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2008: An Oscar Primer

oscarposter80.jpgI was up bright and early this morning for the live Oscar nominations announcement, mostly because I had never seen it done before and I was curious. It was kind of exciting, that little extra bit of suspense as the nominees were announced one by one for each of the major categories. Now the countdown really begins for me: one month to see whatever I’ve missed thus far, if I can. Happily I’m much further ahead of the game than I was last year. Unfortunately, that means I have a lot more to say . . . but anyway, here’s how the nominees are stacking, starting with the five nominees for Best Picture (full list of all nominees here):

There Will Be Blood – Definitely not a surprise, this is one of the two that I have not yet seen. I discovered just last night, however, that it will be released in my town on Friday, and I will certainly be there. I’ve been excited about this film for a few months now. I was intrigued by the first trailer I saw, and when buzz started coming back that it was the best film of the year I became quite anxious to see it. There Will Be Blood has been nominated for 7 additional awards: Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Sound Editing. None of those is particularly surprising.

No Country for Old Men – So far, this is my favorite film of the year and personal pick for Best Picture (but I’m open-minded about what I may say after Friday). This is, quite simply, a flawless film. I’ve seen it three times in the theater, and I look forward to bringing it home on DVD to see many more times. No Country for Old Men has also netted 7 more nominations: Best Director, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), Best Sound and Best Sound Editing. Again, no real surprises here . . . but how unfortunate, because no matter how excellent both of them are, chances are that one of these films will walk away with all of the shared awards leaving the other one pretty much high and dry (see last year, Babel took home one statue). This may just be one of those years that you wish could have spilled over into some year that had far less interesting entries. One example of that for me is 1984, when both the magnificent Amadeus and the excellent A Passage to India squared off with the former sweeping up all of the awards.

Atonement – This is the third film that had a definite lock on the category. Atonement is quite good, even great, and it too has a pretty good chance to win . . . it pretty well qualifies as Oscar bait. This would be the obvious, “safe” choice for voters what with its sweeping love story set against a compelling historical backdrop (always a favorite combination). However, I think it would be an unfortunate choice given the caliber of those first two. Atonement has 6 other nominations, mostly in “Ooo, how pretty” categories: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Art Direction, Best Costumes and Best Original Score. I certainly expected four of those nominations, and hoped for the last (Atonement has a beautiful and unique score). As for Ronan, she is quite good . . . a young nominee, though three years older than Abigail Breslin was last year. I don’t think she’ll win.

Juno – As I said a few days ago, Juno is this year’s Little Miss Sunshine. I’ll be honest and say that, though I’ve seen this movie twice and enjoyed it both times, I hope that it doesn’t have a prayer to take the big award. I’m happy to see it nominated, but it would be a dreadful mistake to give this movie Best Picture, because it simply is not by a long shot. Juno has only 3 more nomations: Best Director, Best Actress (Ellen Page) and Best Original Screenplay. That list is also in order of most to least surprising . . . and almost in order of most to least deserving (I’d swap the first and second). Seeing Ellen Page nominated is fantastic, and I’d certainly like to see her walk off with the award. I’d be far less happy with Cody winning for her screenplay, which (despite its cleverness) is rather hackneyed in more than one spot. It’s just all over the map, and there are more deserving nominees (and that, in a nutshell, would be my objection to a Best Picture win).

Michael Clayton – This is the one film that I’ve just completely missed seeing . . . I let opportunities to visit it in theaters pass me by several times because I wasn’t certain I’d like it. Now it’s slated for DVD release about 5 days before the Oscars are aired, so I should be able to slip in a viewing at the end. However, from what I hear, this is by far the least likely nominee to take the award . . . it’s not even the dark horse candidate that a lot of people are secretly hoping will win (see Juno). It’s just there. It does, however, have 6 more nominations to its name: Best Director, Best Actor (George Clooney), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Wilkinson), Best Supporting Actress (Tilda Swinton), Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score. That makes Michael Clayton this year’s big acting Oscar bonanza (no film has ever won more than 3).

Speaking of the actors, there aren’t many odd elements this year . . . no actors who have been passed over far too many times in the past (*cough*Peter O’Toole*cough*) or complete newcomers that have everyone buzzing. At least 5 of the acting nominations represent the only nomination that particular film received, and 5 more only have a single additional nomination, which seems unusual. 4 of the 5 Best Picture nominees have only a single acting nomination. And, of course, Cate Blanchett is double trouble this year, with a Best Actress nomination for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and the expected Best Supporting for I’m Not There. Multiple nominations in the same year are rare, but not unheard of.

The nominees that I’ve seen:

-Ratatouille, an astounding 5 nominations, including Best Original Screenplay . . . fantastic.
-Sweeney Todd, 3 nominations, all well-deserved (though it stands little chance of taking any of them home).
-Enchanted, 3 nominations, all for Best Original Song. It eats the category alive, and the songs are great (though I don’t think much of the generic “So Close”), but nominations like this can cancel each other out and lead to 0 awards (see Dreamgirls) even when one is richly deserved. Sad to see Amy Adams ignored for her performance, though. I don’t like to judge performances I haven’t seen, but for those of you who have, how much of the Elizabeth nomination is merely coasting on the coattails of the supposedly superior original?
Away from Her, 2 nominations, including a nod to Sarah Polley for her impressive screenplay.
The Savages, 2 nominations
American Gangster, 2 nominations . . . I thought it was a decent flick, but it just got lost in the mass of 2007 excellence. It certainly deserved some more acting nods, though.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2 nominations
3:10 to Yuma, 2 nominations . . . I liked this a lot more than it probably deserved, but there it is.
Charlie Wilson’s War, 1 nomination, for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s hilarious, great character work (with 3 fantastic performances this year, he had a virtual lock on some recognition).
Gone Baby Gone, 1 nomination . . . No doubt the most criminally ignored film of the year. This movie was hard but rewarding, a great directorial debut that deserved a nomination more than, say, Jason Reitman.
-Lars and the Real Girl, 1 nomination . . . See above, redux. No love for Ryan Gosling’s truly transcendental work, and that’s a real shame.
Across the Universe, 1 nomination . . . About right, from where I’m sitting. I was underwhelmed.
Surf’s Up, 1 nomination . . . Frankly, I was very surprised to see this nominated. I’d forgotten it was even in the running. But I was even more surprised when I watched it during the holiday season and discovered a hilarious and surprisingly impressive cartoon mockumentary. I’d have liked to see The Simpsons Movie in its place, but I can’t say it didn’t deserve the spot. Neither of them should win, in any case, as the real contest is between the other two nominees: Ratatouille and Persepolis.

The nominees that I have definite plans to see:

There Will Be Blood . . . This Friday! Yes!
Michael Clayton . . . Just as soon as it gets to DVD.
The Bourne Ultimatum, 3 nominations . . . I had several opportunities to see this, but I let them pass me by because I was so disgusted by the style (though not the substance) of the second installment. It’s near the top of my Netflix queue, and hopefully a viewing on the small screen won’t give me a headache the way its predecessor did.
La Vie en Rose, 3 nominations . . . Ditto with the Netflix queue. I’ll probably see it pretty soon.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2 nominations . . . I’ve been wanting to see it since it came out, but the opportunity never arrived. It hits DVD in just a few weeks.
I’m Not There, 1 nomination . . . I’m not terribly anxious, but I’m intrigued. I’ll be waiting when it finally comes out on DVD, unless it somehow gets a theatrical release nearby first.
Persepolis, 1 nomination . . . Really want to see this, and really disappointed that opportunity hasn’t knocked yet.

The nominees that I have little or no interest in seeing (but may anyway):

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 4 nominations . . . I feel like a real philistine, but this just sounds excruciatingly boring.
Into the Wild, 3 nominations . . . Ditto above, but without the shame (I guess that would make me more of a philistine).
Transformers, 3 nominations
Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 2 nominations . . . Didn’t everyone pretty much hate this? Everyone but The Academy, it seems.
The Golden Compass, 2 nominations . . . I’m all for a good fantasy romp, this just didn’t end up sounding like it was one.
In the Valley of Elah, 1 nomination . . . Ho-hum, the only Iraq war film to be recognized.
Eastern Promises, 1 nomination . . . I was seriously underwhelmed by A History of Violence
-Norbit
, 1 nomination . . . Ha!
August Rush, 1 nomination . . . This looked outrageously cheesy to me from the get-go.
Once, 1 nomination

The Best Documentaries are generally worth a look, but I can’t really comment just at present because I haven’t seen any of them. No, not even Sicko. Likewise the Best Foreign Film nominees . . . I am ashamed to admit that I’ve only even heard of two of them. The nominated countries are Austria (World War II flick), Poland (likewise), Israel (anti-war war film), Kazakhstan (film about the early life of Genghis Khan, nice comeback after last year’s egregious Borat nomination) and Russia (adapted remake of 12 Angry Men). The titles, respectively, are The Counterfeiters, Katyn, Beaufort, Mongol and 12.

The non-minees, neglected movies that made me ask “What happened?” (this list is no doubt incomplete:

The King of Kong, weren’t people calling this the best documentary, and one of the best movies, of the year? I haven’t seen it yet, but I was expecting it to show up on the nomination list.
Zodiac, I can’t shake the nagging sensation that this film will ultimately have more staying power than many of even the rather prominent nominees. I’m a bit surprised it was so completely ignored, but then the Academy does have an extremely short memory and this movie did come out way back in . . . what, March? Nevertheless, I feel like I want to see it again right now just to confirm that an injustice has indeed been done (as I feel it has).
Hairspray, I guess Sweeney Todd came along and (rightly) stole all of the musical-to-movie thunder. But seriously, assuming Norbit was nominated for Best Makeup because it had a fat suit, why not give that nomination to Hairspray and save yourself the embarassment of forever after seeing “Nominated for an Academy Award!” on the Norbit DVD box?
Stardust, Sure it was mediocre in some departments (and became more so each time I watched it), but it had its moments and a few elements that were at least as worthy of note as several of the nominees in the technical categories. No props for makeup? visual effects? sound? music? Oh, well.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, another one I haven’t seen, but it got some very positive attention, not least as the vehicle for one of the great performances that Philip Seymour Hoffman was not nominated for. I get the feeling I could just as easily be asking this question about Charlie Wilson’s War instead.

And now for my annual haphazard predictions and desires:

Best Picture: If There Will Be Blood doesn’t win (read: it was too dark), Atonement will (I don’t see that happening). I’d certainly love to see the award go to No Country for Old Men . . . Juno is capturing a lot of hearts, but I really don’t think it has a prayer.

Best Director: Pretty much a toss-up between Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers. I’ll call it for the latter.

Best Actor: All indications point to Daniel Day-Lewis as having delivered a once-in-a-lifetime performance in There Will Be Blood. What little I’ve seen indicates Day-Lewis should get it, but I’ll go ahead and throw Johnny Depp out there as a personal favorite. The man’s much-deserved Oscar moment has yet to arrive, but I don’t think this is his year.

Best Actress: I’m calling this one for Ellen Page, both as a personal favorite and because I think she could/should win it.

Best Supporting Actor: This is a pretty rough call, but I’m going to go with Hoffman as the Academy favorite. Personal pick: Javier Bardem, both because he is outrageously good in the movie and because I want to see No Country for Old Men score as many awards as possible where it isn’t competing with the juggernaut-like power of There Will Be Blood.

Best Supporting Actress: The award will go to Cate Blanchett, I’m fairly certain. I’d really like to see Amy Ryan get it, again because her performance merits an award and because Gone Baby Gone deserves the recognition. Just see the movie, people!

Best Original Screenplay: The award will most likely go to Juno, possibly the only one that will. I’d like to see Lars and the Real Girl win its one crumb from the table, but this could well be a Ratatouille year. Either of them would be more deserving than Juno.

Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country for Old Men, as the perfect-storm adaptation that stays extremely faithful to its source while meshing flawlessly with the style of its directors.

Best Cinematography: A very rough call . . . I’ll go with There Will Be Blood with a hope and a prayer for No Country for Old Men. And no counting out The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Best Editing: I don’t think most of the people who vote on this award even know what it means, but I do know that roughly half the time the award goes to the Best Picture winner. As such, I’ll go with the odds and give it to There Will Be Blood, sight unseen. No Country for Old Men is edited extremely well, so I may swap out my prediction once I’ve seen my current pick. Incidentally, I haven’t seen The Bourne Ultimatum yet, but judging from The Bourne Supremacy I have to wonder if it was one of those movies that was nominated for most editing rather than best.

Best Art Direction: Atonement, as a consolation prize when it fails to win any of the really major awards. I’d prefer a Sweeney Todd win, though . . . that movie’s look was just delicious.

Best Costumes: Same as Art Direction, for the same reasons (though in this case, I think Atonement is slightly more deserving than Sweeney Todd).

Best Original Score: Atonement, see above.

Best Original Song: Enchanted, “That’s How You Know” . . . Fantastic song, beautifully-staged, catchy . . . the works. I love this song.

Best Animated Film: Will the popularity of Pixar and Ratatouille or the critical acclaim and exoticness of Persepolis win the day? I have no idea, but I’m sure both are very deserving. Only one thing is for certain: The award won’t go to Surf’s Up.

And that’s my take on the 80th batch of Oscar nominees, for what it’s worth. Discuss.

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~ by Jared on January 22, 2008.

One Response to “2008: An Oscar Primer”

  1. […] I look back at the predictions I made on the day the nominees were announced, I’m a bit surprised. Not only were a lot of them very […]

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