Monday, February 18, 2008

Ugh! Is it that time again?

The Oscars, they're such a waste of time. Critics' group awards, guild awards, festival jury prizes are much more interesting, and so are individual top tens. You can learn something from those. But the Oscars are political, mediocre. Anyone who lets the Academy influence what they watch should have their head examined (starting with me). But I find that as much as I'd love to ignore them, I can't. Oscar lore is woven into film history. The awards affect sales, success, reputations, legacies, so we might as well have some fun with them. Here are my predictions for this year's winners.

Best Picture: Personally, I think the academy went with the wrong five. I think they should have gone with The Assassination of Jesse James..., Away From Her, Ratatouille, Sweeney Todd, and Zodiac. Or possibly The Bourne Ultimatum, just as an acknowledgment of excellence in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking. I have serious problems with all five of the nominees they chose, but at least some of them are worth caring about. I think No Country for Old Men will win. It's possible Juno could win, which would be awful, but it was a season of dark entertainments on the big screen, which makes it easier for the comedy to stand out. Fox Searchlight (aka the new Miramax) has run quite the ad campaign, as they did last year for Little Miss Sunshine, a similarly near-disposable feel-good film. Some are predicting Atonement, but though I know people who loved it, I get the sense Atonement is not tapping into the mood of the moment.

No Country for Old Men and last year's winner, The Departed, remind me of the kinds of pictures that won during the last two years of President George H.W. Bush's tenure - The Silence of the Lambs (which at least one critic has compared NCFOM to) and Unforgiven. A mounting sense of frustration and desperation seems to lead in these cycles to winners that speak to a mood of cynicism. I think they act as cultural signals that people want change, but perhaps that's reading too much into popcorn sellers.

Best Actor: it's between Day-Lewis and Depp, of course, and I'll probably be wrong to go with Depp but I'm going to do so, anyway, partly out of wishful thinking. But Depp has been nominated twice before in this decade. It feels like the academy wants to reward him, and it would be a shame to see an actor so inventive, so limber and so fun lose again. Sweeney Todd seems as eligible a role for an Oscar as Depp's likely to make without betraying his persona: the role is dark, it's serious, yet it's entertaining and required him to go above and beyond - in this case, singing, starring in a musical that wouldn't make the mainstream wince.

Best Actress: probably Julie Christie. If they give it to Ellen Page, it would be disastrous. I believe Oscars wreck young actors' careers. I really hope they don't do that. She's off to a great start, and I'd hate to see that weight placed on her. If Christie doesn't win, it will probably go to Cotillard, for the kind of (reportedly) sensational performance in which an actor plays a real celebrity with verve. Think Mirren as Elizabeth II, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos and Kidman as Woolf.

Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem. Hoffman had a stellar year but won very recently for Capote. Wilkinson deserves it, in my opinion.

Best Supporting Actress: Very tough call. Blanchett was incredible as always, but she won not 3 years ago for her turn as Hepburn in The Aviator. She's still probably the best bet. Amy Ryan won all the critics' groups, but I don't see that getting her past the nominees circle. I love Tilda Swinton (though I hated the role she had in Michael Clayton) and am beginning to think she has a chance. She's a serious actress who's been segueing from a radical body of work into the Hollywood mainstream, now associated with a project led by its most popular actor. Her win would make me very happy. I wonder what Derk Jarman would say.

Best Animated Film: Ratatouille - and it damned well better be.

Best Adapted Screenplay: absolutely no idea, but I'll guess No Country for Old Men.

Best Original Screenplay: Juno will win; the hype machine has made a celebrity of Diablo Cody. Mark my words: audiences will finally see through her when she makes her next film. Not that I wouldn't love to be pleasantly surprised, but I'm skeptical she'll grow much after being so rewarded for what she turned in this year.

Best Directing: this will go to the Coens who have never won *for directing*. Jason Reitman does not deserve to be in this category.

Best Cinematography: it had better go to Roger Deakins, who worked multiple wonders this year and who has never won - probably for No Country for Old Men. Kaminski could also win if enough people see it. The camera does half the work of the story in that film. It's quite amazing, but he's already won twice.

Documentary Feature: I'm less informed about this category, having only seen the impressive Taxi to the Dark Side. I would guess No End in Sight going strictly on reputation.

Foreign Language Film: Who cares? 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days wasn't nominated. I've seen none of these, but Katyn seems to be well inside the Academy's comfort zone. Beaufort also has momentum. I just flipped a coin - going with Katyn.

Music (Score): I hope Ratatouille wins. Michael Giacchino is an outstanding composer, and I hope this is the first of many noms. However, veteran James Newton Howard (Michael Clayton) has never won, and this is his 7th nomination. I don't remember this score at all, but odds seem in his favor. Marco Beltrami has never been nominated before, but he's done a ton of mainstream work, which may earn him some votes in the Academy. A shame Klaus Badelt wasn't nominated for Rescue Dawn.

Music (Song): How could "Falling Slowly," the only nomination from Once, fail to win? Enchanted's "Happy Working Song" is its only competition, I guess, but it may be too much of a throwback to Menken's and Schwartz's older work.


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