Friday, March 03, 2006

Oscar Post



the Grouch.

Mayer Wiener.

de la Hoya.

de la Renta.

the Brazilian basketball star who had no last name.




Oh, you thought this post was about the Academy Awards. Oops. Sorry, my bad.

But, okay, let's take a look at this year's lineup.

I saw "Crash" on DVD. I have written before about how rarely I get out to see movies; the last three movies I saw in a theater without my children are "Sideways," "Seabiscuit," and "A Dirty Shame," so chances are if a movie hasn't come out on DVD, I haven't seen it. "Crash" was good but not great. This format has been done well (Nashville, Short Cuts, Pulp Fiction, Traffic) and poorly (Grand Canyon), but the central theme that people who seem good can be bad and vice versa is not that profound. The cleverly written script is put to good use by a large ensemble cast, with standouts including Matt Dillon, Ludacris (he gets the best lines), and, one of my old favorites, Thandie Newton. If you haven't seen Newton's film debut in "Flirting," you are missing out on a great performance in a wonderful little film from Australia which also stars Nicole Kidman and Noah Taylor and has a small role for Naomi Watts (somehow, Paul Hogan, Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe are not in the cast).

"Crash" is the only nominated film I have seen, but ignorance has never stopped me or many others from expressing an opinion. "Good Night and Good Luck" was filmed entirely in black and white, using newsreel footage to allow Joseph McCarthy to play himself onscreen. Many critics have lauded this as an ingenius cinematic device, but I think they just couldn't find anyone to play the role. Gay cowboy, serial killer, pimp/drug dealer, sure those parts are fine, but no Hollywood actor wants to taste the career poison of playing Senator Blacklist himself. And the black and white thing, aka the Curse of the Raging Bull, really works against this film. Even Stephen Spielberg added a few brief flashes of color to "Schindler's List."

"Brokeback Mountain" hopes to become the first Western to win since "Unforgiven" in 1992. How much would pay to hear Clint Eastwood say, "God, I wish I knew how to quit you?" "Capote" beat out "Walk the Line" for the token dead guy biopic nomination; the nomination of both "Ray" and "The Aviator" last year was approved by the Academy because Howard Hughes is actually still alive and living in a Nevada missile silo with Elvis and JFK. "Munich" is just as controversial as "Crash" or "Brokeback," but since it's not about America, the Academy really won't care. In the end, I think "Crash" will win because voters can convince themselves that it is edgy, and because, again, it's the only nominated film that I saw.

Best Director looks like a chance for the Academy to jump up and recognize George Clooney for proving that he's more than just a pretty face in his documentation of the attack on one of Hollywood's greatest enemies. Ang Lee has a shot here, too, because he did not win for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and the voters like to see you pay your dues. Spielberg already has two directing Oscars, but I wouldn't make room for a third just yet. A win for first-time director Paul Haggis would be a major upset. Same for Bennett Miller, whose previous directing credits consist of a documentary about an NYC tour bus driver.

Best Actor will go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom the Academy can't wait to coronate as the newest member of the Hollywood royals. Hoffman has been great in every role I've seen him play, most memorably the weaselly prep school richy in "Scent of a Woman" and the pathetically endearing, idol-worshipping film crew guy in "Boogie Nights (I think he was either the key grip or the gaffer because I am quite certain Mark Wahlberg was the best boy). He'll have to overcome the pretentious three-name burden, something no Best Actor winner has done without the aid of a hyphen (Daniel Day-Lewis) or a period (F. Murray Abraham). This is the real reason why Jean Claude Van Damme will never have his genius recognized by the Academy. I actually saw "Hustle and Flow," so I'll hedge with a nod for Trevor Howard, who was very convincing as the drug dealing pimp who is really a good guy because hey, it's just weed, and the only hooker he beats down is the troublemaking, bitchy one that the audience dislikes. Heath Ledger? Too much of a lightweight. Joaquin Phoenix? Too creepy (his whole career, from "Parenthood' to "To Die For" to "Gladiator," this guy is guaranteed to make your skin crawl). David Strathairn? I'm sorry, who?

I'd like to see Felicity Huffman win best actress because she is married to the very cool William H. Macy, but she'll have to overcome an inexplicable wave of support for Reese Witherspoon. Charlize Theron just won two years ago and the rules forbid two wins in the same decade unless your name is Tom Hanks; otherwise, her turn as Norma Rae meets Erin Brockovich would be perfect. Dame Judi Dench would be the sentimental favorite if only she was American; she has had a bunch of nominations as Best and Supporting Actress but only one Oscar for "Shakespeare in Love." Keira Knightley? Too soon, but I am sure that Vanity Fair shot with Scarlett Johannson got her some votes.

Best Supporting Actress nominees include selections from movies that I not only have not seen, I haven't even heard of some of them. Amy Adams and Michelle Williams might as well be the U.S. favorites in the 2008 Olympic synchronized swimming pairs competition for all I know. And "Junebug" is a pretty good song by the B-52s on the "Cosmic Thing" album. For Best Supporting Actor, Jake Gyllenhaal is only my second-favorite Gyllenhaal, but I'll take George Clooney over Rosemary, Paul Giamatti over Bart, Matt Dillon over Kevin, and William Hurt over John.

The award I am most looking forward is for Best Song. I don't care which one wins, but I would like to see the performance of "Hard Out Here for a Pimp," from "Hustle and Flow," which could provide a Sly Stone Grammy level of entertainment. Jon Stewart should have a field day with that one.


Rick said...

How strong is the "old guard"'s influence in the Academy ? That is the question that will be answered by "Good Night and Good Luck"'s award total. To us old fogeys just the mention of McCarthy is spooky enough to win in the Terror category but Murrow is unfortunately becoming a dinosaur.
The new "old guard" is probably in support of "Capote".
My Oscar viewing is more about figuring out the cultural politics of the winners than the quality of the movies.
But, there's one thing all movie lovers agree on "Pass the buttered popcorn"

Abris said...

No Robertson on your Oscar list, my hoops-loving friend? Big Omission.

Bill Fitzgerald said...

You got me there. How did you do in your Oscar picks?

I nailed the best picture pick, but I did steal the rationale from Stephen Hunter. Not as in love with Clooney as Mr. Tony seems to be.

Abris said...

Lacking an office pool (or blog) through which to demonstrate my Oscar-picking acumen, I was forced to blurt out my predicted winner in a category five seconds before each envelope was opened. And for the first two and a half hours I was uncanny. Could not miss. Okay, maybe I mumbled something like "The Death of Norman Corwin in the Rwandan Mushroom Club" for documentary short subject. Still, thanks to a quick scan of Entertainment Weekly's predictions early in the week and my own blind instinct, I was proving myself an Oscardamus.
But things began to unravel deep into the third hour. Allowing my mind to wander for just a moment, I thought the Film Editing award was for Sound Editing (which had already been given). Disoriented, I shouted out "Walk the Line"...because it involved music which is a kind of sound. Of course, "Crash" was the obvious winner for FILM editing. I took another hit when that pesky Geisha flick stole the Cinematography award from "Brokeback Mountain."
My confidence was shot when Best Picture rolled around. Though I sensed that the Hollywood voters would support the underdog movie that dealt with "real issues" in their backyard, I didn't go for broke. I played it safe and went for Brokeback.
So ends my tale of picking the Oscars. It started with a promise of glory. And ended with mediocrity and disappointment. Just like so many Giants games.
P.S. I actually preferred "Crash" to "Brokeback Mountain." Yes, Haggis is manipulative and condescending as he explores the grey areas of human nature in a very black-and-white manner (with no hint of irony). But the film contains some moments and performances that pack a wallop. On the other hand, Brokeback is a lovely composition that lulls you to sleep. The only things that roused my interest were Michelle Williams's performance...and the sheep. Ang Lee can sure make sheep herding look awe-inspiring and mythic.
Then again, I would have voted for "Capote" over both of them.

Bill Fitzgerald said...

Oscardamus, gotta file that one away for the future. It's obvious that your problem is conditioning. Next year,make sure you build your stamina by watching the entire Golden Globes and at least one other awards show before a final tuneup with the American Spirit Awards.