Up the Academy

by |
02/20/2009 12:00 PM |

Jesse Hassenger’s Hott Oscar Pixx! (Amused anticipation of all-time most hirsute host Hugh Jackman not included, for some reason.)

The Oscars are on Sunday, and all indications — mostly vaguely unpopular or vaguely disliked nominees; the deterioration of the network television audience; and, oh yeah, economic collapse — point toward no one caring. Indifference to the Oscars: it’s not just for snobs anymore! I’m making my predictions anyway, in case you want to come in fourth or fifth in your poorly attended office pool.

Best Supporting Actor:
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Will Win: Without wanting to sound crass, this would be a pretty intense competition if Heath Ledger were still alive. But he’s not, and as such, he’s a lock.
Should Win: I’m fine with rewarding Ledger, a brilliant actor who remade an iconic character, although the implication that posthumous awards recognition is about anything beyond making the voters feel better about themselves gives me the willies. Really, this is one of the strongest categories of the night; Shannon, Downey, and Ledger are all especially deserving.

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Will Win: Everyone predicts Penelope Cruz, and Woody Allen certainly has a way with supporting actresses, but I’m not so sure she’s a lock: Bullets Over Broadway and Mighty Aphrodite both got screenplay nominations, signaling broader love. So did Deconstructing Harry and Sweet and Lowdown, for that matter. Plus, this category is upset city; I’m thinking voters will remember the one killer Viola Davis scene, and give it up for her.
Should Win: I rolled my eyes when Judi Dench won an actual award for her Shakespeare in Love walk-on, but Davis’s five or ten minutes of Doubt are actually a lynchpin of the movie — excellent support indeed.

Visual Effects:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man

Will Win: Sometimes, this category goes inexplicably off the rails, like when The Chronicles of Narnia won over Revenge of the Sith, or The Golden Compass triumphed over Transformers and Pirates 3 (say what you will about those last two, but they have pretty nice special effects). If we’re looking for the movie with middling but numerous effects, Iron Man would seem to fit the bill, but it’ll be hard to ignore The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; the weirdness of the effects keeps them from the kind of pure invisibility that sometimes screws the best work.
Should Win: No matter what you think of the movie, the Benjamin Button effects are extraordinary.

Cinematography:

Tom Stern, Changeling
Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight
Roger Deakins and Chris Menges, The Reader
Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire, and at least it’s not the kind of mountain-heavy scenery-mongering that usually takes this prize.
Should Win: The Dark Knight.

Art Direction:
Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

Will Win: Benjamin Button, unless enough bluehairs saw The Duchess.
Should Win: I’m usually all about Batman-related set design, but while The Dark Knight‘s was excellent, its use of actual Chicago locations is a tad less impressive than the immersive worlds created by the Burton films. So Button works for me.

Costume Design:
Australia
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Milk
Revolutionary Road

Will Win: “Best” is often equated with “most” when the tech categories are put to a general vote, so maybe not a lot of people saw The Duchess, but they’ll go ooh and aahh anyway and give it the prize. Get those “Academy Award Winner” stickers ready, whatever company distributed The Duchess!
Should Win: I swear I often have an opinion on categories like this, but I’m not sure that’s happening this year. Usually I go with whatever most resembles science fiction so… Australia?

Makeup:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Will Win: Unless there’s a revolt about the assistance of CG techniques, I’m guessing Button
Should Win: … and with good cause; remember how Brad Pitt is in his forties, not his twenties, and old-man babies don’t exist?

Editing:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Frost/Nixon
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire

Will Win: Conventional wisdom says that this goes to the eventual Best Picture winner, and Slumdog‘s combination of flash and flashbacks certainly fits the profile. But upsets in this category typically come from big, well-liked action-type movies that the Academy was apparently too sheepish to nominate for the big prize: Bourne Ultimatum for one, The Matrix for another. [This is one of those "best=most" tech categories you were talking about, wasn't it. -Ed.] I have a sneaking suspicion that The Dark Knight will pull off such an upset, though it’s by no means a sure thing.
Should Win: The Dark Knight — the movie proceeds at a breathless pace and the editing plays a huge part.

Original Screenplay:

Courtney Hunt, Frozen River
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter, Wall-E
Will Win: It’s between Milk and Wall-E (though part of me thinks that In Bruges could sneak in, with so little Best Picture competition in its way). I love Wall-E, but it’s hard to imagine the more literal-minded voters going for something with so little dialogue — plus even the best animated movies have that written-by-committee stigma. I’m guessing Milk will get whippersnapper Justin Lance Black a statue.
Should Win: Wall-E is a great package, but in terms of individual, scene-by-scene writing, I might have to favor In Bruges.

Adapted Screenplay:
Eric Roth, Robin Swicord, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
David Hare, The Reader
Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: In a stronger year, something else could probably snatch it away from Slumdog, which works more because of its direction than its screenplay. But I’m not seeing what could take it down, so it’s more or less a lock.
Should Win: Slumdog, by elimination more than anything: Button rests more on direction than Gump-derivative writing; Doubt feels like a pretty close adaptation, as does Frost/Nixon, which is undermined by a few of the directorial choices; The Reader is perfunctory at best.

Best Actor

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Will Win: Frontrunner Sean Penn does make sense; he’s playing a real guy, against his own broody type, in a politically minded movie with an emotional core. But I’ve got a feeling Rourke will get votes because it’s a better story, and ’cause Penn already has one of these.
Should Win: Rourke, for exactly those reasons, plus others. Penn is wonderful as Milk, but the movie doesn’t show us much of him before he became a political leader. We don’t see much of Randy the Ram’s early years, either — except in Rourke’s eyes and worked-over face.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader
Will Win: Some have suggested Meryl Streep will step in since Winslet is up for a weak movie, but it still feels like Winslet’s year. Winning for a performance inferior to at least half your body of work is sort of an Academy tradition. I guess it comes down to whether supporters of Revolutionary Road (a.) exist and (b.) will vote for Winslet because they liked the other performance so much or vote for someone else because they don’t want to reward The Reader.
Should Win: Kate Winslet… for Revolutionary Road (her buddy Leo met the same ridiculous fate a couple of years ago, scoring a nomination for the forgettable-if-you’re-lucky Blood Diamond rather than The Departed, for which he totally deserved to actually win). In absence of that performance, and not having watched the Netflix copy of Frozen River sitting on my coffee table (right next to The Visitor), I guess I’m kinda rooting for Anne Hathaway, who I don’t even particularly like. She’s the only one of the four that I’ve seen who can claim to have never been better. [Sally Hawkins. WTF. -Ed.]

Director:
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Boyle. I don’t know if voters will think about how the same guy made Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, 28 Days Later, Millions, and Sunshine, or if that would even count in his favor, but Boyle has a magic combination of brash newcomer and established vet (sort of like a Best New Artist Grammy, heyo!).
Should Win: Danny Boyle, because anyone who I would’ve nominated for an Oscar when I was a junior in high school should obviously go on to win one.

Picture:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire; nothing else really has a shot.
Should Win: Now I know how regular people feel about the Oscars: faintly indifferent! My favorite of the five is Benjamin Button [Hey, mine too. Wait, what? -Ed.], which I did not like nearly so much as non-nominees The Dark Knight [Gak. That's more like it. -Ed.], Wall-E, In Bruges, and on and on. Slumdog is a good movie, and so is Milk. [If by "good movie" you mean "Good movie subsequently talked way out of proportion by people who only see five movies a year," and "Bad movie towards which it is impossible to feel anything but goodwill," respectively. -Ed.] Hell, the Ron Howard movie was perfectly enjoyable. A surprise would be nice, but not if it’s The Reader. Maybe something super-shocking, like a four-way tie. Or a movie no one knew was nominated because it was written in invisible ink and only Oscar voters were given the decoder glasses. Or a promise that next year’s nominees will be easier to care about.

[Best Foreign Language Film:
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel), Germany
The Class (Laurent Cantet), France
Departures (Yojiro Takita), Japan
Revanche (Götz Spielmann), Austria
Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman), Israel
Will Win:
Waltz with Bashir. Topical!
Should Win: It's not a bad choice, actually, general annoyance at the Old Jewish Vote's continued chokehold over this category notwithstanding.
The Class is a terrific movie and you should see it; Revanche is a very well-made interlocking crime movie, according to a lot of people who've seen it at festivals. (It's at Lincoln Center next week, if you're interested.) In truth I've long stopped caring about the fact that I don't care about Best Picture — Hey, Jesse, let me try out an all-reasonably-high-visibility-English-language-films list on you: Gran Torino, Happy-Go-Lucky, Synecdoche, New York, Wall-E, Wendy and Lucy. See, rumors of my curmudgeonly snobbery have been greatly exaggerated — but the shocking unfamiliarity with world cinema that informs this category still depresses me, I can't help it. -Ed.]

4 Comment

  • Oof, I was pretty relieved that Gran Torino didn’t make it in. Nice performances but boy can you see the One-Take Clint thing all over. But yeah, I would’ve loved to see more Synecdoche, W&L, Wall-E stuff up in there.

    I want to see The Class and I bet it will win. I can’t be the only person who didn’t like Waltz with Bashir.

    I can’t say much informed about the foreign language choices this year since I’ve only seen the one so far, but I do remember that the movie “Evil” was nominated a few years back?! That got a big WTF from me when I caught up with the DVD.

  • Actually, no, of course I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like Waltz with Bashir — Benjamin Strong wrote a pretty fine assessment for the L that I had forgotten about:

    http://thelmagazine.com/6/36/Film/film08.cfm

  • Any favorites in the best documentary category?

    Also what abou independent spirit award tomorrow?

  • I think Trouble the Water will win. I’ve only seen Encounters at the End of the World, though. That was pretty awesome.

    I haven’t paid much attention to the Spirits — it’s hard for me to get into them because their distinction between independent and studio seems pretty arbitrary. But I probably will watch them at some point.