Donovan's 2007 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2007-02-25 17:23:16 EST
Rating: 1.34 on 29 ratings (29 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S OSCAR PROGNOSTICATION 2007
The Box Office might have been up in 2006, but I struggled with the Best Pictures. Were there any films that I saw where I immediately said, “That’s a Best Picture nominee”? No. The most worthy film, Little Miss Sunshine, appeared to be one of the finest films of the year, but ironically, didn’t “feel” like Oscar fare.
If the pre-Oscar awards and industry buzz are any indication, there will be very few surprises this year. The favorites in most categories haven’t changed since October. But I said the same thing last year, and Crash pulled one of the biggest Oscar upsets of all time.
If we already know the outcome, why should we care about the awards themselves? We shouldn’t. But we do. And so…
SHOULD WIN: Little Miss Sunshine
WILL WIN: Little Miss Sunshine
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Dreamgirls
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: United 93
This is the only race of the Big 6 that wasn’t decided months ago. Almost everyone agrees that the race will be maddeningly tight, but the pundits are split on whether it will be Little Miss Sunshine or The Departed (most agree that Babel will finish a close third). As the show draws closer, more experts seem to be tipping toward Sunshine – maybe that’s because it’s a great Cinderella story and they’re rooting for it, or maybe it’s because the film is actually gaining ground and overtaking the lead. While it was nearly shut out of early awards like the Golden Globes, it has surprised many by swiping recent prizes like the Producers Guild and the SAG Cast awards. Recent history seems to say, in the absence of a runaway winner, bet on the horse with the strongest finish. So I’m betting on Little Miss Sunshine.
I’m also rooting for Sunshine. Admittedly, I might be pulling for a different movie in a year with stronger competition. But this year, Sunshine was the best film, and didn’t have, refreshingly, the pretense of a REALLY IMPORTANT FILM. And that may be the key to its victory: it’s the one Best Picture nominee where people seem to be cheering for the movie itself, instead of for the director (Marty, Clint) or a performance (Helen, crazy naked Japanese girl). While I thought The Departed was outstanding, I might be pulling for it a little more if, after all was said and done, we weren’t left with… Mark Wahlberg? And the sequel (about his character) is already in development? It smacks of self-importance.
While Babel made for a strong and lingering film, it also made for an unsettling one (which, depending on the viewer, could be good or bad). It forces you to ask yourself questions that you don’t want to answer. If your wife was dying and your marriage was crumbling, could you fix it by having her pee while you cradle her in your arms? How many times can you lick your dentist’s face before it becomes weird? Like I said, tough questions. There was plenty of conflict in the film, but there were no “bad guys”. It’s a tricky balance, to avoid assigning right and wrong. If you come away from the film thinking something is right or wrong, it’s something you’ve judged and determined for yourself, and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu would probably suggest that your opinion makes a statement about the kind of person you are. For example, what’s your stance on little boys who spy on their younger sisters while they undress, then go masturbate in the desert? If you think that’s awesome, that probably says something about you, like maybe you shouldn’t be a camp counselor.
The Queen was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year. I had no intention of seeing it, and even went out of my way NOT to see it. But it happened to be my in-flight movie on a trip to Seattle, so I watched it. And I was mesmerized. The huge feat was the fact that they made a gripping drama out of subject matter that I cared absolutely nothing about. I could give a good god damn about the Prince of Canada or whatever. But the confluence of talent, from writers, actors, director, cinematographer, craft services, was serendipitous. It is noteworthy for another reason – it is the first Best Picture nomination for a prequel (of sorts), and a prequel to a TV movie at that. It is a precursor to 2003’s The Deal, which starred Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, but did not feature the Queen at all. (If you’re keeping score, The Godfather Part II does not count as a prequel.)
Letters From Iwo Jima was a very good film, but it’s not an Oscar winner. It taught a very poignant (and timely) lesson – that the effects of war are surprisingly similar from both perspectives. In other words, the “enemy” is just like us. That made for a terrific and reverberating story, but at the same time, didn’t really provide any new insights. While it fostered a certain enlightenment, it didn’t break much new ground (which you absolutely have to do if you’re going to win an award for a World War II drama).
For the first time ever, the film with the most overall nominations (Dreamgirls, with eight) was not nominated for Best Picture. Thank Christ. Could it be, pretty please, that we are witnessing the death of the musical (again)? If so, it would be one less thing that I need to dedicate my life to doing (up next: debunking the myth that Raging Bull is better than Ordinary People).
If you want to talk about the most impactful film of the year, you have to include United 93 in the conversation. Told unsentimentally in documentary style, using very little music to pluck your heartstrings and leveraging many real-life participants, the film was the year’s most difficult to watch, and the year’s most impossible to look away from. I challenge anyone to watch it without getting sick to their stomach. Granted, the very subject matter itself elicits this kind of emotional response; but what exactly is a film, if not its subject matter? The film, of course, snagged a Best Director nom for Paul Greengrass, so it is at least given some of its due. By the way, I just want to be clear, I did NOT invent the United 93 Drinking Game, nor do I condone it.
SHOULD WIN: Forest Whitaker (The Last King Of Scotland)
WILL WIN: Forest Whitaker (The Last King Of Scotland)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking)
This category seems to be a lock for Forest Whitaker (he’s nearly swept all the critics’ and organization awards), but people seem to be saying that the race is getting closer as the finish line approaches. Peter O’Toole is generating a fair amount of sentimental buzz as the never-won (save for his honorary Oscar, which is a bit of a left-handed compliment). His performance as a pervy old man in Venus is being lauded by a lot of voters, most of which still think the film is a documentary. There is also some support for Leonardo DiCaprio, even if it’s for a role in his other movie, The Departed, rather than Blood Diamond (but to save my sack, I can’t figure out why).
Working against Whitaker is the fact that he’s not exactly a MOVIE STAR, has never even been close to a nomination before, and he’s not even really the main character in The Last King Of Scotland. But nobody denies the quality of the performance, and actors (the majority of Oscar voters) know that he’s been doing under-recognized work for the better part of three decades. Moreover, he seems to be a man who’s built a career on his own terms (regardless of whether that’s actually the case). I don’t see O’Toole or DiCaprio building enough steam to supplant Whitaker from the throne.
Will Smith and Ryan Gosling don’t really stand a chance in the race, although both performances were impressive. While The Pursuit Of Happyness was a box-office smash, the film wasn’t considered great. And Gosling has already pulled off the victory by snatching an upset nomination for a film that nobody saw and a performance that didn’t exactly jump off the screener. And frankly, Gosling may have actually been the sixth-place vote-getter, behind DiCaprio for The Departed, but Academy rules preclude an actor from being nominated twice in the same category.
As I predicted last year, Thank You For Smoking does in fact appear in my Snubbed picks for this year, for Actor and Adapted Screenplay. I almost chose it as an alternate for Picture too, but it’s hard to hold the film next to United 93. I saw a glimmer of hope when Smoking scored two Golden Globe nominations and a Writers Guild nod, but it didn’t gain any additional steam (its March release didn’t help), and got shut out at the Oscars. While it stood a much better chance at Adapted Screenplay, Aaron Eckhart gave one of the best-acted comedic performances I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not breaking any real news, but he is going to be an award contender for years to come.
I suppose I surprised people by not picking Sacha Baron Cohen as my snubbed choice for Borat, leading people to think I’ve lost my edge (although I’d argue that I never had an edge – an edgier writer would have owned up to inventing the United 93 Drinking Game, and would have even detailed out the rules). And while Borat was hilarious and well-acted (it’s hard to believe Cohen and Borat are the same person, even though the mustache is really the only physical difference between the two), I don’t think I’d go so far as to bestow any awards on the film.
SHOULD WIN: Helen Mirren (The Queen)
WILL WIN: Helen Mirren (The Queen)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Annette Bening (Running With Scissors)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: None (The Academy shockingly made exactly the right choices)
One reason for us all to hold hands and declare the entire human race a winner is the fact that, for once, the collective performances nominated for Best Actress are better than their Best Actor counterparts. And of course, once the awards are over, the nominees will go back to doing their husbands’ laundry.
There has never been a more sure thing in the history of Oscar pools – heck, in the history of gambling period – than Helen Mirren winning Best Actress.
Up against a host of veterans, it’s nice to see Penelope Cruz earn her first nomination. And not just because she’s the hottest of the bunch (and about 170 years younger than three of the nominees). People seem to be just now realizing that she’s a good actress. I can’t really blame them. She hasn’t had even a near-average performance in any of her English-speaking roles. But if you look back at her roles in Spanish (she had an impressive eight-year career prior to sabotaging her career in the U.S.), she will astonish you. She has now admitted that her lack of command of English made it difficult to act. No shit. She is, simply, an outstanding actress in Spanish, and a terrible actress in English. In Spanish, she is confident, in control, and actually able to emote. In English, she is timid, stiff, unsure, and mousey – the pitch of her voice even changes. Take a look at Abre Los Ojos (in Spanish) and Vanilla Sky (the American remake). She plays the SAME EXACT ROLE in both films; in Ojos, she’s brilliant, and in Sky, she’s a goddam disaster (and that’s not even counting the bonus points for lovely boobies in Ojos). And now that she’s back in a Spanish film (working with master Pedro Almodovar) – surprise! – she’s given the performance of her lifetime. Now if we can just forgive her for dating Tom Cruise… (You want the truth? She was kidnapped. Swear to god.)
The remaining nominees make the race interesting simply because of their bodies of work and their history with the Academy. This is, of course, Meryl Streep’s record 14th acting nomination, but most agree her satirical role is not one of her very best. While she’s Oscar’s biggest winner, she’s also Oscar’s biggest loser: she has LOST a record 11 acting races, and is currently on a losing streak of nine (a span of 24 years). Everybody seems to be floored by the talent of Kate Winslet (with good reason, she’s on her sixth nomination, at the ripe old age of 31), but nobody talks about how she’s one of the most prolific losers of all time: she’s currently 0-for-5; when she loses this year, she’ll tie Deborah Kerr for most losses by a female actress without a win (Kerr got an Honorary Oscar in 1994). If she didn’t have 60 more years of work in front of her, she would have gotten the Honorary award herself by now. Judi Dench, the oldest of the group at 72, got her first nomination at the age of 64, and has scored five more of them since then, after reaching the typical retirement age.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
WILL WIN: Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Brad Pitt (Babel)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Freddy Rodriguez (Harsh Times)
Here’s the kind of thing that makes me question my own sanity: only one actor from The Departed was nominated for an Oscar, and it WASN’T Jack Nicholson. It wasn’t even Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, or for crying out loud, Alec Baldwin. It was Mark Wahlberg. I’m sorry, you’re kidding, right? The guy who couldn’t act to save his deadbeat brother? The guy whose lisp is about as subtle as nails on a chalkboard? The guy who fronted an effeminate white-hip-hop group called “The Funky Bunch”? The guy who was barely in the film, and just spouted a couple of childish insults in a grating Boston accent? That guy gets on the short-list for the most coveted acting award in the universe? Now I have to ask myself what other truths are now false. Which way is up? What color is the sky? Is Rachel McAdams still hot?
Jackie Earle Haley and Djimon Hounsou gave strong performances, but aren’t really in the running. Haley’s comeback tale is compelling, and everyone is rooting for him, but the nomination really was the happy ending for him. And frankly, I’d just like to see him do another Bad News Bears flick.
That leaves Alan Arkin and Eddie Murphy, neither of which really blew me away. Murphy, while surprisingly good in a dramatic role in Dreamgirls, was a little overwrought, and despite his best attempts, was still Eddie Murphy. It seemed like he could have morphed into a Saturday Night Live sketch at any moment. That basically leaves me with Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine for Should Win. I would be pushing a little harder for him if he was in the film longer. But to his credit, he stole the few scenes he was in, and infused just enough heart into one critical exchange to give his character some credibility. The award will be in fact given to Murphy, as foretold by the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes, but I would give it to Arkin. It’s a tight race, and if Little Miss Sunshine starts steamrolling, Arkin could steal this one.
While Nicholson clearly deserved a nod, it was no skin off his nose. With all his previous nominations, Nicholson needs another one about as badly as he needs another Polish director sodomizing an adolescent girl in his basement. However, my official Snubbed slot goes to Freddy Rodriguez for Harsh Times, a film that got a small release, and was seen by very few. The only raves I heard about the film were for Christian Bale, but to me, Rodriguez was the real standout. He gave the film a grounding and authenticity that Bale didn’t come close to.
I was going to give a Snubbed Honorable Mention to Michael Sheen for The Queen, but as it happens, I am officially not speaking to him. It’s partly because we’ve never met, but mostly because I hate him for fathering a child with Kate Beckinsale, leaving biological proof that he put his bits in her parts. So while I have banned myself from giving him praise, I will reluctantly say that The Queen would have sputtered if he hadn’t played his role extremely well. I also wish him a great deal of misfortune, strife, and exorbitant child support payments.
I didn’t name Brad Pitt as my Gloriously Omitted because I thought he did a bad job; I just think he’s had enough good fortune to last a lifetime. What would an Oscar nomination do for him? Higher billing, bigger paychecks, more chicks? It would be like Britney Spears shaving her eyebrows or Pamela Anderson contracting another hepatitis virus – it just wouldn’t make much of a difference.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Adriana Barraza (Babel)
WILL WIN: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Sharon Stone (Bobby)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction)
Another lock is Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls. It seems like the country is enamored with her story, from American Idol cast-off to debut Oscar queen. But it should be noted that the country is filled with idiots. If there’s one thing that’s more inane than musicals, it’s American Idol. She’ll get neither pity nor accolades from me. I think her E! True Hollywood Story is scheduled to air in June.
My vote goes to Adriana Barraza, for Babel. She may not have had the most scandalous situation, the cute dance number, or the strong pipes, but she had the richest role, mostly because of what she brought to it. As she faced a true moral dilemma, exacerbated by happenstance and her own decisions, I cheered for her and cursed her, often in the same scene. Unfortunately, she doesn’t stand much of a chance next to Hudson.
I may have cast my vote for Emma Thompson in Stranger Than Fiction, had she been nominated. In films, a writer is usually cast in a lovable-oddball way, which is of course completely inaccurate. Actual writers are either crazy-oddball, creepy-oddball, or disgusting-oddball. Thompson gets it right by being all three. When I saw the film, she seemed to be a lock for a nomination, but the buzz never materialized.
The only significant threat to Hudson will probably come from Cate Blanchett in Notes On A Scandal. However, since Blanchett won this award a couple years ago for The Aviator, voters will be looking elsewhere. It was hard not to notice Rinko Kikuchi in Babel. There should definitely be an award for women who get naked all the time and can’t talk, but the Oscar probably isn’t it. (At my college, they called it “Most Popular Girl In The Bar”. In my van, it’s called “Chloroformed Sixth-Grader”.) And as for Abigail Breslin, the remarkable little girl in Little Miss Sunshine – my buddy said, “That girl’s gonna be hot,” and I said, “What do you mean, ‘gonna be’?”
SHOULD WIN: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
WILL WIN: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) – Fuck the musical!
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine)
In a rematch from two years ago, Martin Scorsese takes on Clint Eastwood, but this time, under very different circumstances. Both seem to have become Oscar fixtures, getting nominations for three of their latest outings. And while Scorsese seems to be the sentimental favorite each time he’s nominated, none of his recent films have seemed quite good enough to be the one for which he finally won. This year, that has changed. The Departed is widely seen as a masterful film, a real contender for Best Picture, and one that people don’t have to make excuses for when voting for it.
Eastwood’s position is not as strong. Having recently won for Million Dollar Baby (and having also won for Unforgiven), there’s no need to give him another statuette. And Letters From Iwo Jima was not nearly as successfully (critically or commercially) as The Departed. But the last time I underestimated Clint’s cronies in the Academy, it came back to bite me. And people will probably be voting for both his films, Iwo Jima and Flags Of Our Fathers. Give the man credit: the surest way to keep an Oscar nomination streak going is to have a brilliant backup movie in the can in case your first one tanks. Not exactly an arty move to release Iwo Jima early, and certainly not Clint’s decision, but it might get him a few votes.
One of the paradoxes of great film direction is that it often makes the film seem like it wasn’t directed by anyone at all. If the director does a marvelous job, you notice everything BUT the direction. And that seems to have happened with The Queen. There’s none of Marty’s showiness, none of Clint’s inky harrowing images. No big special effects, no CGI, no cross-cutting stories, no meta-high-concept, no so-real-it’s-fuckin-cool dialogue, no flashbacks. There is great direction in The Queen, but it is more or less invisible to the viewer. Here’s how I picked up on it: I happened to see the movie a second time, again on a plane. I didn’t really plan to watch it again, so I didn’t put on my headphones. But I ended up glancing at the video, and got sucked in, without the audio. And while there is some great dialogue in the film, I could tell exactly what the story was, exactly what the scene was SHOWING me, on images alone. The expressions and reactions of the actors, the pacing, the angles, the perspectives, all the things that you are not necessarily supposed to notice, but that work on a subconscious level, were heightened. And I saw not only a great silent movie, I saw brilliant direction. (For all the YouTube University film students out there, I suggest you try this exercise sometime with your favorite movie.)
That said, Marty’s showiness is pretty damn awesome. And it’s his time. For you to dispute this is to dispute the American dream. So clap for him when he wins, you Communist.
It was a shame that Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the co-directors of Little Miss Sunshine, didn’t get nominated for Best Director, especially if the film wins Best Picture. But I am also glad that Paul Greengrass got a nod for United 93, so I’m not sure who they should bump out. Putting two directors on the ballot is a tough sell, especially when directing is all about singularity of vision (in theory only, of course, as film is the probably most collaborative art form in existence).
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Little Miss Sunshine
WILL WIN: Little Miss Sunshine
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Rocky Balboa
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Stranger Than Fiction
One of the screenplay award winners will also go on to win Best Picture… It’s just a question of which one.
In the Original Screenplay category, the contender will be Little Miss Sunshine, which also won the Writers Guild and BAFTA awards. It did everything right without going too far. I was extremely impressed with the significant yet restrained character arcs. The film never could have been made at a studio. The first note that would have been given would have been “Need to make the stakes higher.” In the second draft the girl would have been a buxom and experimental 18 years old, the pageant would have been Miss America, and Toni Collette would have been replaced by Augusten Burroughs’ mother. In the third draft, the characters would have had enormous arcs packed into three days, beating alcoholism, taking in the son they never knew, or realizing their destiny as “The One”, all in a tidy 90 pages.
Babel will put up a strong fight, but for everyone that loved it, there’s another that hated it. The Queen will also get a fair share of votes, and while it won the Golden Globe, it didn’t even win the BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Oscar) in its own backyard, so it’s not likely to win here. One of the brilliant writing devices employed by The Queen’s script is that it needed a “straight man” to give us insight into the world of the Windsors, a seemingly normal person through whose eyes we could peer into the crazy and privileged universe of the monarchy. The Everyman chosen by the screenwriter was, of all people, the prime minister. We watch the events unfold as he does, our opinions (or lack thereof) informed by his. Genius.
Stranger Than Fiction gets my Snubbed award. It didn’t quite execute up to potential, but I’d like to reward scripts that don’t slavishly follow every textbook rule, the kind that would get horrible coverage but are still excellent stories. It’s refreshing to see a script that seems like its creation was a completely joyful and freeing experience (even though, in reality, it probably wasn’t). I thought it would have gotten more support from the Writers’ branch of the Academy, because many have said it comes closer than any other movie has to capturing the anguish in the writing process (not that I would know, because they haven’t made many movies about snarky blog writers who are envious and obsessed with celebrities and self-indulgent awards).
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: The Departed
WILL WIN: The Departed
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Dreamgirls, The Devil Wears Prada
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Thank You For Smoking
The best thing about this category is the fact that Dreamgirls didn’t get nominated. The worst thing is that Thank You For Smoking didn’t get nominated either, especially considering how weak the nominees are this year. For my money, it’s a better script than any of the five that are under official consideration. Jason Reitman made an extremely impressive debut as Smoking’s writer and director. He easily scored a spot on my “Have To See His Next Film” list (not an easy feat for a rookie), and may have even earned a pass if his follow-up is crappy.
Probably the biggest reason The Departed will win this race is the fact that it’s the only Best Picture nom in this category. In a mediocre crop of nominees, The Departed deserves the prize, although it probably would have lost in a year with stronger competition (or if it was in the Original Screenplay category). The fact that it won the Writers Guild Award and was a huge success will likely propel it to the top.
I can’t really cast a vote for Borat, because there isn’t much of a script. Certainly all the best parts were either natural reactions, improvised, or edited together for effect. And what exactly is it adapted from? Most of its votes will be from people who just want to see Cohen’s acceptance speech.
Children Of Men will get some attention, but is hobbled by the fact that it was such a late release, has had very little publicity, has no other nominations in the big categories, and shares writing credits between a whopping five people. Notes On A Scandal and Little Children would have to overcome miniscule box office numbers and low “screener appeal” to get seen by voters. And of course, the “Children” movies have the potential to be confused with each other.