Donovan's 2009 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2009-02-21 20:20:48 EST
Rating: 1.05 on 19 ratings (19 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S OSCAR PROGNOSTICATION 2009
I’d like to start with the disclaimer that, in making my picks, I ignored the recent discovery of the “memo” naming all the major award minors, supposedly leaked by Oscar tabulators PricewaterhouseCoopers and signed by Academy president Sid Ganis. (But frankly, if I thought it might be legitimate, I would not hesitate to use it to make my picks 100% accurate, and then profess brilliance.)
And whether I’m right or wrong about my predictions, does it really matter? Does it even matter who wins? Does an Academy Award definitively determine who’s great and who’s not? Keep in mind, we live in a world where Casey Affleck has an Oscar nomination, but Gary Oldman does not.
On a side note completely unrelated to the Oscars… I recently discovered that Will Lyman, the narrator from Little Children (one of the most compelling voice-overs in recent years), did the narration for my office building’s safety training video – which might make it the GREATEST SAFETY TRAINING VIDEO OF ALL TIME. I was waiting for him to refer to my building’s fire marshal as “an unknowable little person” or to end by saying “He knew the Building Supervisor had done some bad things in the past, but so had the Security Guard. You couldn't change the past. But the future could be a different story. And it had to start somewhere. Like the lobby.”
SHOULD WIN: Slumdog Millionaire
WILL WIN: Slumdog Millionaire
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Gran Torino
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: WALL-E
I have been surprised and relieved as Slumdog Millionaire has emerged as the Best Picture front-runner over the past couple months. I thought for sure The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button would head into Oscar Sunday as the odds-on favorite. Despite some of the best reviews of the year and infectious word-of-mouth, Millionaire is largely in a foreign language, and stars a completely unknown cast, which I thought would not bode well for its chances (to find a Best Picture-winning film with such an unknown cast, you have to go back to 1987’s The Last Emperor – and even that had Peter O’Toole in a supporting role). When it took the Golden Globe for Best Drama, I saw some hope (but then again, in the past four years, the GG Best Picture winners have NOT won the Oscar). Since then, Millionaire has taken nearly every award possible, and is the clear favorite.
I’m not sure that Button deserves to be the runner-up, but it certainly seems to be the second-likeliest to win. Not surprisingly, there are many similarities between the two films: they are both epic, decade-spanning, modern fairy tales. But of course, the differences make the difference: Button is a distinctly American film, while Millionaire is worldly; Button is “profound”, while Millionaire is eye-opening; Button features Brad Pitt, while Millionaire, thankfully does not. Even if it’s based on that last reason alone, my vote is for Millionaire. It’s not a perfect movie – while there are a couple things I would have changed, they’re not worth mentioning – but it’s my favorite.
And to be clear, I do not dislike Button. It is impressive, and I am a pretty big David Fincher fan. People rave about how he makes Pitt look old, but I think the real magic is in making Cate Blanchett look young. The lovers’ relationship, which could have been creepy (and frankly, in a Fincher movie, SHOULD have been creepy), is mostly sweet… and surprisingly, appropriately, a bit sour. On the down side, I will say, a lot of characters use their dying breaths to say something profound, which gets to be a bit much. It’s almost comical. I think it’s safe to say that when real people reach their last breath, they simply… die. Assuming my last breath will be witnessed by people who care what I have to say, and that I have the awareness that I am in fact drawing my last, I plan to utter, “And most importantly… feed… my… fish.”
Milk, being a biopic, will have a tough slog here. The film wisely focuses on a specific story from Harvey Milk’s life, rather than chronicling the man in general. But the bottom line is that biopics get nominated easily, but don’t win often. It will get votes, but not enough to challenge Millionaire or Button.
And pulling into the Not-A-Chance spots are Frost/Nixon (which has been mostly received as an actor’s piece), and The Reader (which, despite Harvey Weinstein’s underhanded tactics, is just too little, too late). One thing that strikes me about Frost/Nixon is its parallels to A Few Good Men: both originated as stage plays, both stories feature a powerful government official as the villain and a seemingly harmless, clownish ne’er-do-well as the underdog who takes him on, both culminate in an oratory battle resulting in a seismic confession, and both boast the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon as the villain’s main supporter.
My Gloriously Omitted spot officially goes to Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, a movie that was filmed in the really crappy part of Detroit (which is to say, Detroit). Not surprisingly, the film was co-produced by the Offices Of Tourism of every state in the union except Michigan. Gran Torino is a fine, interesting story, but so much of it, specifically the dialogue, is too on-the-nose. The educational points are laid out in conversation like Public Service Announcements. And it doesn’t help that most of the supporting cast members are inexperienced actors, unable to deliver their lines in a way that seems natural and honest. Much of it feels very After School Special. While it sounds like I’m railing against the movie, I’m really not. I liked it. I just don’t think it deserves the same kudos that some of Eastwood’s other work has gotten. When all is said and done, my feeling is: Good for Clint. He has spent a lifetime making movies, and is at a point where he has earned enough love and respect and money from everyone that he can do whatever the hell he wants, no matter what the donkeys hiding behind laptops (i.e., me) have to say about it. If I was him, I’d intentionally make the worst movie ever, let it gross $100 million and score award nominations, and then in my Best Picture Oscar speech, say “All you people are friggin’ idiots. Good night.”
Not only was The Dark Knight snubbed from the Best Picture race, it was snubbed from my Ingloriously Snubbed race, too. The masses are of course complaining that the film was omitted from the Best Picture nominees because the Academy snobs don’t want to recognize something they categorize as a popcorn action flick. And defenders of the Academy are proclaiming that the Best Picture nominees should be prestigious in a way the plebes don’t understand, and that The Dark Knight did not fit that bill. I agree with both points of view: I think the Oscars should honor the BEST five movies of the year (regardless of pedigree), and I believe that The Dark Knight was NOT one of them. (And let’s be clear that there should be a distinction between the “best” movies and the “favorite” movies… for instance, my “favorite” movies tend to air at 1:00am on Cinemax.) But if I was making an argument that the best Action movie of the year should have been nominated, I would be arguing for Iron Man, not The Dark Knight. While I liked both a lot, and believe that both are automatic Blu-ray library requirements, I put Iron Man just ahead of The Dark Knight, based mainly on the hero’s arc and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. (I mean Christian Bale, that voice… really?) And that’s that.
So my Snubbed award goes to WALL-E, a film that truly deserves a Best Picture nomination. It is easily the most original story that I saw all year (but of course the robot’s design was far from original – it was clearly stolen from Short Circuit’s Number 5). I think one of the main reasons that it wasn’t given serious consideration for this category was its expected recognition in the Best Animated Feature category. That award is truly a double-edged sword for cartoons. It gives them an opportunity to be honored every year, but it also all but ensures that they won’t be considered for Best Picture (just as it is with Documentaries and Foreign Films – they almost never make it into the Big Race). No animated film since the creation of the category has been nominated for Best Picture (in fact, the only one ever was Beauty And The Beast – a dubious choice in my opinion). And if WALL-E didn’t make it, I’m not sure we’ll see anything else break the live-action barrier anytime soon.
SHOULD WIN: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
WILL WIN: Sean Penn (Milk)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Andrew Garfield (Boy A)
I think Sean Penn will win this one, but the award is far from locked up. While Penn is not my personal pick, he is without a doubt terrific in Milk. He’s not one of my favorite actors, and I don’t think he’s terribly likable, so it’s a testament to his performance that he presented a very charismatic, magnetic character. He’s already got an Oscar under his belt (for Mystic River), and he’s no friend of the Academy, so people will have to think his performance is significantly stronger than Mickey Rourke’s in order to win.
The difference for me is how engaging Rourke is on-screen in The Wrestler. I’ve seen plenty of his other movies, and it is almost hard to believe that this is the same person. His character is so pitiful yet noble, so tragic, so human… I couldn’t possibly see voting for anybody else. And if he wins, it will not be a big surprise. The fact that his character hits so close to home for many Academy members (mostly actors and actresses who are very much “one-trick-ponies”, as the Bruce Springsteen theme song goes, with little ability to do anything else, once acting dries up) will either spark empathy and support (and therefore votes) or fear and denial (and therefore no votes). Ultimately, it will come down to whether they feel Mickey Rourke was actually acting, or just being himself. But no matter how the votes go, I think we can agree that this film was a huge victory for Rourke.
I also believe there is a small chance that if enough people are split between Penn and Rourke, then Frank Langella could sneak in and steal the victory for Frost/Nixon. Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), a surprise nomination to some (but a welcome addition nonetheless), will not factor into the race. Nor will Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button, the least deserving actor in this race. It seems to me that he doesn’t do anything special in the film; he basically sits there in makeup in each scene (or with his face CGI’d onto somebody else’s body), while everyone else acts around him. (But in Pitt’s defense, I will say that he has one of my favorite film cameos ever, a wordless, 2-second shot in Being John Malkovich that is priceless.)
Okay, I’m back to bag on Clint a little bit more. While Eastwood does a reasonable acting job in Gran Torino, he did not deserve a nomination. We’ve seen him do everything in this film before – and better. He’s a grizzled old man, hardened by a chip on his shoulder and past regrets, growling at everyone, arguing with a priest, and not letting anybody close to him… until he meets a young directionless soul, a scrappy underdog, that he’s forced to mentor, and he’s slowly revealed to be a softie, who in the end has to make a tough moral decision about his new friend. Gran Torino… or Million Dollar Baby? Both, of course.
And Leonardo DiCaprio sucks. No further explanation necessary.
SHOULD WIN: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
WILL WIN: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Nicole Kidman (Australia)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Summer Bishil (Towelhead)
This race has obviously shaped up to be Kate Winslet versus Meryl Streep. Who should win? Well, rather than focusing on who gives the better performance, people seem to be choosing sides based on whose career merits it. On the Winslet side, people generally regard her as the best currently-working actress to have never won an Oscar, and letting her go 0-for-6 would be simply impermissible. On the Streep side, people generally regard her as one of the best actresses ever, and even though she’s won two Oscars, she hasn’t won in 25 years, and a third statuette would be fitting of her oeuvre. Before nominations were announced, there was no conflict of interest. Both sides could be appeased: it seemed like a no-brainer to vote for Streep as Best Actress, and Winslet for Best Supporting Actress (for The Reader). Both actresses get rewarded, voters’ consciences are clear, and everybody goes home happy. But when Winslet was not nominated in the Supporting category, a line was drawn in the sand, and everyone has been forced to choose: Winslet or Streep? For Hollywood, it’s been almost as tough as choosing between Team Madonna and Team Ritchie.
For me personally, I think I’m suffering from Kate overexposure (and I’m not just talking about her nude scenes in The Reader). Over the course of this award season, she’s gone from darling to goddam piece of work. Just in case her film performances weren’t enough for you, she’s offering overly-dramatic performances for each award she receives. I think she was hoping to get an award just for her Golden Globe speech alone. That was just about the hammiest, silliest, over-rehearsed bunch of fake humility I’ve ever seen. Such faux surprise… it was as if someone told her that aliens had just landed in her backyard. If Sean Connery was there, he would have slapped her. And that was just for a measly Golden Globe Award. Imagine the nonsense she’ll make us endure if she actually wins an Oscar… I’m guessing she’ll start speaking in tongues. At least the Academy voters can safely assume that she’ll be grateful if she wins. But worst of all: What was that shit with Leonardo DiCaprio when she won the Globe for Revolutionary Road? He was the first person she hugged when they announced her name… and her HUSBAND, Sam Mendes, who DIRECTED the movie, was sitting RIGHT NEXT TO HER. Are you kidding me? I hope Sam put a stop to that noise real fast when they got home. She might as well have said in her speech, “…and special thanks to my co-star Leo, who I am fucking, for being the perfect mirror through which…”
So back to the initial question: Who deserves to win the award? After all that headache? Who cares. Kate Winslet I guess.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt)
WILL WIN: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon)
There’s no point in debating who is going to win. And really, there’s not much point in debating who should win. I’m not going to convince anyone that Philip Seymour Hoffman deserves it, so I won’t even try. Even if Oscar voters agreed with me, they would still vote for Heath Ledger. I mean, would you want to tell people that you DIDN’T choose to honor Ledger’s memory? And instead you chose to give the award to Hoffman, a young guy that ALREADY has an Oscar? And that the guy you rewarded was the SAME guy that beat Ledger in his only other nomination (for Best Actor in Brokeback Mountain)? I rest my case.
The question that I’m more interested in is: Would Ledger win if he hadn’t died? I think the answer, arguably, is no. For starters, The Dark Knight was shut out of all other major categories, so it’s not like voters feel the film is an all-around Oscar-worthy film. Secondly, I don’t think his was even the best Joker performance; I still prefer Jack Nicholson. Ledger was excellent, no doubt, but Nicholson was first class (and was robbed of an Oscar nom, clearly). Twenty years on, Tim Burton’s first Batman film doesn’t really hold up: it’s gaudy, dated, hammy (then again, it’s Citizen Kane compared to the Joel Schumacher flicks), and the acting is often flimsy and almost laughable (especially the romantic scenes between Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger). The one element that does hold up, however, is Nicholson, who was always the best part of the film anyway. While each actor’s take on the role served his own movie, Nicholson’s performance as the Joker stands as the definitive one. Maybe that’s because he was first. Or maybe it’s because he was better.
And speaking of public adoration for drug addicts… I am perplexed by Robert Downey Jr. He has somehow become a person that the masses are “rooting” for. I don’t understand that. I can see liking an actor, or being impressed with his performances. But to actually root for celebrity as a person? As if you actually know them, and you hope for good fortune in their personal life? That’s strange, and yet, most people do it. But why? It’s silly. Do you think that actor is rooting for YOU? Something bad happens to them, and you feel terrible for them. But if YOU get in an accident, are they going to feel bad for you? Of course not. They don’t care about you; they don’t even know you exist (other than the presence of your box office dollars). So I generally keep the same policy they do: if something good or bad happens to them, I don’t give a damn. The greatest actor of our time gets busted for drugs? Big deal. The number one box office draw suffers a tragic accident? Oh well. America’s sweetheart goes bankrupt? Aw shucks. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish bad things on anybody, but if both Robert Downey Jr. and a nameless person I once passed on the street got into a car wreck, I’d feel worse for the nameless person.
As for the Oscars, I have no idea why Downey is nominated. In terms of performance, I’m trying to figure out why people think his is so great. Yes, it’s hilarious, I laughed a ton. But there have been plenty of funny supporting roles this year. I think people want to nominate him for his canon of work, and his supposed personal redemption, not just for that one film. Critics who laud him as the entertainer of the year (ahem, Entertainment Weekly) seem to include The Soloist (which is rumored to have exceptional performances) in his 2008 work… but that got pushed back to the spring. So really, they’re championing him based on Tropic Thunder and Iron Man. And as far as his year goes, Iron Man was the real event, not Tropic Thunder. I think people are letting their awe of Tony Stark wash over into his role in Tropic Thunder (which is understandable; Downey is spectacular in Iron Man – a much more clever superhero-alter-ego portrayal than Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne). So why don’t people say what they really mean, that Downey should be nominated for Iron Man? While I may not put him in the Top Five Actors Of The Year, I could at least get behind that argument.
Is Josh Brolin’s comeback over yet? Isn’t he gone yet? I’m getting a little tired of him. And it’s not his acting really; it’s his personality and attitude in all the interviews and on all the talk shows. For such a seemingly cool guy on-screen, he’s an astonishing tool in reality. It’s a little hard to believe that he’s married to Diane Lane (but then again, not at all hard to believe that he’s the step-son of Barbara Streisand).
And then of course, the last nominee is Michael Shannon, the guy you’ve never heard of. Not only is he the 5th most famous actor in the Supporting Actor category, he’s only the 5th most famous person named Michael Shannon (according to the IMDB ranking of people with the same name). You’ve probably seen him in at least two movies in the past decade, but don’t realize it: Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, World Trade Center, Bad Boys II, 8 Mile, Vanilla Sky, and Pearl Harbor, to name a few (and that’s not even including his tiny part in Groundhog Day).
I’m giving my Snubbed slot to Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon. While I am going back on my promise never to bestow official praise on him, let me be clear: he and I are still not on speaking terms (due to the whole having-carnal-relations-with-Kate-Beckinsale incident). But the unfortunate reality is that he gives a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination, with the film very much hinging on his character’s disarming caddishness and Cheshire smile masking a canny intelligence. And even though his is technically the main character in the film, I think strategists would have been wise to campaign for him in the Best Supporting Actor category (so as not to compete with Frank Langella, an obvious Best Actor nomination). I find it shocking that he wasn’t even nominated for a BAFTA, being a Brit himself. Maybe Academy votes were split across the Actor and Supporting Actor categories, since the appropriate category is determined solely by the individual voter, and not by any guidelines (similar to what played out with Kate Winslet). But I have a rogue theory: Academy members confused the name “Michael Sheen” with “Michael Shannon”, and accidentally voted for the wrong person.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
WILL WIN: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Cynthia Nixon (Sex And The City)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
The tightest and possibly most interesting race will be for Best Supporting Actress. Kate Winslet pretty much cleaned up all the non-Oscar awards for this category. But since she’s not nominated, it’s up for grabs. And this category is very often a curveball, so I wouldn’t be shocked by any one of these women winning.
But the emerging favorites are Viola Davis (for Doubt) and Penelope Cruz (for Vicky Cristina Barcelona). And many predictions show them neck-and-neck, so a handful of votes could really make the difference. Viola Davis faces a few challenges: hardly anybody had heard of her prior to this film, she has very little screen time, and she’s facing a challenger from the same movie, Amy Adams (which might cause fans of the film to split the vote). Penelope Cruz has a major challenge of her own: she has been so annoying in previous American movies that people may still hold it against her. But in the end, I think the votes will (and should) tip in favor of Cruz. Although she doesn’t appear until halfway through the movie, she is electric, changing the entire dynamic of the film, and provides much-needed laughs, terror, and authenticity. She finally proves that she can be a good actress in English (well, broken English), and hopefully realizes that she’s at her best when she’s not playing the ingénue. Or maybe she’s just so convincing in the film because she plays a whiny, psychotic, heavily-accented, pain-in-the-ass lover of Javier Bardem… and that’s what she is in real life.
Of the other nominees, I suppose Marisa Tomei is a sentimental favorite for me, because she has reached a point in her career where she believes the only way she can be considered for an award is if she shows off her fake cans. God bless desperation.
Quick shout to my Snubbed choice Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. As a relative unknown, she gives a very strong performance in a movie full of strong performers. She plays an atypical female role in a Woody Allen film: nuanced, neurotic, fearful of change… actually, a female version of the role Allen himself usually plays (albeit with nicer legs). I’m picking Hall for the Supporting Actress category, because I would think that would be a more likely campaign for her. But in reality she plays a lead role, and even scored a Golden Globe nomination as such. But against Cruz’s much showier role, Hall had no realistic chance in this category, and it was unlikely that the film would try to promote her as well.
SHOULD WIN: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
WILL WIN: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Baz Luhrmann (Australia)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight)
Without question, the Will and Should go to Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, I think it’s safer to bet on Boyle winning Best Director than Millionaire winning Best Picture. I think there is an outside chance that Boyle could take Director while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button takes Picture. But there is absolutely no way that David Fincher will win Director while Millionaire wins Picture. The simple fact is that Millionaire looks like more of a director’s achievement, from casting unknown actors to filming in exotic locations to conveying a different culture in a way that’s relatable in our own. Fincher, on the other hand, had a lot of help: a legendary author, makeup and effects wizardry, Oscar-caliber actors, and one of the most famous faces on the planet (speaking of which… I may find Brad Pitt worthless, but after Se7en, Fight Club, and Button, Fincher would be an idiot not to put him in every one of his movies).
Does Boyle stand much chance of losing? After winning the Director’s Guild Award, which has been the most accurate predictor of any category over the past decade, I don’t think so. Other than Fincher, who’s still thought of as an action/thriller guy making good on his first dramatic effort, I don’t see any wild cards to factor in. There aren’t any long-revered-yet-Oscarless veteran directors that could sneak in with a sympathy vote. Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), the most respected of the bunch, already has a statuette. Gus Van Sant (Milk), scoring his second nod, is not in that stratum yet. And Stephen Daldry (The Reader) is a sentimentalist whose masterpiece is yet to come, so there’s no need to rush him an Oscar now; besides, if his track record is any indication (a record-breaking 3-for-3 on Oscar nominations in his only feature films), then he’ll have plenty of chances in the future.
An interesting potential controversy in this race that never really materialized is the fact that Millionaire is officially directed by Boyle AND Loveleen Tandan (her official title is “Co-director: India”). Due to Oscar rules, only one person can be initially cited as a nominated Director, but the nominee can choose to share that nomination – and award – if they want to (as Joel and Ethan Coen did last year). But Boyle has not chosen to do that. A few groups have lobbied to have Tandan added as a nominee, but she has graciously stated that Boyle deserves the nomination solo. We are meant to assume that they have come to a mutually agreeable understanding. But of course, we secretly hope that he is actually unscrupulously strong-arming and exploiting her, just like he did with the child stars of the film.
After my musings on Best Picture, are you surprised by my Ingloriously Snubbed choice? While I don’t necessarily believe that The Dark Knight deserved a Best Picture nomination, I do firmly believe that Christopher Nolan deserved a Best Director nod. He is always true to the narrative story, and is a magician with the camera. I mean, did you see The Dark Knight at an IMAX theater? It was astounding, and that was with only limited scenes filmed in IMAX format. If he films the next installment entirely in IMAX, as he’s suggested, it will be beyond spectacular. I realize this is a bold statement (and I am prone to hyperbole), but Nolan may prove to be the greatest director of his generation.
(Darren Aronofsky gets a Snubbed Honorable Mention for The Wrestler. Sure, it’s Mickey Rourke’s triumph, but as a director, Aronofsky knows how to capture a performance that is perfect for the film, and adapts his style to suit the story flawlessly.)
And Baz Lurhmann gets the cherished Gloriously Omitted gong… frankly, he probably deserves it every time he directs a film. I think it’s humorous that people have been hotly anticipating Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge follow-up for seven years, and when he finally unveiled his epic sweeping masterpiece… it sucked big-time. Oops. Here’s some free advice for you budding investors out there in this blustery economy: if Luhrmann asks you to lend him $130 million… DON’T.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: WALL-E
WILL WIN: Milk
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Burn After Reading
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: The Wrestler
This is an interesting category because it features only one movie from the Best Picture nominees: Milk. For that reason alone, Milk will probably win this award. It also has the added appeal of being a bit of a triumph story itself, with its long journey to the screen, and the profound impact that Harvey Milk himself had on the screenwriter’s life (Dustin Lance Black).
I would like to see WALL-E win partly because it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, and because I think it was the most original story I saw all year. Working against it is the fact that it is a cartoon, that it will win for Best Animated Feature, and that it was not one person’s pure vision – it was a collaboration by three named screenwriters. While it won’t win this award, it’s encouraging to see quality animation creeping into the screenplay categories (Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and Shrek were also all recently nominated).
The other three nominated films won’t win because most people have not seen them, let alone heard of them: Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, and In Bruges. But careful with Happy-Go-Lucky… I think it’s a safe bet that Mike Leigh is going to win a screenwriting award at some point, it’s just a question of when. And he’s not really a Best Picture kind of guy, so when he wins, it will probably be as an underdog.
Of all the competitors, I find the nomination for In Bruges most shocking. I have not seen the film, but the trailer is god-awful (and ineffective: I thought the film’s title was “Shoot First, Sightsee Later”). I guess it is supposed to be a comedy, but there is only one mildly amusing line (delivered by the planet’s least likely comedian, Ralph Fiennes). The preview just looks insulting and pretentious. It would be one thing if it was a no-name, shoe-string independent film with a quirky take on European crime hijinks. But the movie carries a legit studio budget and features two huge A-List names (Fiennes and Colin Ferrell). I was shocked when it was nominated for three Golden Globes (especially when I thought it came out over two years ago), and even more shocked to see that it’s currently ranked #204 on the IMDB Top 250… Ferrell must have some free time on his hands.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Slumdog Millionaire
WILL WIN: Slumdog Millionaire
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: The Dark Knight
This category lines up with Best Picture for four of the nominees – which means you can immediately rule out Doubt. The film is considered by most to be a writer’s and actor’s showcase; however, the Academy may feel that it was a better production on Broadway, and that its Tony accolades were enough.
The likely winner here is Slumdog Millionaire. If it wins Best Picture, then it will be sweeping awards in all kinds of categories, this one included. If The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button happens to get voted Best Picture, then those voters will reward Millionaire in this category, based partly on its optimistic denouement, other-worldly view, and unique framing device. All other outcomes are unlikely. So if by some chance Button pulls an upset here, then the Millionaire camp has serious reason to worry about Director and Picture.
In fact, Button almost doesn’t belong in this category at all. It’s hardly “adapted from” the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name; “inspired by” is closer to accurate. The Fitzgerald story is kind of hilarious, actually, in an absurdist way. The Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell as Ted Brogan (where a woman gives birth to a full-grown man) is frankly a closer adaptation of it. That said, the story itself is inventive and intriguing. I’m not sure how I feel about setting the bookends of the story during Hurricane Katrina, though.
Some other awards that are worth a mention…
Best Original Song:
In general, I agree with the Academy’s rule change from a few years ago to only consider songs that have a real presence in films, instead of songs (typically unrelated to the film) that simply play over the closing credits. This year, however, two songs were disqualified that probably deserved consideration: “The Wrestler” by Bruce Springsteen and “Gran Torino” by Clint Eastwood and Jamie Cullum. Both were at the heart of each film’s theme, and provided fitting epilogues to the films’ characters, but were only featured during the credits because they simply wouldn’t have made sense at any other time. (The first verse of “Gran Torino” may have caused it to be passed over anyway: sung by Eastwood, it was damn awful. It sounded like it was being sung by a drunken homeless guy after being punched in the throat. Eastwood literally sounded like he was dying. Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” sounded downright sprightly by comparison.) The bigger disappointment was the fact that up to five songs can be nominated, but only three songs were, unnecessarily ignoring all the songs from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, like “Dracula’s Lament”, “We’ve Got To Do Something”, or “Inside Of You” (I would have even settled for a nod for the Hawaiian version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”, even though it wasn’t original).
Least Ambiguous Title:
Not an Oscar category, unfortunately. The winner would clearly be Young People Fucking. Not a lot of mystery in that title. And there is already a front runner for 2009: Donkey Punch. I’m not sure how that title got past the MPAA, because based on the film’s description, the premise is exactly what you think it is. The rating description alone is worth some kind of award: “R for a scene of strong sexual content involving an aberrant violent act.” I won’t describe what a Donkey Punch is, for fear that my wife won’t talk to me for a week, but you can look it up on Wikipedia or Urban Dictionary.