Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Will Survive.

Oscar's Biggest Twist

"It’s perhaps the most interesting twist in the entirety of Oscar history. This year’s two leading contenders are directed by ex-spouses. Oh sure, everyone pretty much knew that James Cameron’s mega-smash, Avatar, and Kathryn Bigelow’s critically hailed war film, The Hurt Locker, would be nominated for Best Picture, but, really, who could’ve predicted that the two films would garner 9 nominations each, including Best Picture and Best Director? At this early stage of the game, I’m willing to give a slight edge to Bigelow’s film for being topical, and for showing how such a stirring movie can be made on a relatively small budget. (Even the Producers Guild, which normally opts for glossy commercial entertainments, chose Hurt Locker over Avatar.) No one can deny, on the other hand, that Cameron has created a visually imaginative, technologically groundbreaking film—but, of course, Cameron is Cameron, and he was able to spend hundreds of
millions of dollars on his dream project—the perks of all that residual goodwill left over from Titanic. To clarify, Cameron lists the two biggest grossing films of all-time on his resume (and Titanic, you’ll recall, made a virtual sweep of the Oscars, winning a total of 11 statuettes). Another thing that might work against Cameron is the Academy’s decision to expand the slate of Best Picture contenders from five to ten, which means there are more potential upsets, more potential diversity among voters to thwart a landslide. With that in mind, the other Best Picture contenders, in alphabetical order, are: The Blind Side (arguably my favorite film among the field), District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino’s comeback with the badly spelled title snagged 8 nominations), Precious, A Serious Man (a little seen Coen brothers’ film that should not be confused with Tom Ford’s A Single Man), Up (only the second fully animated
film, after 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, ever nominated for Best Picture…Avatar kind of falls somewhere in the middle of live action and animation) and, not surprisingly, Up in the Air. I think the latter also stands a strong chance against Avatar because it’s so middle of the road.

Even with those ten, I still wish Invictus had been nominated, but at least I can rejoice in the nods for Morgan Freeman (Best Actor, for playing Nelson Mandela) and Matt Damon (Best Supporting Actor…and his first nomination since being nominated for Best Actor in 1997’s Good Will Hunting—and co-winning Best Original Screenplay for the same film). Likewise, I felt such a rush of excitement this morning when I thought that former fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, was up for Best Picture…but then I realized I had misread, but, again, I can take some comfort in knowing that Colin Firth was nominated for his leading role in the film though I don’t think he stands much of a chance. My guess right now is that this is a race between George Clooney (Up in the Air) and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart). Clooney won Best Supporting Actor a few years ago (Syriana) and was nominated for Best Actor (Michael Clayton) in 2007.
Bridges, on the other, hand is second-generation Hollywood who has never won, out of four previous nominations, in a career that spans 40 years. With his recent wins at the Golden Globes and the SAG awards, I’ll give Bridges a strong sentimental edge. Meanwhile, besides Firth and Freeman, my two faves, the roster is rounded out by newcomer Jeremy Renner—definitely a worthy choice. His performance in The Hurt Locker builds over the course of the difficult film, and his last two-three scenes are devastating in their subtlety. I can’t really nitpick the Academy’s selections, but I don’t think Bradley Cooper has gotten enough year-end acclaim for his work in the raunchy comedy hit The Hangover, and District 9’s Sharlton Copley has a loyal, vocal, following.

Meanwhile, I’ve made no bones about how crazy I am about Sandra Bullock’s performance in The Blind Side—and, likewise, her chances of winning an Oscar. Now in her forties, and no longer working the “kid sister” act she so winningly portrayed in Speed, Bullock is, like Marvelous Meryl Streep, defying Hollywood logic and enjoying a career high (the logic being that women over 40 are pretty much suited for playing sexless grannies and not much else). Bullock’s perf in The Blind Side is not a jaw dropping feat of screen acting (comparable to, say, Holly Hunter in The Piano, Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, Charlize Theron in Monster, or even Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose), but she’s impassioned and inspired, and I think her work is as least as good as Julia Roberts’s Oscar winning Erin Brockovich. (Oh, and I’ve had a few friends at the youth center where I volunteer compare me to Bullock’s take no prisoners character, which I
take as a huge compliment.) Like Bridges, Bullock has a Golden Globe and a SAG award—and she starred in two of 2009’s biggest hits, the other being The Proposal—but she’s also competing against the legend known as Meryl Streep, outdoing even herself as Julia Child in Julie and Julia. It’s Streep’s 16th nomination, and, yes, she already has two Oscars—but it’s been over 25 years since her last win, and like Bullock, lately she’s been proving that actresses in their 40s, 50s, and older can still draw crowds in a variety of roles. The rest of the race is rounded out by Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious). Of course, Mulligan and Sidibe are newcomers in their 20’s, and Mirren is a 4 time nominee with a previous win (The Queen, 2006).

As happy as I am for Bullock and Sidibe, I’m still a little disappointed that there were so few viable contenders in the field. Of those that were overlooked, I’m most fond of Zooey Deschanel, the lovely heart and soul of the summertime romantic hit, 50 Days of Summer. Actually, I was stumped when Deschanel was even passed over for a Globe nomination (in the comedy category) though her co-star Joseph Gordon Levitt was nominated (for a Globe, that is). Emily Blunt also seemed promising for her work in The Young Victoria, and Bryce Dallas Howard had a plum role in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, a new film based on an obscure Tennessee Williams screenplay. Finally, it’s too bad Hilary Swank’s work as Amelia Earhart was dismissed by the critics and that the film…disappeared. I did not see it, actually, but from the previews it looked like she was perfectly cast.

I am certain that Mo’Nique will win Best Supporting Actress for her uncompromising performance in Precious (talk about a jaw dropping feat of acting), and good for her. It almost seems a shame to even have four other nominees….since they are surely destined to go home empty handed. I’ll be frank: I don’t get all the acclaim for Up in the Air—it’s not bad, exactly, but it left me cold—and, by extension, I don’t get all the acclaim for its female co-stars, and Best Supporting Actress nominees, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. What I got out of the movie is that both women were shallow and one-note, and since absolutely nothing about either of them surprised me (including the big twist), I took that as the actresses’ shallow, one-note skills. I think they’re both too transparent, too one-note, to be interesting, compelling or believable…because I didn’t believe them. The other two nominees in the category at least offer some
surprise: the often under-utilized Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), and Penelope Cruz (Nine). I’m rooting for Mo’Nique all the way, but I’m especially pleased by Cruz’s nomination, on the heels of her win last year in this same category for Vicky Christina Barcelona. Nine has proven to be a huge flop, but I don’t think it’s as bad as some reports suggest—and Cruz is the sizzling showstopper in the middle of it all. (I could’ve supported a Best Actor nod for Daniel Day Lewis, btw). And, okay, I think Mariah Carey was also deserving of a Best Supporting Actress nod for her performance as a burnt-out social worker in Precious. Some critics harp that Carey’s performance was a cosmetic triumph or that the part was too small to be taken seriously, but I think her body language and her voice really show the character’s vulnerabilities, if that’s what it can be called, and I actually think her role is the perfect size for Best Supporting
consideration…mainly because by now we’re so used to seeing leading roles demoted to supporting categories, we don’t recognize a true supporting role when we see it.

The race for Best Supporting Actor probably begins and ends with Christoph Waltz, the multilingual Nazi in the Tarantino film. Not only has Waltz been winning virtually every Best Supporting Actor award from coast to coast, he won Best Actor at last year’s Cannes film fest for this very performance. I don’t care too much for Tarantino’s trivialized look at WWII (that rewrites history), but Waltz performs a neat trick in his role, so good for him. The other nominees, besides the aforementioned Matt Damon, are Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones). Harrelson, of course, was nominated for playing Larry Flynt in the 90’s, but Plummer and Tucci are, arguably, long overdue for their first nominations. I still haven’t forgiven the Academy for overlooking Plummer’s superlative work as reporter Mike Wallace in 1999’s The Insider, and Tucci has come close several times,
such as 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada. I would have liked to have seen Colin Farrell nominated for his supporting turn as Bridges’s hotter than hot protégé in Crazy Heart, or Alec Baldwin as Streep’s goofy, scheming ex-husband in It’s Complicated. It’s interesting that the studio campaigned for Baldwin as a supporting player when he’s really Streep’s fully equal co-star. Oh well, at least Baldwin—and the other star from It’s Complicated, Steve Martin—are co-hosting this year’s telecast.

Now, about that Best Director thing. Of course, Cameron won in 97 for Titanic, and Bigelow takes her place as only the fourth female nominee in this category (and she won the DGA award over the weekend, a first). Bigelow and Cameron will now duke it out with Ivan Reitman (Up in the Air), Lee Daniels (Precious) and Tarantino. Daniels is only the second African-American nominated in this category (after John Singleton in 1991), and, to clarify, Sidibe is the first African-American nominated for Best Actress since Halle Berry’s triumph almost 10 years ago, Whoa!

Okay, the five nominees for Best Animated film are Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog (yes!), The Secret of Kells, and Up. This one will be close.

Two more: I’m openly rooting for Sandy Powell to win another Oscar for her costumes in The Young Victoria, and I’m pleased as punch that one of my top 5 films of the year, In the Loop, snagged a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay. Smart, funny, British, and eminently quotable, but perhaps not in mixed company.

Thanks for your consideration,

The Burnt Orange Heresy.

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