2009 Oscar Preview

19Feb09

oscars

Best Picture

Of the five films in this category, only two really have a shot. Frost/Nixon was a great stage adaptation with amazing performances and, while solid, was ultimately compromised by Ron Howard‘s lack of technical abilities. The Reader was boring, poorly constructed, and probably the most overrated film in the last 20 years. And Benjamin Button was average at best.

That leaves us with Milk and Slumdog Millionaire. And it’s close.

Milk was perfectly casted, acted and edited. Thankfully, Gus van Sant showed enough restraint not to fuck it up with his usual annoyingly pseudo-artistic direction. Add to that the best performance of Sean Penn‘s career and you have a serious contender for Best Picture.

But, unfortunately for Gus van Sant and Milk, 2009 is the year of Slumdog. With great music, flawless direction and screenplay, Slumdog Millionaire has finally brought Danny Boyle to the forefront of cinema. He’s a versatile director who can excel in any genre, and Slumdog’s complex, non-linear story line really allowed him to showcase his skills. The result was a beautifully executed film whose broad appeal, blending of cultures, and surprising rise to recognition puts it over the top.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Slumdog Millionaire

WHO WILL WIN: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actor

Why is Brad Pitt in this category? He gave a much better, rounder performance in A River Runs Through It and is the weak link in this category with his one-note portrayal of Benjamin Button. Richard Jenkins is finally getting the love he deserves, after years of being “that guy”–you recognize him, know he’s in things, but you don’t know his name or why you seem to remember him (if you still don’t know who he is, he’s the dead father in Six Feet Under). Unfortunately, his well-developed performance will be eclipsed by the big three: Mickey Rourke, Frank Langella, and Sean Penn. This will ultimately be decided by politics: the resurrection of Mickey Rourke, the Nixon scandal, or the gay character post-prop 8.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Mickey Rourke
WHO WILL WIN: Sean Penn, because the Academy loves him.

Best Actress

First off, the Academy needs to decide what constitutes a leading role, because Kate Winslet should have been up for Revolutionary Road, not The Reader, both for technical and performance-quality reasons. She’ll probably win, but only because Stephen Daldry is a marketing whore and has been politicking for The Reader like he was Blagojevich selling a Senate seat.

Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie both had great roles, but it was more the writing than they acting that made their characters special. While Angelina Jolie will get a nomination for anything in which she’s not half naked shooting at people, Streep didn’t bring the expected veteran-actress energy to an already well written character–and it fell short.

Melissa Leo in Frozen River was an interesting choice. A small, low-budget, independent film shot in 24 days spawns a Best Actress nomination? But it’s a well-crafted story–solid throughout. As for Melissa Leo’s performance, as good a job as she did, she’s not beating out Streep, let alone Winslet.

Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, deserves credit for nailing her part as a fresh-out-of-rehab junkie–a role often cliched, parodied, and overplayed. Sadly, no one saw Rachel Getting Married. It’s not a great film but Hathaway more than makes up for it (Plus, Tunde from TV on The Radio plays her brother-in-law-to-be!)

WHO SHOULD WIN: Anne Hathaway
WHO WILL WIN: Kate Winslet

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Downey, Jr. is an amazing actor and definitely deserves some fucking recognition. But Tropic Thunder? Really?? It’s picks like this that make people clown the Oscar. Everyone else was solid, but Josh Brolin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michael Shannon picked a shitty year to be nominated.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was miscast in the role of Father Flynn, and he did the best he could. Still, his subpar performance paled in comparison to most of his other work. Josh Brolin, though slightly outshone by the rest of the supporting cast, was impressive in Milk. He just seems to have bad luck–going against Daniel Day-Lewis last year, and now Heath Ledger. Michael Shannon had three great scenes, and blew me away in Revolutionary Road. He was the most interesting character in a Sam Mendes movie, which in itself says a lot, and he had a huge impact in his 120 seconds of screen time.

Yet as good as they were, Brolin and Shannon especially, no one is beating Heath Ledger. A solid, completely immersive portrayal of a psychotic clown in a movie that destroyed box offices everywhere? He deserves the award no matter what, and it only helps that he’s dead.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Heath Ledger (but only because he’s dead)
WHO WILL WIN: Heath Ledger (but only because he’s dead)

Best Supporting Actress

How long do you have to be in a film to fulfill the “supporting” criteria? Viola Davis, though very emotional, had one scene in Doubt. However, she was just as memorable as Michael Shannon in her limited screen time. Penelope Cruz didn’t have a much bigger role, and she’s only here because she played a cup full of crazy in a Woody Allen movie, and her crazy wasn’t as good as crazies in the past (Wilkinson in Michael Clayton). But Amy Adams is a head above the rest in this category, and hopefully that’s enough.

Taraji Henson is here just because the Academy loved Benjamin Button, but it wasn’t a great film and she wasn’t all that good in it. Outside of Cruz, she’s the weakest nominee in this category. It was like she played the great-great-grandmother of her character in Hustle and Flow.

Marisa Tomei is the dark horse here. She gave an incredible performance in The Wrestler and she’s still ridiculously hot.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Amy Adams
WHO WILL WIN: Penelope Cruz

Best Director

If you’ve ever read sexy gypsy, you already know our pick for Best Director. Motherfucking Danny Boyle.

Stephen Daldry is now on my shit list for The Reader–even more so for plugging the fuck out of an inferior movie and tricking everyone into thinking it was great. Who the fuck does he think he is, M. Night Shyamalan?

David Fincher is a great director with some amazing movies under his belt, but the travesty of Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not one of them. The sequence with Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt was the only time you really saw Fincher’s influence, and it was the best part of the film.

Ron Howard is still Hollywood’s golden boy, so it’s not surprising he was nominated for Frost/Nixon. Aside from persistent anachronisms and mishandling of time, Howard preserved the spirit of the stage play and the camera work was excellent.

Gus van Sant finally decided to humble himself and make a solid, consistent film, and is really the only one who could challenge Boyle. The Academy loves him, and could look to make up for robbing him of Best Director in 1997, plus some Prop 8 guilt could come into play. This is definitely a category to watch.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Danny Boyle (with an honorable mention and apology to Sam Mendes)
WHO WILL WIN: Danny Boyle

Conspiracies

  • Who did Sam Mendes piss off? He is a great filmmakers and Revolutionary Road, though disturbingly depressing, was an amazing film. Camera work, editing, score, acting, screenplay–all great. Yet the Academy left him out of the running and even changed the nomination for Kate Winslet, calling her performance in The Reader a lead–a role which the HFPA considered a supporting a few months ago. I think he’s in the doghouse for some reason, and Michael Shannon’s nomination is an apology. I suspect that, though Ledger has it locked, they might upset everything and give it to Shannon, just to show there’s no hard feelings.
  • Amy Adams deserves to win best supporting, but everything in Hollywood is political (which could also explain Winslet’s bump to lead role after Daldry’s whoring). My guess is that Cruz could walk with this one because the Academy loves Woody Allen and they’re sorry he made a dumb movie they can’t nominate for anything else.
  • Again making up for its past mistakes, the Academy has shown major love to Benjamin Button. They want so badly to let Pitt have one, but Babel just wasn’t that good. And Zodiac, Fincher’s first Academy-worthy film, just came out too early for Oscar consideration.
  • 4.) Robert Downey, Jr. has been in some great movies, always does his roles beautifully, and the Academy thinks he’s due for something. But since Charlie Bartlett got impatient and fucked off what could have been a serious, profound ending, he couldn’t get anything for that. And Iron Man was entertaining, but no actor will ever get an Oscar for playing a superhero. Downey’s next film is The Soloist with Jamie Foxx, directed by Joe Wright. It would have been a contender for the Oscars but was pulled from its November release date and slated for early March, 2009. So now it comes down to Tropic Thunder.
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