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2009: An Oscar Primer

oscarposter2009I’ve been more than a little out of it lately, but I was still up this morning in time to get a a first look at the nominees for this year’s Oscar ceremony. By this weekend, I’ll have seen at least 18 of the 26 nominees (not counting documentaries and foreign films), but so far I have only seen one of the nominees for Best Picture. This is, in my opinion, somewhat pathetic. I find it utterly absurd that, as someone who lives in a mid-sized city and tries to keep up on the films that are getting positive critical buzz at any given moment, I have not had an opportunity to see more than one nominee for Best Picture of 2008 by the time the nominations are announced in 2009. The onus does not fall on the Academy, certainly, for selecting films that have not appeared in wide release, but rather on the film distributors who continue to crowd the multiplexes with asinine slop all the year round while withholding general public access to any (or at least most) films that might actually be worth going to see for as long as possible . . . but I’ll climb off that soapbox now. The pool of nominees (which you can find here) is much smaller than last year, when it was spread over about 35 movies.

There were definitely a few surprises, at least for me, during the announcement. The biggest shock would have to be the exclusion of The Dark Knight from both Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay despite an astonishing 8 nominations to its credit (Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor, plus nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects). I, for one, wouldn’t call The Dark Knight the best film of the year, but it is certainly among the best in addition to being something of a cultural and financial phenomenon. It’s exclusion from the major categories may well turn out to be one of the Academy’s most unpopular moves of the past several years.

My own personal favorite, WALL-E, was confined to the “Best Animated” ghetto as expected, with an additional 5 nominations (Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing). In any case, let’s take a look at the five major players (although it feels a bit odd to say that this year, when we have two films not nominated for Best Picture holding 6 and 8 nominations). Be that as it may, the nominees for Best Picture are:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Not a huge surprise here, what with its sweeping historical and geographical scope and epic (even moving) love story. I could very definitely see Benjamin Button walking away with the award, but so far this is the one nominee that I have had an opportunity to see. The film has 13 total nominations: Best Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Supporting Actress (Taraji P. Henson), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Costumes, Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects. That’s just about as many nominations as you can get (the record is 14), and we haven’t seen a film collect that many since Chicago in 2002. I am a little surprised not to see Cate Blanchett nominated for Best Actress, because her performance particularly struck me when I saw the film (even more so than Brad Pitt’s, surprise surprise). However, all of the nominations in that category seem very strong.

Frost/Nixon – I’ll finally be seeing this over the weekend, and I very much look forward to it. However, while I expect to enjoy it very much (and may change my mind), this definitely feels like a dark horse to win big, and I was mildly surprised to see it included. It has only 5 nominations in all: Best Actor (Frank Langella), Best Director, Best Adapated Screenplay, and Best Editing. Those are all strong nominations to be sure, but then again, they are only in major categories.

Milk – Definitely an expected pick, and one which I am not sure when (or if) I will be able to see. I wonder if Milk‘s nomination will produce the same sort of controversy we saw a few years ago with Brokeback Mountain, particularly considering that (from what I’ve heard) it paints a much more positive picture of homosexuality than the earlier film. On the other hand, Milk is a biopic based on a true story, while Brokeback Mountain was seen by its detractors as something of an assault on the cherished masculinity of the Western genre. Milk matches The Dark Knight with 8 nominations: Best Actor (Sean Penn), Best Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Costumes, and Best Original Score. Off-hand I think Milk might only pick up one or two awards and then fade to the background.

The Reader – This was the biggest surprise in the category for me, as I hadn’t heard any real nomination buzz around it for Best Picture. Again, I’m not really sure when I’ll be able to catch this one, but I’m definitely on the lookout for it. Like Frost/Nixon, only 5 nominations here: Best Actress (Kate Winslet), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. This is the only Best Picture nominee without a Best Editing spot (which went to The Dark Knight). As I said, I was surprised to see it nominated for the big award, and I would be even more surprised to see it win.

Slumdog Millionaire – I’ll also be catching this one over the weekend, and I’ve looked forward to it a great deal as well. From everything I hear, this is a real crowd-pleaser and Benjamin Button‘s strongest competitor for Best Picture. It has 10 nominations: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (two nominations), and Best Sound. It is interesting (but not shocking) to see this film shut out of the acting nominations. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it after I’ve seen it.

Now let’s take a brief look at the other nominees, starting with those that I’ve actually seen:

Doubt, 5 nominations . . . leaving it unquestionably (and unsurprisingly) dominating the acting categories this year. This is Meryl Streep’s 15th nomination, as she continues to cement her lead as the most-nominated performer of all time.
Changeling, 3 nominations . . . 1 for Angelina Jolie’s powerful lead performance and 2 (Cinematography and Art Direction) for the film’s stunning beauty.
Iron Man, 2 nominations
Australia, 1 nomination . . . a paltry nod to the immense-but-awful spectacle of this movie by way of its costumes.
Bolt, 1 nomination
Defiance, 1 nomination
Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 1 nomination . . . though I’d say it deserved attention for its Art Direction in addition to the Makeup.
In Bruges, 1 nomination . . . Best Original Screenplay. It’s not much, and it won’t win, but I’m very happy to see it recognized.
Kung Fu Panda, 1 nomination
Tropic Thunder, 1 nomination . . . Not that I disagree with the nomination, but 2 days after the inauguration of our first African-American president, Robert Downey Jr. gets nominated for an Oscar for performing in blackface. Can the world get any more strange?
The Visitor, 1 nomination . . . (for Richard Jenkins’ fantastic performance in the lead).

The nominees that I have definite plans to see:

Revolutionary Road, 3 nominations . . . I’ll be seeing that this weekend.
Frozen River, 2 nominations . . . hits DVD on February 10th . . . I’ll be waiting.
The Wrestler, 2 nominations . . . there’s a good chance it will come through here sometime before Oscar night, but I’ll just have to wait and see.
Rachel Getting Married, 1 nomination . . . I expect to see it this weekend.

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

The Duchess, 2 nominations . . . at this point a period bodice-ripper needs to look a little more special than this does if I’m to be expected to see it willingly.
Wanted, 2 nominations . . . yuck. Didn’t want to see it then. Don’t want to see it now.
Happy-Go-Lucky, 1 nomination . . . not terribly interested, but everyone who sees this movie is just so effusive about it that I’ll probably give it a shot.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 1 nomination . . . this just doesn’t look like my cup of tea.

I’ll probably watch Man on Wire (from the Documentary category) sometime before the ceremony, and I really want to see Trouble the Water plus whatever other Documentary and/or Foreign Film nominees I can get ahold of.

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

Speed Racer, It was corny as anything, but it had some impressive technical chops. Interestingly, the technical awards this year seem to be divided equally between the blockbusters and the more “serious” nominees.
Horton Hears a Who, Sure, the Best Animated award will go to WALL-E, but this one definitely deserved the recognition, possibly (though not definitely) over Bolt.
Burn After Reading, I thought this might pull out an acting or screenplay nomination, but no such luck.
Gran Torino, This may end up being regarded as a case of serious neglect, at least by the general public. Certainly a few acting nominations might not have been out of order.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I know, I know . . . but this is the first Indy flick to miss out on Oscars completely, and I don’t think that’s entirely deserved.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, This was a fun, cute throwback with some really good performances and a smart script. It definitely could have stood a little recognition.

I could also mention Oliver Stone’s W., but that movie was just outrageously bad. No sane voter would have included it.

And now, my predictions and desires for the ceremony outcome:

Best Picture: I’m going to go ahead and say The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, with a definite possibility that it might go to Slumdog Millionaire. I really see it coming down to one of those two.

Best Director: Again, I think this one’s gonna be down to David Fincher and Danny Boyle. I’d certainly be happy to see either of them win it, but let’s guess Danny Boyle.

Best Actor: I’m going to go with Sean Penn for Milk, with a definitely maybe in the direction of Mickey Rourke.

Best Actress: This one is a really tough call, but I’ll guess Melissa Leo in Frozen River with a nod in the direction of Kate Winslet.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger will win this award.

Best Supporting Actress: This is another pretty tough call, but I think the award will go to Viola Davis for her powerful scene in Doubt.

Best Original Screenplay: I think WALL-E has this one pretty well all sewn up.

Best Adapted Screenplay: I don’t have very much to go on here, but I think this one will go to either The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Reader.

Best Cinematography: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button . . .?

Best Editing: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button . . .?

Best Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Costumes: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (for no particularly compelling reason here and above except that I think it will be the big winner of the night, and none of the other nominees definitely stand out above it).

Best Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Original Score: I think this will be one of the bones thrown to Milk, though it could go to Slumdog Millionaire‘s vibrant, energetic sound.

Best Original Song: All three are great songs, but I think that Slumdog Millionaire will cancel itself out and WALL-E is the most deserving of this award.

Best Sound & Sound Editing: These awards should unquestionably go to WALL-E, but I could see either of them going to The Dark Knight instead.

Best Visual Effects: A real toss-up, actually. I don’t think I can call this one, and all three nominees are very deserving. I very much doubt that Iron Man will get it, but it could go to either of the other two.

Best Animated Film: This award belongs to WALL-E.

And those are my off-the-cuff, post-nomination predictions for the 81st Oscar ceremony. I’ll be back here in a month to see how I did, although a few of my picks may have changed by then, what with actually having seen more (all?) of the movies.

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~ by Jared on January 22, 2009.

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