best Costumes: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Best Makeup: La Vie En Rose
Best Visual Effects: Transformers
Best Sound: Transformers
Best Sound Effects Editing: Transformers
Best Score: Atonement
Best Song: "Falling Slowly" from Once

You'll notice that I've changed my mind about a few categories. Upon reflection, and deep consultation with the mystic oracle (i.e. Entertainment Weekly) I think Transformers has a better shot at the Visual Effects and Sound categories than I originally onsidered. I'm still picking Bourne Ultimatum for Best Editing. Also, despite my low opinion of No Country, support has been growing. I'm going to pick it for Adapted Screenpplay over There Will Be Blood. EW and I still disagree on many categories (Costumes, Editing, Art Direction, and Picture) but I'm confident with these choices.

Now I don't make official picks for the short films, documentary, and animated films, but this year I'd like to make a few unofficial predictions. Oscar magnet Michael Moore is up for Documentary Feature for Sicko, but I think it will get beat by No End In Sight - a critically acclaimed, level-headed, unbiased look at a badly-planned war. Also, the Best Animated Feature category is a weird on this year. We have the perennial Pixar entry (Ratattouille), a movie about surfing penguins (Surf's Up), and a tender look at a free-spirited girl dealing with life in an opressive culture (Persepolis). Oscar loves penguins and Pixar's record is impressive, but I'm going to have to go with Persepolis on this one. Substance beats flash, and how often do you see a socially relevant animated film?

So the final count, according to my predictions is: There Will Be Blood: 3, No Country: 3, Atonement: 2, Michael Clayton: 1, and Juno: 1.

That's it for now - The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 24 at 8:00pm Eastern Time. Check out the pre-show and the specials before the show on ABC. After the show, I'll post the list of winners and give a run-down of the show with my superlatives. Happy Oscar Night, everyone!

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 6, Answers

1. "If I'd known this was all it would take, I'd have put that eye patch on forty years ago."
d. John Wayne

2. "Gee, this isn't what I imagined it would be in the bathtub!"
a. Diane Wiest

3. "You've broken my streak... I've gotten used to not receiving awards."
e. Al Pacino

4. "I'm so happy that every organ in my body is in a very bad way."
b. Roberto Benigni

5. "Mom, I guess it was worth living out of the car."
c. Hillary Swank

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 6

Match the acceptance speech quote with the correct Oscar winner:

1. "If I'd known this was all it would take, I'd have put that eye patch on forty years ago."

2. "Gee, this isn't what I imagined it would be in the bathtub!"

3. "You've broken my streak... I've gotten used to not receiving awards."

4. "I'm so happy that every organ in my body is in a very bad way."

5. "Mom, I guess it was worth living out of the car."

a. Diane Wiest
b. Roberto Benigni
c. Hillary Swank
d. John Wayne
e. Al Pacino

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Best Picture

And now, the big one.

Personally, I'd love for Juno to win. It has so much going for it: charming characters, zippy dialogue, and a good time at the movies. Unfortunately, it's the fluffiest, least "substantial" of the five nominees. Michael Clayton, on the other hand, is anything but fluffy. Its conscience-conflicted characters rub against each other like sandpaper and create real dramatic heat in the process. Still, its complex plot and character-centric focus might turn voters off. Aside from Juno, Atonement is the only movie of the five with a love story, and it's the sweeping, historical, epic, British sort of love story that Oscar loves to reward. I wouldn't be unhappy if Atonement won, but its lack of a Best Director nod and the fact that most of its other nominations are clustered in the artistic categories doesn't bode well. No Country For Old Men got my pick for Best Director(s), but I suspect that it might be too violent for the older Oscar voters. Actually, they don't mind violence, but it's senseless, glamorized, and consequence-free violence in films like No Country and Pulp Fiction that tends to turn them off. There Will Be Blood is plenty violent, but the body count is much lower and it has the historical and epic qualities that voters are often attracted to. Its themes are clearly presented and it has artistic merit and great performances throughout. No Country and Atonement might surprise with an upset, but my pick for Best Picture of 2007 goes to There Will Be Blood.

Best Director

The Best Director race is a tricky one this year. Let's start by weeding out the least likely candidates. Juno's director, Jason Reitman, is the youngest of the five and is nominated for his second feature and, though he is a second-generation director, hasn't earned the standing that all the other nominees enjoy. Next is Michael Clayton's Tony Gilroy - a more established prescence, if not a household name. The real accomplishment of his movie is the writing and acting and I think his chances are slim for Best Director. Next is the spoiler - Julian Schnabel, for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. His is the only movie here not also nominated for Best Picture, but many critics agree that his direction stands out so much that he may win despite a relative lack of nominations backing him up. Conversely, the Cohen Brothers and P.T. Anderson have received nominations across the board for No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood, respectively. Their high-nomination count makes their movies the front runners and therefore, puts them in the lead for Best Director. It's a tough call, but I'm going to pick the Cohens. They are seen as very prolific, artistic-minded directors and are the "elder statesmen" among their competition. Voters often reward not just the nominated movie, but the body of work that backs it up and I think that will be the case this year. By the way, if they win, this will be the second time that the Best Director award goes to two directors for the same film. The only other time was in 1961 when Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins shared the award for West Side Story.

Monday, February 11, 2008

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood is an epic on American themes - specifically the clash between capitalism and faith. Daniel Plainview is a shrewd turn-of-the-20th-Century oil prospector. A self-made success, he has made his fortune by his ability to charm common people out of the oil on their property by appealing to their values, speaking plainly, and making them think they're getting the better end of the deal. He's like Gordon Gekko from Wall Street crossed with Teddy Roosevelt. When he is alerted to a vast untapped oil field in the town of New Boston, he works his charm, expresses modesty, and conveys experience through a well-rehearsed speech to the townsfolk. He is quickly undermined, though by Eli Sunday. Eli is a young minister, wary of the oil workers who have moved in with their grand promises and when he and Daniel square off, we see the hidden glint in each man's eye - that of two con men recognizing each other and silently staking claim to the same territory. Their battle of wills lasts decades through good times and bad and the struggle changes with the times until patience finally wins out.

This movie takes a little while to get into - it's kind of like Beethoven's 9th Symphony. The fourth movement has one of the world's most recognizable melodies, but can you hum the theme from from the first movement? Many people can't. The thing is, even though it isn't as memorable as the rest of the piece, we need that first movement to set things up, to get us into the right state of mind, to prepare us for what's to come. Likewise, the slow opening of There Will Be Blood is all setup and leads to the compelling middle and astounding, cathartic final scene.

There Will Be Blood is up for nine Academy Awards - more than any film this year. It looks outmatched for the technical awards - Editing and Sound Editing - and barring a sweep, will probably lose the artistic categories - Costumes and Art Direction. I do think it will do well in the Cinematography category and is a lock for Best Actor. As for Best Director, I think the elder statesmen of the category - the Cohen brothers - will take it. As the most epic and ambitious movie, I'm picking it for both Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 5, Answers

21. "I dedicate this to... the six million who can't be watching."
d. Steven Speilberg

22. "This is the highlight of my day. I hope it's not all downhill from here."
b. Kevin Spacey

23. "I love it up here!"
a. Julia Roberts

24. "I'm gonna cry, because this show has been as long as my career."
e. Shirley MacLaine

25. "C'mon, Oscar. Let's go for a drink."
c. Bette Davis

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 5

Let's change things up a little. Match the Oscar winner with their correct quote from their acceptance speech:

21. "I dedicate this to... the six million who can't be watching."

22. "This is the highlight of my day. I hope it's not all downhill from here."

23. "I love it up here!"

24. "I'm gonna cry, because this show has been as long as my career."

25. "C'mon, Oscar. Let's go for a drink."


a. Julia Roberts
b. Kevin Spacey
c. Bette Davis
d. Steven Speilberg
e. Shirley MacLaine

Writing Awards

Let's start with the Original Screenplay award. First up is Lars and the Real Girl, a film that was panned by critics and ignored by audiences. Ratatouille was the opposite - praised by critics and a huge commercial success, but it's animation, and is still looked down upon by many as a "kids' movie." Moving on, The Savages splits the difference - it's a movie that earned raves from critics and, due to minimal advertising and a limited run, was ignored by audiences. There are two films this year that are also up for Best Picture, which augments their odds of winning. Michael Clayton is up for more awards, but Juno is this year's "quirky arty," and this is the category where the "quirky arty" gets its recognition. Michael Clayton's characters are sharply written, but Juno's overall charm and immensely quotable dialogue should push screenwriter Diablo Cody up on stage.

The Adapted Screenplay category is a trickier prospect, with the other three Best Picture nominees showing, alongside two other strong contenders. The others in question are Away From Her (written by actress/director Sarah Polley) and The Diving Bell And the Butterfly. Diving Bell is in French, which I think might be a turnoff in the screenplay category, but the Academy loves to give writing awards to actors, so Polley's chances are elevated. Atonement and No Country For Old Men are both adapted from prestegious books and, of the two, I'd give No Country the edge. As I stated in an earlier post, the Cohen brothers' main strength is their dialogue. Finally, we have the loosest adaptation of the five - There Will Be Blood isn't as much based on Upton Sinclair's "Oil!" as it is inspired by it. Still, There Will Be Blood is the front-runner for Best Picture, and its writing really is excellent on all counts, making it my pick for Adapted Screenply.

Best Actor

In a year of tough races, it's nice to have a few categories whith a strong leader. Let's talk Best Actor.

Daniel Day-Lewis is the immediate standout this year, for There Will Be Blood - his pushy oilman is really a tour-de-force and is definitely strong enough to earn him a second win. His nearest competitor might be Viggo Mortensen, in Eastern Promises, just because of the physical demands of the role and the challenging accent. Conversley, George Clooney pretty much played George Clooney in Michael Clayton. Tommy Lee Jones pulled in a surprise nomination for In The Valley of Elah, but Academy support is nearly nonexistant for that film. Still, Jones's unnominated work in No Country For Old Men might bolster his chances. Johnny Depp is enjoying his third nomination (his first for a Tim Burton film), but despite doing his own singing, Depp's chances are slim. I think audiences will see the artifice around the role (costumes, makeup, music) and not the performance itself. Still, despite his pechant for odd acting choices and roles, Depp is gaining momentum and good will with each nomination. So, my pick goes to Day-Lewis. I can't even conceive of who would upset his win.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz Part 4 - Answers

16. Who was the first person to use the nickname "Oscar" to describe the award in an acceptance speech?
b. Walt Disney

17. In 1956, first official Best Foreign Language Film Oscar went to...
c. Italy

18. Who was the youngest actress to win a competitive Oscar?
a. Tatum O'Neil

19. Which actress reportedly got dumped by her boyfriend just hours before winning Best Supporting Actress?
a. Jennifer Connelly

20. Who is the oldest Best Actress winner?
d. Jessica Tandy

No Country For Old Men

I have a confession that will likely shock many: I can't stand the Cohen Brothers' movies. I know, they're supposed to be a do-no-wrong cinematic double threat and all right-thinking cineasts are expected to bow down to their genius, but I really don't enjoy their work. Any of it. I find their comedies, like Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski unfunny and I find their "artsy" dramas, like Fargo and Blood Simple tedius and unappealing. Their latest, No Country For Old Men is no different and I really can't understand how it got nominated for so many Oscars. The plot follows a man who stumbles across the grisly scene of a drug deal gone bad, steals the money, and goes on the run from a psychopathic mob hitman. It's a slow-paced quiet movie that somehow also manages to be graphically violent - countless people (and two dogs) are either shot or are killed by a cattle-slaughtering device. In an attempt at justifying this mess, the whole sprawling ordeal is punctuated with old men ruminating on their mortality and rambling on about the old days, weather things are worse now, and how the old-timers would have faced modern crimes. Then the movie ends. Nothing is solved, there's no closure of any kind, the movie just sort of decides to stop. If the movie is an exploration of mortality, it never develops the ideas enough to make an impact. If it's just supposed to be just a grisly crime story, it gets muddled in its slow pace and attempts at a "message."

There are two things I can credit the Cohen brothers for, though. First, they're great at casting - especially the small roles like the gas station attendant and the hotel clerk. These are real-live folksy folks and I don't know where the brothers find them. Also, Javier Bardem was an unusual, but ultimately interesting choice for Anton Chigur, the dead-eyed assassin. Second, they write great dialogue. They have an especially good ear for colloquial dialects. If they could cast and write dialogue for other peoples' movies and avoid making any more of their own, it would be an ideal situation.

No Country For Old Men is up for eight Academy Awards. It looks outmatched for Adapted Screenplay, Sound, Sound mixing, Editing, and Cinematography. The brothers, Joel and Ethan, share a nomination for Best Director, but barring an upset, they probably won't win. The film's best bet is its Best Supporting Actor bid for Javier Bardem, who steals the movie with an admittedly chilling performance. As for Best Picture, No Country doesn't get my pick, but strong Academy support could, unfortunately, prove me wrong.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 4

16. Who was the first person to use the nickname "Oscar" to describe the award in an acceptance speech?
a. Vivien Leigh
b. Walt Disney
c. Katherine Hepburn
d. Lionel Barrymore

17. In 1956, first official Best Foreign Language Film Oscar went to...
a. Japan
b. Germany
c. Italy
d. Brazil

18. Who was the youngest actress to win a competitive Oscar?
a. Tatum O'Neil
b. Anna Paquin
c. Jodie Foster
d. Judy Garland

19. Which actress got dumped by her boyfriend just hours before winning Best Supporting Actress?
a. Jennifer Connelly
b. Geena Davis
c. Goldie Hawn
d. Shelly Winters

20. Who is the oldest Best Actress winner?
a. Gloria Stuart
b. Judi Dench
c. Helen Mirren
d. Jessica Tandy

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Music Awards

Ah, the music awards. So easy this year.

In the race for Best Score, the contenders are 3:10 To Yuma, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille, The Kite Runner, and Atonement. Here's why Atonement will win: Typewrters. In a strikingly genius move, Dario Marianelli used a typewriter as a percussion instrument, matching his tempos to the action on screen and still managing to underscore, but not overwhelm the pathos of a beautifully told tragic love story.

In the Best Song race, three nominations were hoarded by Disney's Enchanted. Songwriter Alan Menkin is no stranger to the Oscars. His work with Disney in the late 80's and early 90's earned him enough Oscars to shingle his roof. The song "Raise It Up" from August Rush and "Falling Slowly" from Once are also nominated. If there's any justice in the world, voters will ignore the August Rush song, split their vote among the Enchanted selections, and recognize "Falling Slowly" for what it is - the Best Original Song in a Motion Picture. First, it's a great song (not that that ever factors in at the Oscars). Second, it's use in the movie is integral to the plot of the film and effectively defines the main characters' relationship in the course of its performance. I told myself that I would pick winners based on facts and not my personal preference this year, but in this case, I have to go with my heart. My pick goes to Once.

Best Actress

In this year's Best Actress race, two performances really stand out among the five. I love that Ellen Page was nominated for Juno - her performance cannot be overrated - but she is the youngest nominee and has the least-showy role of the five. Likewise, Laura Linney is outmatched for her role in The Savages by more high-profile films. Perennial Oscar record-breaker Cate Blanchett is now the first woman to be nominated for the same role in two different movies (1998's Elizabeth and this year's Elizabeth: The Golden Age) but, like its predescessor, this sequel is more a showcase for its costumes and sets than its performances. That leaves two ladies standing: Marion Cotillard, who absolutely inhabits the role of Edith Piaf from the ages of 20 through 60 in La Vie En Rose, and Julie Christie as an alzheimer's patient in Away From Her. On one hand, Cotillard physically transformed herself and threw herself into a turbulent role, but on the other hand, Julie Christie has won nearly every acting award so far this year. I'd love to see Cotillard's name called, but I think voters will feel that the movie is too over-the-top and melodramatic and will go with Christie's more understated, brave performance.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Atonement

If Juno features young characters too willing to abandon their childhoods and bravely face the consequences, then Atonement features the opposite - a young girl is thrust onto an adult situation she is unprepared for and spends a life of regretting her actions. Thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis lives a life of privelage and posesses the rich imagination and fantasy life of a writer. A series of misunderstandings lead her to the mistaken judgement of local boy Robbie Turner. The misunderstandings turn tragic when Briony is asked to be the sole eyewitness to a horrible crime that she blames on Robbie, half-understanding that he is innocent, but convincing herself nonetheless. Briony's sister, Celia was in love with Robbie and the false accusation changes all three lives with dire results. The regret cuts Briony so deeply that years later, even in her fantasies, she doesn't let Celia and Robbie forgiver her.

Atonement is up for seven Academy Awards and actually has a shot a a few of them. The best bet is for music - Dario Marianelli's brilliant score features a typewriter as a percussion instrument, perfectly signifying Briony's dangerous fantasy life at precise moments in the film. It also has a good shot at Cinematography, most notably for the virtuosic five-minute tracking shot that involves a quarter mile of beach and a cast of thousands. Art Direction was also great in Atonement and will probably win. Less likely to come to fruition are Atonement's nominations for Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actress where it is simply outmatched by its competition. As for Best Picture, it does feature many things Academy voters traditionally gravitate toward: an epic storyline, a romantic plot, a period setting, people with accents, war scenes, and a prestigous literary adaptation. It might just take the top prize, but its lack of a nomination for Best Director is a serious hit, showing that while the Academy might recognize it as the best looking film of the year, it will not nescessarily be named the Best Picture.

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Answers to Part 3

11. Who was the youngest Best Director nominee?
b. John Singleton

12. Who was the first person to win an acting Oscar for a non-English-speaking role?
c. Sophia Loren

13. Who delivered the longest acceptance speech?
a. Greer Garson

14. Who was the first actor to win an Oscar for a musical?
d. James Cagney

15. Who hosted the most Oscar ceremonies?
c. Bob Hope

Friday, February 1, 2008

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 3

11. Who was the youngest Best Director nominee?
a. M. Night Shyamalan
b. John Singleton
c. Orson Welles
d. Sophia Coppola

12. Who was the first person to win an acting Oscar for a non-English-speaking role?
a. Roberto Benigni
b. Fernanda Montenegra
c. Sophia Loren
d. Dr. Haing S. Ngor

13. Who delivered the longest acceptance speech?
a. Greer Garson
b. Cuba Gooding Jr.
c. Tom Hanks
d. Vivien Leigh

14. Who was the first actor to win an Oscar for a musical?
a. Catherine Zeta-Jones
b. Fred Astaire
c. Julie Andrews
d. James Cagney

15. Who hosted the most Oscar ceremonies?
a. Danny Kaye
b. Billy Crystal
c. Bob Hope
d. Whoopi Goldberg