Tuesday, January 12, 2010

9. what the thunderduck said

a full day driving then a full day of work
a journey so long you forget how it started

darker outside
for the lights in here
blithely wicked folded war

freezing rain
on this sad height I pray
the ice sliding down

cicala Nôh
all these tshirt are under $100
hangers-on and toad-eaters
an old newspaper still crisp

variable width arterial
in a strange car
like strange shoes

it's enough to make
ice start forming on your iPod

the muzzle of the city came down
fewer and fewer shapes moved

never wholly abandoned
it is now a type of hieroglyph

half admonitory · half illegible
this is what we were

this is what we are capable of

You choose a team (or have one chosen for you); then believe the sorts of things others on your team believe.

Melanie on the Golden Globes: "Okay, before I launch into a big wrap-up on the Golden Globes, I'd like to explain a little bit about how the Globes--or, rather, how the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which sponsors the Globes--work. To do so, I'll draw upon my own observations from over 20 years in the movie biz as well as the insight I learned from well-connected insiders I became acquainted with during that time.

The main thing is to remember the "Foreign" part of the Hollywood Foreign Press; that is, the voters often have a predisposition to films from parts of the Globe other than Hollywood. At the same time, however, because a lot of the journalists affiliated with the HFPA work for low-profile publications in their native countries, they are generally a pretty star-struck bunch, which both studio publicists and stars' agents are well aware--as a result, these handlers will practically bend over backwards to make sure their clients get plenty of face-time with the HFPA (which, in turn, gives the reporters something to crow about to their competitors back home). In this way, the Golden Globes may be even more nakedly political than the Oscars. On the other hand, whoever said winning a Golden Globe automatically guarantees an Oscar to follow, is a bit optimistic. Certainly, winning a Globe never hurt anyone's Oscar campaign because, at the very least, it raises the profiles of all the nominees and/or winners, thus creating interest with Oscar voters (who, like all of us vote with their own individual biases). However, to qualify all of this, ultimately what is being judged is the work on the screen. Even so, publicists crave awards attention because it increases the visibility of their films in the marketplace (and therefore helps sell the film), and agents love awards attention because it provides future bargaining chips for their clients in the future. And actors, not to mention writers, directors, etc., really do like awards because they're a competitive lot (otherwise they wouldn't be successful in such a cut-throat industry), and because, hey, let's face it, winning awards is fun!

Okay, so here's what happened and how it figures in the upcoming Oscar showdown. I have to say I'm thrilled, thrilled, thrilled, for Kate Winslet to have won both Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama (Revolutionary Road) and Best Supporting Actress (The Reader). I love her in both movies, actually, but I think her performance in Revolutionary Road is truly, truly exceptional...one of the smartest things I've ever seen. RR is also now my official--personal--choice for the year's very best movie. And I say "pooh" to all those critics who have knocked her for not being sympathetic in RR. To me, she is the very essence of a sympathetic character. So far, Sally Hawkins, who won the GG for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy (Happy-Go-Lucky) has been the darling of the various critics' societies, with Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) a close second. I'm personally rooting for Winslet, and I think her Globe win could be significant. That said, Meryl Streep is excellent in the rather difficult Doubt (which I liked enough to see twice), so I don't think she--nor Hathaway--can be written off just yet. Still, Winslet's success in such mind boggling projects as Revolutionary Road and The Reader (a movie that would also make my own year-end Top 10 list) in a single year has to count for something. It's tempting to think Oscar's final five will be Winslet, Streep, Hathaway, Hawkins and Angelina Jolie (Changeling), but Jolie, who looked like a sure thing last year at this time for A Mighty Heart, once again might be bumped. If that happens, Melissa Leo (an actress known primarily for TV work) is waiting in the wings for the low budget indie Frozen River, as are Emma Thompson (Last Chance Harvey), Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy), and Kristin Scott Thomas for the French import I've Loved You for So Long. Btw, the Screen Actors Guild nominees are Hathaway, Jolie, Leo, Streep, and Winslet.

Of course, Winslet's win as Best Supporting Actress took away from the momentum built by Penelope Cruz for Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona. I've seen Cruz in a number of films, of course, and, truthfully, I can take her or leave her; that said, she's often better in foreign language films than she is in English speaking roles. Yet in VCB,an American film set in Spain, she is at the top of her game, and she has scads of awards already to prove it. Of course, Woody Allen has a knack for bringing out the best in his performers, especially the actresses who often win Oscars (even when they play characters who are not necessarily sympathetic). Even factoring out the late surge of interest in Kate Winslet's turn in The Reader, Cruz will still face stiff Oscar competition from Viola Davis, who plays the quiet, put upon mother of the--allegedly--molested boy at the center of Doubt. Davis only has two back-to-back scenes in the movie, but she's absolutely riveting as she tries to make Meryl Streep's Mother Superior understand her "side" of the situation. Beyond that, I'd still like to see Golden Globe nominee, and former Oscar winner, Marisa Tomei sneak a nomination for The Wrestler. That noted, Tomei is not in the running for the SAG award, which might prove telling. Instead, her spot in thet contest is arguably filled by Taraji P. Henson, playing Benjamin Button's adoptive mother in The Curious Case of... Also bucking for a nod is Amy Adams, Streep and Davis's co-star in Doubt. Frankly, I wish there was room at Oscar's table for Debra Winger, impressive as the mother of the two siblingsin Rachel Getting Married, and either Christine Baranski or Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep's lovely, sun-kissed daughter, in Mamma Mia! Baranski, btw, tears-up the screen with her rousing version of "Does Your Mother Know?"

Speaking of The Wrestler, comeback king Mickey Rourke's win as Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama was a bit of a surprise, especially given the momentum generated thus far by Sean Penn for his work as slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk, in Milk. My thoughts over the past month has been that Rourke would emerge as Penn's only significant competition--and Rourke's win pretty much signifies that. As I see it right now, a win for Penn, easily the season's biggest champ up to this point, would have certainly sealed the deal for his 2nd Oscar; however, I don't think his loss is significant just yet. After all, neither The Wrestler nor Milk are playing in wide runs yet, so it's not clear which one will "catch-on" and create the most goodwill with audiences (which might sway media coverage and influence Academy members). A more telling barometer might be the upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards. To clarify, the Golden Globe winner for Best Actor does not always go on to win the Oscar. Penn's performance in transformative, worlds apart from the one he played--and won an Oscar for--in Mystic River, but Rourke's riding high on the comeback trail, which Oscar so dearly loves (because many of them know, they too might have to take that ride someday). Also, even though Clint Eastwood was not GG nominated for Gran Torino, the 78 year old actor-director just saw his late entry Torino open as the week's #1 film, so he may very well make the Oscar race even more interesting. Likewise, I don't really anticipate Frank Langella to win an Oscar to go with his Tony for playing Richard Nixon, in Frost/Nixon, but a nomination would be a nice touch--and, so far, armed with both GG and SAG noms, an Oscar nom for Langella appears a virtual certainty. Meanwhile, many media types and assorted industry insiders are waiting with baited breath that an Oscar nom materializes for SAG nom Richard Jenkins (an actor more recognizable by face, rather than name) in "The Visitor" (another independent feature, like Frozen River, given only limited theatrical release).

To the surprise of no one, the late Heath Ledger took the Best Supporting Actor award for his universally hailed performance as the creepiest "Joker" of them all in the world-wide box-office blockbuster, The Dark Knight. At this point, it is hard to imagine that Ledger's performance won't win the Oscar next month. Still, there has to be four other nominees. Robert Downey Jr. is certain to be nominated for playing "the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude" in Tropic Thunder. But that role, a pompous Australian Method actor in black face, probably pushes a few too many politically incorrect buttons to sway voters away from the Ledger tidal wave. Beyond that, I'd like to see Josh Brolin score a nod for playing Dan White, the real-life shooter of Harvey Milk and San Francisco's Mayor Moscone. Between his work in Milk, "W.," No Country for Old Men, and American Gangster, Brolin is proving himself one of the current cinema's most interesting actors, mainly because he's willing to play roles that might not necessarily seem sympathetic at first glance--no easy feat, that, and I respect him for it. Brolin has won a few early prizes, and he's up for the SAG award, but he was not nominated for a Globe, and that surprises me. My other two choices for an Oscar nomination in this category would be James Franco, for playing Sean Penn's restless lover in Milk, and Tom Cruise, virtually unrecognizable as the ruthless, foul-mouthed studio chief in Tropic Thunder. Cruise was one of last night's Globe nominees, but he's AWOL among the SAG roster, so his Oscar chances appear dicey. Even so, the solid success of his unlikely Christmas release, Valkyrie, might be enough to excite the attention of Oscar voters (who otherwise might be tempted to write off Tropic Thunder as either a fluke or a stunt).
A last minute surge of momentum--including a profile in Entertainment Weekly--might make a difference for Michael Shannon, who plays a "lunatic" who sees through the suburban sham in Revolutionary Road. (For that matter, Kathy Bates, who plays Shannon's mother, might also score a surprise Best Supporting Actress nomination.)

For my money, a horrible choice for this category would be Dev Patel, the 18 year-old star of Slumdog Millionaire. Yes, even though Patel is clearly the main character in his film, his studio is promoting him as a supporting player. Though I have not read an official statement as to why this is so, I can pretty much figure, the studio publicist's argument: that Slumdog Millionaire is truly an ensemble piece, and that Patel is only one of three actors who play the central character (who ages from barely more than a toddler to young adulthood). Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes, even though three actors play that role, it is still, obviously, the film's main character, and Patel clearly has more screen-time than any other actor in the film. Using that studio's logic, Brad Pitt should likewise be positioned as a supporting actor for Benjamin Button (which, to clarify, is from a different studio), since Pitt is only one of about 7 actors who play BB. In the movie's early sequences, the character is created by using computer technology to graft Pitt's digitized head onto the bodies of other actors (of various statures), while in the latter portion of the film, a series of successively younger actors play BB. The studio, however, argues that it is Pitt who ultimately determines the character's portrayal. In reality, Pitt is being positioned for Best Actor because he's an easily marketable star whose ego must be stroked, while Patel is positioned as a supporting player because he's not a big star like Pitt, and the studio is grasping at straws for an easy score. That noted, 5 years ago, the studio that released New Zealand's Whale Rider launched a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 14 year-old Keisha Castle Hughes, but Oscar voters were savvy enough to see the actress as the leading player she was, and nominated her for Best Actress.

Finally, Slumdog Millionaire took prizes for both Best Director (Danny Boyle) and Best Motion Picture Drama. This one-two punch could be repeated at the Oscars, but I still feel the deluxe, big budget studio offering Benjamin Button (positioned to score more nominations overall than Slumdog because of its period atmosphere and technical wizardry) will be its main rival for the top awards. (To be frank, I'm not a fan of either film.) I don't anticipate Best Picture nods for three of my favorite films, Revolutionary Road, Doubt, or Wall-E; however, Milk still has a chance and the fact that Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona nabbed the Globe for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy from the likes of Mamma Mia! and Happy-Go-Lucky indicates there might be greater overall support (for VCB) than earlier predicted. Allen, of course, seems a no-brainer for a screenplay nod, and maybe even Best Director.

I'll close with a list of the films currently in contention for the Producers Guild Award, the Directors Guild Award, and the SAG award for Best Ensemble. These noms should give you an accurate idea of how the Best Picture/Director races are shaping up:

PGA: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and Slumdog Millinaire

DGA: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), David Fincher (Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), and Gus Van Sant (Milk)

SAG Award for Best Ensemble: Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and Slumdog Millionaire

Btw: Oscar nominations are announced a week from Thursday, with the SAG awards the following Sunday.

Thanks for your consideration,

No comments: