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Pre-AA Rambling Thoughts

Saturday February 21, 2009

2008, to me, was just an OK year for films. The best ones I saw were documentaries, giving several 4 stars. (That's one of the reasons my highest anticipated event of the year is the 8 day AFI Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival held in mid-June in Silver Spring Maryland.) Looking back over my reviews of the past year, I only gave 2 narrative films 4 stars: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (CCBB) and the brilliant Swedish vampire film "Let The Right One In", which isn't even included in the nominee list! There were some standout performances, of course, but, overall, I wasn't bowled over by the overall crop of films I screened for 2008. That being said, here we are on the doorstep of this year's Hollywood extravaganza and, looking over the nominees, they generally got it right. Everyone and their mother are on record with their predictions, so here are my thoughts on who will win, who should win, who shouldn't have been nominated, and, in some cases, who was, unconscionably, left out in the cold:

BEST PICTURE
Who will win: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Who should win: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
"Biggest surprise nomination: "The Reader" or "Frost/Nixon"
Biggest snub: "The Dark Knight"
"Slumdog Millionaire" is racking in the awards big time. It is certainly a rousing crowd favorite and, despite being an independent film made in India with a predominantly Indian cast, this one is a virtual lock for the top award. However, as I stated above, the only film of the 5 that got my top rating last year is Benjamin Button. Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't be disappoint if SM wins. It is a wonderful film that has it all: action, romance, and a great message at heart. However, the most satisfying time I had in a darken theater last year was witnessing the amazing journey of BB. A verrry close second is Chris Nolan's take on the Batman legend. However, Hollywood, for whatever reason, refused to recognize the comic book film despite it being one of the most brilliant film of its genre. It also had it all: wonderful story, tremendous action sequences, unforgettable performance (see Best Supporting Actor below), and fabulous production values. How it did not get a BP nod over at least 2 of the aforementioned nominees is beyond me. Most pundits will say its release timing (May) or its genre contributed to its snub. I say hogwash. It was a brilliant piece of film making that deserved to be recognized in the top category!

BEST DIRECTOR
Who will win: Danny Boyle
Who should win: David Fincher
Biggest surprise nomination: Ron Howard
Biggest snub: Christopher Nolan
It always amuses me when the Academy gives the BD prize to the person who didn't direct the BP winner. One is not separate from the other. This year, at least, the 5 nominees are directors of each of the 5 BP noms. Now, will they choose 2 different winners? Not this year. Danny Boyle is one of the best directors around and it will be no surprise, or disappointment, when he wins for Slumdog. However, keeping in line with my previous selection, if it was up to me, I'd have to give it to David Fincher for CCBB. And, snubbing Chris Nolan is a total joke (see above). Nominating Ron Howard?? Although a credible job, there was nothing extraordinary in the direction of "Frost/Nixon". However, at least they are consistent with the BP nom it received.

BEST ACTOR
Who will win: Mickey Rourke
Who should win: Sean Penn
Biggest surprise nomination: Frank Langella
Biggest snub: Michael Sheen
One of the toughest categories to pick. Overall, Sean Penn totally embodies the late San Francisco City Supervisor, Harvey Milk-to such a degree that, after a while you forget that you are watching one of the greatest actors of his generation. The subtlety and nuance that he brings to the first openly gay politician to be assassinated in office is mesmerizing and complete. Mickey Rourke? Well, although his acting is superb and he is totally convincingly in how he conveys this tortured soul, to me, he was Mickey being Mickey. The more complete performance is delivered by Penn. However, Hollywood LOVES a comeback story. And what better story is there than the down and out Rourke resurrecting a lost promising career with a performance where he truly leaves it all on the screen. Another factor to be considered is that Penn has a BA award for 2003's "Mystic River" (although this year's performance blows that one away). Also, liberal Hollywood tends to shy away from the controversial religious Right (note their overall snub of 2005's "Brokeback Mountain" in the major awards), despite what many are saying that they would like to bring attention to the recent California's Proposition 8 fight by selecting Penn's performance. I would have nominated Michael Sheen over Frank Langella as, I pointed out in my review, his was the more complicated and layered of the two. And kudos to The Academy for at least recognizing Richard Jenkin's remarkable performance in "The Visitor".

BEST ACTRESS
Who Will Win: Kate Winslet
Who Should Win: Kate Winslet
Biggest Surprise Nomination: Angelina Jolie
Biggest Snub: Sally Hawkins
Is this finally Kate's year? An emphatic "yes"! Although, I was initially torn between her and Meryl, I am resigned to the fact that, after 5 tries, the talented Ms. Winslet will accept and, judging from her extremely emotional Golden Globe acceptance speech, I can't wait until she does! Meryl gives one helluva memorable performance as the head nun trying to bring Phillip Seymour Hoffman down from the pulpit. It is one scary acting job that is at the core of "Doubt", however, give Kate her due and her first Oscar, while you're at it. Meryl's multiple winnings won't help her as the Academy members will surely keep in mind Kate's 2 standout performances ("Revolutionary Road" is the other) released back to back in December. And Sally Hawkins snub in "Happy Go Lucky" is totally disappointing. Her characterization of someone who looks at life's trials and tribulations with nothing but optimism was a treat to behold and should have been duly recognized. Finally, nice to see Melissa Leo nominated for her work in this year's Sundance Grand Jury prize winner, "Frozen River". Her resume since "Homicide" has been nothing but steady and sure. She may have had a better chance if the movie had stayed in theaters long enough for anyone to notice.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who Will Win: Heath Ledger
Who Should Win: Heath Ledger
Biggest Surprise Nomination: Josh Brolin
Biggest Snub: Eddie Marsan
As I inferred back in May, they might as well "gently place" the Oscar in his casket. The biggest slam dunk of the year is also one of the most unforgettable performances of all time! And I cringe when I hear that the only reason Ledger will be honored is because he is no longer with us. Bull dung! He'd get it hands down whether he was able to accept it or not. That being said, I have no clue as to why Brolin (in "Milk") was nominated. His acting is capable but pedestrian. However, Eddie Marsan's acting as the hyperactive, edgy driving instructor in "Happy Go Lucky" was far more memorable and deserving.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who Will Win: Amy Adams
Who Should Win: Viola Davis
Biggest Surprise Nomination: Amy Adams
Biggest Snub: Kate Winslet
Well, I flipped a coin and it came up Amy Adams. It wouldn't surprise me if any of the 5 actresses are declared the winner as this category is, by far, the toughest to handicap. So, I'm saying Amy Adams since "Doubt" will be shut out of the top awards despite receiving 4 acting nominations. However, although I admire Ms. Adams in all of her films thus far, I didn't think her performance warranted this award. Instead I'd have to say Viola Davis' 10 minutes on screen were the most powerful moments in the drama. And, brevity means nothing to the voters (remember 1998 when Judi Dench won for "Shakespeare In Love" with only 8 minutes of screen time?). However, it was curious that Kate wasn't nominated for "Revolutionary Road" since this is the category that would have fit perfectly for her.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who Will Win: "WALL-E"
Who Should Win: "WALLE-E"
Almost as certain as Heath Ledger. Many are saying it actually should have been nominated for Best Picture.

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Who Will Win: "Waltz With Bashir"
Who Should Win: "Waltz With Bashir"
Biggest Snub: "Let The Right One In"
From what I've been reading it's between this and France's entry, "The Class". Having not seen any of the nominees, I'll say the animated feature film from Israel. The script is supposed to be amazing and given the liberal leanings of Hollywood, it seems like almost a natural. Now, as for the film I was most disappointed in not making the list, the wonderful coming-of-age vampire film from Sweden. I understand that it wasn't nominated by its country. I'm have no idea why but this film should have made the Best Picture list if it was up to me. Sad.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: "Milk"
Who Should Win: "Milk"
Biggest Surprise Nomination: "WALL-E"
The Academy has to award something to this wonderful film (assuming Penn doesn't win Best Actor). So here is the logical choice. The surprise is a script for the animation masterpiece that has virtually no dialogue. Not that it didn't deserve its nomination. An animation film that is truly unique and stands on its own.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Who Should Win: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Biggest Surprise Nomination: "Doubt"
Chalk up another win for SM. However, I'd like to see CCBB win despite the backlash that it is a rehashing of "Forest Gimp". The script, to me, was flawless and beautifully matched the images on the screen. "Doubt" was adapted by John Patrick Shanley from his stage play. And, indeed, the film seemed more like a stage play than a movie.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Who Will Win: "Man On Wire"
Who Should Win: "Man On Wire"
Biggest Surprise Nomination: "Encounters At The End Of The World"
Biggest Snub: "Pray The Devil Back To Hell"/"Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired"
This is another sure pick. The amazing documentary about Philippe Petit's daring 1974 high wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center is one of the best films of the year-not just the best documentary. A close second would be the wonderful Katrina disaster doc "Trouble The Water". However, MOW is perfect in every way. It exactly captures an event in our past that will forever be etched in the brains of everyone who remembers it. And, it lovingly describes the incredible feat in a way that is as suspenseful as any fictional narrative film. Werner Herzog's documentary is somewhat of a surprise considering they snubbed the veteran's riveting documentary "Grizzly Man" back in 2005. Maybe that's the reason to nominate him this time around. It used to be that the Academy shied away from professional filmmakers in this category. It's nice that practice has changed, yet I would have rather seen these documentaries nominated in its stead: It's curious that Hollywood wouldn't at least recognize the Polanski doc-if only to bring attention to the injustice served upon the master filmmaker. Also snubbed is the great "Pray The Devil Back To Hell" about the Liberian Civil War and the Liberian women who fought to bring peace to their country.

Well, there you have it. I usually come in about 80% accurate on my overall picks covering the 24 nominations. Feel free to share you comments and let me know how you did. Now-ON WITH THE SHOW!

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