Saturday, January 31, 2009

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 2

6. Javier Bardem
7. Angelina Jolie
8. Reese Witherspoon
9. Philip Seymour Hoffman
10. Tom Hanks

a. "Every now and again - not often, but occasionally - you get to be a part of justice being done"
b. "Rule number one: Don't propose to a girl on a bus"
c. "What business is it of yours where I'm from, friendo?"
d. "There is not a word or a sentence or a concept that you can illuminate for me."
e. "You think your free? I'm free! You don't know what freedom is!"

Friday, January 30, 2009

Best Supporting Actor

Let's not kid ourselves - this race was over six months ago when The Dark Knight was released.

Heath Ledger will become the second-ever posthumous winner of an acting Oscar (Peter Finch was the first - he won for Network in 1976). And he won't win just because he's dead. He will win because he accomplished one of the most jaw-droppingly fearless performances of the last ten years (at least). He'll win because every brief moment he has on screen is audacious and mesmerizing. The applause during the ceremony's "In Memoriam" montage will honor his life, but the Oscar will honor his performance.

There is a chance, though, that the Academy will decide to hand the award to someone who can actually be there to accept it. If that's the case, it will probably go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, making him the 13th person to receive Oscars in both acting categories. His role in Doubt has been deemed a leading role by everyone except the Academy, so placing him in the Supporting category gives him a boost. Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) and Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder) gave standout performances, but they're still classically supporting roles and Josh Brolin (Milk) simply gets lost in a sea of great performances.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Artistic Awards

In the artistic categories, more is always better. Period films always trump modern settings, and minimalism is disregarded in favor of opulence.

Let's start with Best Art Direction: basically set design, though it encompasses a lot more. I think that Revolutionary Road (though set in the 1960's) and The Dark Knight are too modern-looking for this category. The Dutchess is usually just the sort of movie that wins here, but it's few nominations and critical panning don't bode well. Same goes for Changeling, whose 1920's setting is better evoked with costumes than set design. Voters are often impressed when a film depicts two or more contrasting different eras or cultures, like Topsy Turvy's mix of Victorian England and Feudal Japan or Chicago's bleak prisons and flashy cabaret numbers. The film that achieves that best is Benjamin Button, which spans nearly a century of period settings.

The same rules apply to Costume Design, so we can eliminate Milk and Revolutionary Road as too modern. Australia (the film) makes its one and only appearance at the Oscars and against heavy competition, it's bound to loose. Again, The Dutchess looks good on paper, but I think it will be bested again by Benjamin Button. Along with a century of design, it also displays a century of fashion and I think the wide variety will give it the win.

By the way, Slumdog Millionaire's snub in the Costume and Art Direction categories are the year's most egregious oversights.

There are three nominees for Best Makeup: Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, and Hellboy II. Once again, making characters look natural is often overlooked while heavy prosthetics and effects get the glory. The Dark Knight features not only The Joker's spooky clown makeup, but Two-Face's digitally-enhanced visage. Hellboy II has the most prosthetic work, but I think voters will gravitate towards the prestige of Benjamin Button. Even though a lot of the character effects are done with computer effects, it's very hard to tell where the makeup begins and the effects end and voters will give both awards to Benjamin Button.

The Cinematography category is a tough one this year. Changeling and The Reader had some nice compositions and lighting, but they're pretty straightforward. I don't know anyone who left The Dark Knight saying "The camera work was amazing!" There were plenty of other things going on that overshadowed its cinematography. Benjamin Button's cinematography was good and could net a win if the film rolls towards a sweep. It could also be the first win ever for a female Director of Photography. Slumdog Millionaire had some beautiful and expressive camera work and captured the color and energy of Mumbai - it wasn't concerned with making everything look beautiful all the time and didn't shy away from ugliness. I'm going to pick Slumdog by a very narrow margin.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Reader

Several years after his affair with an older woman, German law student Michael (David Kross, later Ralph Finnes) discovers that his former love, Hannah (Kate Winslet), is on trial for war crimes in The Reader. When the horrors of her past are revealed in court, Michael must balance the abstract terms of the law with his personal relationship, sorting out his feelings and how they have changed in this new light. Can he show her sympathy? Should he show her sympathy? Postwar Germany was a tumultuous time when the youth of the nation had to come to terms with the actions of the older generation and this film brings that struggle to a human level. In the end, it is not about forgiveness, but about simple understanding.

I did not care for The Reader. It started great, even though the love scenes are rushed and the symbolism is heavy-handed (water = "washing away the past." Okay. We get it. Enough with the water.). Then in the middle of the trial there's a plot twist that I will call "The Twist That Ruined The Movie." Hannah refuses to reveal a personal secret that could help her case and she goes to prison for life. I won't reveal the twist, in case you want to see the movie, but I'll make a parallel. Let's say she's allergic to peanuts. Ask yourself: if you were on trial and could either reveal that you're allergic to peanuts or be sentenced to life in prison with the stigma of murdering the weak and infirm, wouldn't you tell everyone you know not to give you peanuts? Personally, I'd make that choice faster than you can say "anaphylactic shock." Hannah chooses not to, shattering the movie's credibility beyond suspension of disbelief. On top of that, Michael knows her secret and refuses to tell anyone or even address it with her. The story could have taken any number of more interesting, more realistic directions, but instead, it takes a glorious swan dive into the ground.

The Reader is up for five Academy Awards: Best Lead Actress (Winslet), Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director(Stephen Daldry), and Best Picture. Beset by strong competition in all its categories, I believe that The Reader is the weakest of the five Best Picture nominees. Its only outside chance is for Winslet, who is very popular among voters and may get a boost from her acclaimed and un-nominated performance in Revolutionary Road. Even still, I won't be picking The Reader to win any of its categories.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 1 Answers

1 - b. Denzel Washington played Alonzo (no last name given) in "Training Day"

2 - e. Morgan Freeman played Eddie "Scrap Iron" Dupris in "Million Dollar Baby"

3 - a. Jennifer Connelly played Alicia Nash in "A Beautiful Mind"

4 - d. Frances McDormand played Marge Gunderson in "Fargo"

5 - c. Audrey Hepburn played Princess Ann in "Roman Holiday"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 1

Match the actors with the roles that won them their Oscars:

1. Denzel Washington
2. Morgan Freeman
3. Jennifer Connelly
4. Frances McDormand
5. Audrey Hepburn

a. Alicia Nash
b. Alonzo
c. Ann
d. Marge Gunderson
e. Eddie Dupris

Friday, January 23, 2009

Best Supporting Actress

"Two-time Oscar-winner Marissa Tomei."

That has a nice ring to it.

Yes, I'm picking Marisa Tomei to win another Oscar for Supporting Actress - and she'll win for the same reasons that earned her her first statuette. In the Supporting Actress category, I always look for the lead actress with supporting screen time. She was nearly the only woman on screen in My Cousin Vinny, technically making her the lead actress. Same goes for Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind and Kim Bassinger in L.A. Confidential, just to name a few.

This year, Amy Adams was overshadowed by Meryl Streep in Doubt and Viola Davis only had the one scene in that same movie. Taraji P. Henson is second in Benjamin Button to Cate Blanchett and Penelope Cruz is dynamic, but shares the screen with a whole cast of women. Marissa Tomei, on the other hand, is the female lead in The Wrestler. Her performance may not have the same intensity as Davis's or Henson's, but she shows a raw, gritty vulnerability. If Kate Winslet had been nominated here instead of Lead Actress, I would have picked her, but it's all to Tomei's advantage. Hopefully this will quiet those who felt her first Oscar was a mistake.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Technical Awards

The safe bet with the two Sound categories is to give them to the same film. Sound engineers do the nominating, but it's mostly actors (who don't necessarily know the difference between the two awards) who do the voting, so they usually pick the same film twice. For the record, "Sound Editing" involves just the effects, while "Sound Mixing" awards the total blend of music, effects, and dialogue. This year, there are four films that overlap in these categories, so we can eliminate Iron Man from Sound Editing and Benjamin Button from Sound Mixing. That leaves The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E, and Wanted.

The other thing to keep in mind here is that while the Academy loves to honor prestige films, this is the place where big loud blockbusters get rewarded. If they have the opportunity to award a big loud blockbuster with prestige and critical acclaim behind it, all the better. That's how The Bourne Ultimatum and The Matrix won their Oscars. This year, the film that fits that bill is The Dark Knight - the highest grossing movie of the year, critically acclaimed, thought-provoking, good acting, and lots of noisy action.

As for Visual Effects, voters usually look for a film where the effects aren't there for their own sake, but are integrated into the storytelling in a meaningful way. In this case, I think that Benjamin Button's more subtle, character-transforming use of computer elements will trump the flashiness of Iron Man and The Dark Knight, which had more traditional action-film effects.

In the Film Editing category, voters have the option of awarding the stolid workmanship and good storytelling of dramas, (Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and Milk) or flashier high-energy films (Slumdog and The Dark Knight). Guess which ones usually win? While it's possible that The Dark Knight could approach a sweep in the technical categories (like The Matrix did in '99) or that Benjamin Button could pick one up on its road to a sweep, I'm going to pick Slumdog Millionaire. It straddles the best of both worlds: fast-paced action and suspense that expertly cuts between time periods while including dramatic moments with breathtaking transitions. And it has dance numbers. Shiny, happy dance numbers.

Nominations

It has begun! Another Oscar season has kicked off and it looks like there will be a good mix of runaway favorites and neck-and-neck races.

Benjamin Button got the most nominations (13) with Slumdog Millionaire close behind with 10 (two of which are for Best Song). The big shocker was that Revolutionary Road, which was expected to make a big showing, ended up under-represented with only three nominations - none of them for lead acting, directing, writing, or picture. Instead, surprisingly, The Reader made a surprise showing, not only for Kate Winslet (up for Lead Actress, tdespite her campaigning in the Supporting category) but for Picture and Director, among others. Lots of people were rooting for The Dark Knight, which collected an impressive eight nominations, mostly in artistic and technical categories.

Two little independent films snuck in the door: the immigration drama Frozen River (up for two including Best Actress for Melissa Leo) and the excellent film The Visitor, which earned Richard Jenkins a nod for Best Actor.

As for the breakaways, Best Actor looks like Mickey Rourke's game to loose and Heath Ledger is poised to earn the second-ever posthumous acting Oscar. WALL-E is a shoo-in for Animated Feature, and Israel's Waltz With Bashir is poised to walk away with Foreign Language Film.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Oscarwatch 2008

After nominations are announced on the morning of January 22, I'll be dedicating this blog to the Academy Awards!

I hope you'll come back throughout Oscar season to read my reviews and predictions and to test your Oscar knowledge with my Big Oscar Quiz. Please feel free to leave comments. Happy Oscar Season!