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Oscar night

March 7, 2010

Two weeks ago, I made some early Oscar picks – real early, since I had hardly seen any of the nominated films. I ended up seeing 25 films of the 58 that were nominated, including eight of the ten that were nominated for Best Picture. Not bad, considering that I still haven’t seen any of last year’s nominees. But not enough to be really authoritative about who deserves to win (and I saw them in such a compressed amount of time that I really haven’t been able to think about them).

I watched a bunch of them on the web, mostly on iTunes. The biggest disappointment was that I didn’t get to see any of the Best Foreign Language film nominees; I also didn’t get to see any of the Documentary Shorts. I don’t know why, in the days leading up to the Oscars, you would not make your film available for viewing on the web (or purchase on iTunes), but whatever; I suspect that, in coming years, Oscar nominees will be on the web and available for purchase as soon as the nominations are announced, to take advantage of the fleeting hype.

In any case, here goes:

Best Picture

The two films I did not get to see were Up in the Air and Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.

An Education has a great cast and a great feel for time and place; young actress Carey Mulligan is a deserved Oscar nominee and is even being compared to Audrey Hepburn; all of the Best Supporting Actor candidates had better be real good, too, because Alfred Molina is a force of nature. My only complaint with the film is that you know where it’s going, and it’s kinda weak when it gets there.

District 9 gets off to a great start, and is never boring – but the third act is too much video game shoot ’em violence and not enough payoff with respect to the storyline.

– I admire The Hurt Locker a lot; if it wins, and if Kathryn Bigalow is the first woman to win Best Director then I’m not going to complain.

But I watched it only three days ago, and I can’t quite bring myself to vote for it. There’s just something about it that doesn’t seem right – that somehow Jeremy Renner’s character is able to operate in a vacuum, where his superiors just shrug their shoulders and say whatever. I dunno, maybe that’s the way it is.

I admit that I’m a little surprised that I’m seriously considering Avatar as Best Picture. I’m a big fan of the lean, mean James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens), but his films have become awfully bloated since them. Avatar is long, repetitive, has cardboard villains, some over-the-top melodrama, and a love story that desperately needs Kate Winslet.

That said, I still loved it. The first 20 minutes are among the best of any movie I’ve seen; the rest of the film isn’t at the same level, but I totally get what these guys are talking about:

Avatar Movie Blues

Suicide is a bit extreme, but walking out of Avatar and into the frakking Yonge St. subway was definitely a major downer. And it’s a feeling that’s stuck with me; I probably won’t see it again until I’ve upgraded my own TV for 3D.

But for all its flaws, I can’t quite bring myself to choose Avatar. So my pick is Inglourious Basterds. It’s bold, it’s brilliant; the Bowie scene rocks. And it’s so much better than the real-life ending of WWII, which is the most depressing story in the history of the human race.

Best Lead Actor

I only got to see Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker and Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. It appears that Bridges is going to win, and that’s OK with me.

The most amusing fallout of awards season is the number of guys – men – who don’t understand why a beautiful, talented young woman like Maggie Gyllenhaal would sleep with a disgusting, chain-smoking drunk who’s almost 60.

Guys – it’s JEFF FUCKING BRIDGES. Now, I’m a 34-year-old man who considers himself to be in (reasonably) good shape and (reasonably) good-looking. But if a girl left me for a boozy, chain-smoking 57-year-old Jeff Bridges, I would totally understand that. I mean, duh.

(also, did you know that Bridges is starring in a Tron sequel this summer? Is that what the world really needs, a Tron sequel? The original was notable because it had a fantastic production design, the first CGI effects in movie history (about 2 minutes worth), and Jeff frakkin’ Bridges. Other than that… the story was awfully stupid. But who knows, after 30 years of rethinking it, maybe the sequel will be OK)

Best Lead Actress

I’ve seen all the nominees except for Gabourey Sidibe in Precious. I admit that I didn’t get the Audrey Hepburn vibe when I saw Carey Mulligan in An Education, but whatever; she’s still my choice for Best Actress. She’s great, and her character goes through more of a transition than Sandra Bullock’s.

(I’ve already mentioned that both Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep – while they are both good – seem to be more supporting characters than lead actresses. Certainly, neither makes the impression that Carey Mulligan does.

In this recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, Kim Elsesser argues that the Academy should ditch the separate awards for men and women, and have only one award for both sexes. Her argument:

The divided Oscar categories merely insult women, because they suggest that women would not be victorious if the categories were combined.

Well… they wouldn’t. For most of Hollywood history, men have simply had better roles than women. Think of the 1970’s… George C. Scott in Patton, Marlon Brando in The Godfather and The Last Tango in Paris, Gene Hackman in The French Connection and The Conversation, Jack Nicholson in Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Al Pacino in the two Godfathers and Dog Day Afternoon, Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, Martin Sheen in Badlands, Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets… were there any female roles that could match up to these? That’s not a comment on actresses… the roles as written just weren’t good enough.

Of course, over time, there are more, and better, roles being written for women (and by women). Maybe soon they’ll be on a par with men. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

Best Supporting Actor

I’ve only seen Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds and Christopher Plummer in The Last Station. Plummer is fine, and it’s great to see him in great form at age 80, but Waltz is going to win and of course he should:

Best Supporting Actress

I only got to see one performance, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart.

Best Director

The big rivalry is between former married couple James Cameron and Kathryn Bigalow – but I feel pretty confident in saying that Quentin Tarantino has the greatest command of film language of any director working today.

Best Original Screenplay

I saw all the nominees except for The Messenger; again, I would have to take Tarantino’s screenplay for Inglourious Basterds. Christoph Waltz gives a great performance, but he also had great dialogue to work with.

Best Adapted Screenplay

This whole Oscars thing was done on a whim; last year I hadn’t seen any of the nominees, and skipped the broadcast. Thankfully I have enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen, but you still can’t help but wonder if there is any point – I would have seen most of these films eventually, I’m not sure that anything is gained by watching them before a ceremony that will likely be a frightful bore.

But then, occasionally, the Oscars redeem themselves. A few nights ago I watched In The Loop, a film I had never even heard of before, and only watched because it received a lone Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay. And I loved it; it’s probably the second-best film I’ve seen so far out of all of the. And apparently, I’m not alone; on Rotten Tomatoes, it has 136 “fresh” reviews, only 10 “rotten” ones.

So how did I miss it? Dunno, it was released during the summer; maybe I was away. It’s British, probably didn’t get wide release; it doesn’t have any stars, except for a supporting role for James Gandolfini. I’m not going to suggest that it’s virtuoso moviemaking on a par with Tarantino’s work, but almost every line made me laugh, many of them out loud, plus the script and director deserve credit for establishing a frenetic pace early on and sustaining it throughout.

Best Animated Short

I saw all five of them… and they were kind of a disappointing bunch.

I will have to pick Wallace and Gromit in ‘A Matter of Loaf and Death’, then. It’s not their best outing, but it’s still good*. And Gromit – the greatest hero in movie history** – finally gets a girl.

* Of course, since The Wrong Trousers is the Citizen Kane of animated shorts, and A Close Shave is just a hair behind, the bar has been set awfully high

** Apologies to Indiana Jones, James Bond, Luke Skywalker and the rest – but Gromit kicks ass.

Best Live Action Short

I saw three of the films (The Door, The New Tenants, and Miracle Fish). Apparently The Door is considered to be a favourite along with Kavi, and it would be my choice of that three. It puts a face to Chernobyl, which was a remarkably faceless tragedy.

Best Cinematography

Avatar looked the most impressive, but I’m not sure if that’s the best criterion to use (I’m not even sure of what role the cinematographer plays in a film largely created by CGI).

FWIW, the most effective use of cinematography was when Jeremy Renney returns home in The Hurt Locker to a pale – and bleak – world or normalcy.

Best Visual Effects

Avatar?

Best Editing

“Nation’s Pride”, the film-within-a-film in Inglourious Basterds, probably merits the award on its own.

Best Documentary Feature

I saw Food, Inc. and The Cove. The latter is going to win; I liked both, but the obvious difference is that while Food, Inc. observed that slaughterhouses are kept hidden from the public, The Cove took the extra step of actually exposing a slaughter that was being kept hidden.

Best Sound

Damn, didn’t get to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

I saw Avatar in the theatre, the others were rentals – that probably gives it an unfair advantage.

Best Sound Editing

I saw all the nominees, but again, Avatar was the only one that I saw in the theatre. And I’m not even sure how to judge sound editing (FWIW, Avatar, Up and Inglourious Basterds all have Wilhelm Screams).

Best Makeup

As mentioned before, Il divo managed to turn this guy into this.

And although I liked Star Trek, I’ve already forgotten what the villain looks like.

Best Song

Only one I’ve heard is “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart. It’s fine so far as this award goes.

Best Animated Feature

I only got to see Up. It was good, but not great – it’s still possible that one of the others is more deserving (The Secret of Kells has not even been released in theatres yet, although the few people who’ve seen it seem to think it’s great).

Best Original Score

I’ve heard three nominees (Avatar, Up, The Hurt Locker) but at the moment I can’t hum any of them.

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