Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Nominations Response

**I’ve found myself in the weird spot of not hating the Oscar nominations.

In fact, I think they’re kind of awesome.

Proving that they’re not you’re father’s father’s Oscars, the same Academy that once upon a time gave its highest awards to films like Driving Miss Daisy and Dances with Wolves built upon its relative edginess of last year’s Scorsese coronation and went with a best picture lineup of the following:

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Opinions will vary, and there are choices here I don’t necessarily agree with, but it looks to me to be a pretty sexy list.

I’ve gone on record often and early as a Juno booster so I’m especially happy that the film has not only survived a snarky blogger backlash (which will no doubt become deafening as the film is compared to everything from Napoleon Dynamite to My Big Fat Greek Wedding to… shudder… Crash), but eeked out a surprise nomination for the highly underrated Jason Reitman (somewhere out there Burns just got a douche chill). Talk about a conciliation prize for not getting to go on Oprah. Meanwhile I’m starting to believe that the similarly gnashing and unpleasant No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood will end up canceling one another out allowing for Juno to sneak in and win best picture pleasing myself, Roger Ebert and millions of text message teenage girls.

I’d started to doubt There Will Be Blood’s chances in the past week but that was obviously wrong. I’ve never been a PT Anderson guy but I’m happy he’s being rewarded for, in the words of Mike D’Angelo, finally “calming the fuck down.” Of all the nominated films, There Will Be Blood is the one that I feel will benefit the most from repeat viewings. It’s such a black-hearted, resentful film; I’m both surprised and really pleased that it exists even if I doubt it will ever be the film its champions claim it to be.

Then you have No Country For Old Men, a film that’s been in the driver’s seat for so long it’s easy to forget how pulpy and fatalistic the film is. I’d once feared that the film was too successful as a suspense film to be taken seriously as a drama, particular with the direction the film takes in its last act, but no one seems to have encountered these issues and the film has to be seen as the favorite at this point. Also could this be the first time in history a filmmaker wins 4 awards in one night (for producing, directing, writing and editing)? It’s always possible the Coens will have one of their buddies pretend to be Roderick Jaynes for the night (does anyone remember how this worked back in ’95?) but still, quite the accomplishment.

I consider a film like Michael Clayton disposable in the very best sense of the word. It’s not really about anything—you can pretty much fit the plot on the back of a match book—but it’s so well done and so supremely confident in itself that it’s the sort of film you can imagine yourself watching over and over on cable. Clooney is one of the true honest to God movie stars; everything he does is done with style and authority without ever crossing the line into preaching. I’m a little bit baffled at anyone who’d put this bit of comfort food at the top of their list, but I can certainly appreciate that it’s probably the most purely entertaining mainstream drama of the year.

And then there’s Atonement, the only one of the five best picture nominees I actively disliked. I found it to be costume porn and bad chick lit (easily my two least favorite genres) and it seemed as though the opinion-makers agreed with me but, in the end, it hung in there. Never underestimate the staying power of a period drama I suppose. Although, to be fair, in its own way the film’s every bit as unpleasant as Blood, as intentionally unsatisfying as Country and as cynical as Michael Clayton. Plus, it tosses around the “C-word” more often than my dad watching a Hillary speech, so props for that one.

The Academy just seemed a little bit more “on” this year than usual. Viggo Mortensen received his first nomination for his exemplary work in Eastern Promises, another violent genre film that in any other year would seem to be too "out there" for voters and yet there he is, all slithery menace and coiled intensity. He doesn’t stand a chance of winning but he’d have my vote.

Or how about the smarts to see through the gooey grandstanding of Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah to recognize Tommy Lee Jones’ devastating performance in the film. It can’t be easy to rise above material this horrid and yet Jones doesn’t have an insincere moment in the film.

I’m pleased Laura Linney somehow found her way into the best actress race. She feels like one of those actresses who will never be recognized for how consistently great she is because she refuses to play to the cheap seats. This won’t be her year either but the more her name and face are out there the better off she’ll be.

Also worth pointing out: how stacked is the Best Supporting Actor category? Not a bum performance in the bunch.

Even though I think Ratatouille is the better film, I can’t help but root for Persepolis in the foreign language category.

Then there are the omissions. Apparently the Academy really didn’t like Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. I’m sure someone will spin this as a rejection of Penn’s politics, but I think the more obvious answer is that older voters found Emile Hirsch’s character to be a self-absorbed asshole who treats his parents cruelly. Guess it was hard to relate. American Gangster predictably was a non-issue receiving a lifetime achievement-style supporting actress nomination for Ruby Dee for a part consisting of convincingly slapping Denzel (I guess one could make the same case for 80-something year old Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild although that one feels more earned to me) as well as a nod for art direction (“that’s alpaca! Blot that shit!”) Sweeny Todd was doomed by its lousiness picking up a now automatic Johnny Depp nomination and not much else. Can’t help but giggle over the fact that for all his steadicam hotdogging, Joe Wright is on the outside looking in in the Best Director category. Man that Reitman nomination just keeps getting better and better.

The big question now is whether there will even be an Oscars because of the ongoing writer’s strike. The show’s producers have promised… something although they’re being short with details. I hope they took a long hard look at the Golden Globes fiasco before trying to turn the event into a Billy Bush hosted press conference.

Of course the one year I actually care who wins they would hold the show hostage on me.


Halfway through writing this, the news about Heath Ledger’s death broke. I was feeling decidedly less funny/boisterous after that and I think it shows in this sort of schizophrenic piece.

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