Sunday, 24 February 2008

Is It Too Late To Make Oscar Picks?

::Fixed tags but not the wrongitude of some of our picks. Oh well. At least Atonement didn't win. Suck it, Britain! (Note: this did not keep UK papers from declaring, as they always do, "Brits sweep at Oscars!" Apparently a "sweep" counts as "more than one win.") -- Canyon::

In terms of things I love to do that mean absolutely nothing in the longterm, Oscar speculation comes a close second to writing enormous lists of films I've liked, and this year I feel especially psyched because, for the first time I can remember, I've seen all of the Best Picture and Director nominees, and as many of the other movies nominated that I could. We ended our unprecedented run by catching Michael Clayton yesterday, and had differing opinions about it. I love that kind of corporate thriller, while Canyon thought it was a rote and uninteresting example of an okay-but-potentially-interesting genre, so we agreed on its flaws and shortcomings but I was more responsive and forgiving.

Missing the movies we did was regrettable but inevitable (for example, the Best Actress nominees were in movies I had little interest in), but if Lars and the Real Girl, Into The Wild, and In The Valley of Elah are only going to get a few nominations between them, they had to be sacrificed for the more likely winners. Plus, in the case of the latter, Paul Haggis in full-on worthiness mode is my Kryptonite, and not even the Mighty Tommy Lee Jones is enough to pull me into the cinema. The other two are definitely on my to-see list.

In years past my experience of Oscar sweepstakes has been that watching the movies means little if you're ready to make a lot of educated guesses based on Academy voting patterns and previous winners, but nevertheless it's only right I should try to do this without flying blind. Sadly (or not, because I've had a lot of fun as a result of all this moviegoing), of all the years to do it, I choose this one, the best year for movies that I can remember, a year so good that I honestly have no confident idea of what will win.

I've done well in the past, but a lot of that was lucky guesswork (which can go horribly wrong if, for example, you think Babel is going to win big because it's a worthy and Oscar-baity movie. Ahem). This year I think I'm gonna miss big-time. And yet I'm going to blog about it, just so the world can laugh at me! What the hell am I thinking?

The choices I've made might seem counter-intuitive, but the presence of two muscular, violent movies about men doing uncompromising things to other men for money or vengeance or because of the whims of fate may have caused problems for the voters. Though Country and Blood obviously have differences, they feel of a piece, showing the darkness in the American soul through the actions of driven, ambitious men-folk. With The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford included, they present a historical trilogy, from the mythological period of the Wild West to the Depression, and ending in the post-Vietnam Reagan era, all times of American tumult that come around cyclically, arriving again here in the 21st Century, where artists are eager to look to the past to comment on or explain the present.

I can't help but think that Assassination was snubbed because there is already a battle royale between Country and Blood, and that ruck was already dominating the Best Picture category. Standing tall within that category, representing their respective parent movies like perplexing ├╝ber-human avatars, Daniel Plainview and Anton Chigurh are in battle for an Oscar that might well elude them both.

Both films approach similar themes, and Academy voters might become conflicted when trying to decide which film is better because of that unintentional twinning. The most fascinating characters in each are inhuman forces as much as they are men, their philosophies destroying those around them due to their inability to even consider the possibility of compromise. The films feature motifs that reflect the building blocks of modern America; oil, drugs, money, guns, religion. Roger Deakins and Robert Elswit shoot the American landscape as a desolate, flat horror, offering either opportunity or doom, encapsulating the conflicting messages at the heart of the capitalist system (you'll either sink or swim, and your success depends on how hard you're willing to chase it), as well as considering the external forces that can interfere with that quest. Also, as Stephanie Zacharek would no doubt attest, women barely feature in these macho worlds.

However, it's the differences that will split the vote enough to decide the winner. Some voters will resent the craziness, melodrama and oppressive eccentricity of Blood, and others will be turned off by the violence and coldness of Country. Though they are the most respected films of the year, I have a strong, horrible feeling that they will not amass enough votes each to fight off Atonement, which was a dark horse at the Golden Globes, and has the "class" and safety that appeals to older voters. We've both suspected this for a while, but I have to admit, the consensus view, that No Country For Old Men will win, is making me doubt that belief.

I may very well be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. In a perfect world the astonishing Blood would win Best Picture, but the Coens should get the directing nod. Country was more a feat of directing than writing. That screenplay is a clever trimming down of the book, but is notable mostly for the bravery shown in slavishly adapting something so bold. It has some of the tightest direction in the Coens' career, and as such was a joy to watch. I just have a bad feeling Crash's egregious, baffling, galactically wrong win was not a one-off.

That said, I suspect Julian Schnabel will win for directing, and that's a good choice too. I know there is some controversy about the choices made by Schnabel and screenwriter Ronald Harwood, but if those choices were ethically dodgy, they were perfect from an artistic viewpoint. If I were smart enough, I would have done the same thing.

Okay, enough stalling or The Idiot Seacrest will be making vacuous small talk with Daniel Day Lewis before I get this up. You will notice that I have repeatedly pointed out how incredibly pissed I am that Zodiac was totally snubbed. Every year there is a nominated movie that I love that wins nothing, and I hold a grudge about it. This year I believe every film I like will win something (other than The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, which might win nothing), but I will still hold a grudge, because Zodiac was a masterpiece, and its shut-out is a disgrace (on this pointless, unimportant level). Anyway, feel free to laugh at my speculation.

Best Picture

Will win:
Atonement
Should win:
There Will Be Blood
Should have been nominated:
Zodiac, Ratatouille, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Best Achievement in Direction

Will win:
Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Should win:
Joel and Ethan Coen - No Country For Old Men
Should have been nominated:
Brad Bird - Ratatouille / David Fincher - Zodiac

Best Original Screenplay

Will win:
Diablo Cody - Juno
Should win:
Brad Bird - Ratatouille
Should have been nominated:
Gerard Souteman - Black Book

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will win:
The Coens - No Country For Old Men
Should win:
P.T. Anderson - There Will Be Blood
Should have been nominated:
James Vanderbilt - Zodiac

Best Actress

Will win:
Julie Christie - Away From Her
Should win:
I dunno. Marion Cotillard? Not Ellen Page, though. Sorry Kitty Pryde, your Oscar time will definitely come.
Should have been nominated:
Carice Van Houten - Black Book

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Will win:
King Deakins - No Country For Old Men
Should win:
The nightmare category. I just can't pick a clear winner. Maybe King Deakins for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Should have been nominated:
Robert Yeoman - The Darjeeling Limited / Harris Savides - Zodiac

Best Actor

Will win:
Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood (Stephanie Zacharek may disagree, but his performance is a wonder. We still debate what Daniel Plainview's motivations were. He gave a lot, and hid a lot. It will be discussed and pondered for decades to come.
Should win:
Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood
Should have been nominated:
Chris Cooper - Breach / Will Smith - I Am Legend

Best Film Editing

Will win:
The Bourne Ultimatum
Should win:
The Bourne Ultimatum
Should have been nominated:
Grindhouse

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Will win:
No Country For Old Men
Should win:
Transformers
Should have been nominated:
The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford. A disgrace that this was snubbed. King Deakins has been rightly praised for the glorious photography, but the sound design was just as memorable.

Best Foreign Language Film

Will win:
The Counterfeiters
Should win:
Regrettably, I have no informed idea
Should have been nominated:
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly / Black Book

Best Original Song

Will win:
"Happy Working Song" - Enchanted
Should win:
"Falling Slowly" - Once
Should have been nominated:
Almost the entire Walk Hard soundtrack, which was horribly snubbed

8 comments:

johnilf said...

pretty much agree with you on you choices, Addy, No country for old men should sweep the board as far as im concerned followed very closely by Zodiac but we all know it aint gonna happen. If there was a best action and turn away from the screen because it's so f-ing violent film then it would surely go to Rambo! (dear lord it's violent). Oh and how come you havent got X files 2 on your list? because it's just jumped to the top of mine for most anticipated film of 2008, check out what you can see of the trailer on AICN... oh i cant wait.

sjwoo said...

It's just awful tough. I keep thinking...was Zodiac a lesser film than Atonement, Michael Clayton, Juno, TWBB, or NCFOM? Not at all. It belongs with the rest of them. And I thought all this time Black Book wasn't nominated because it's a 2006 picture? D'oh. It's such a great movie.

There's a great point-counterpoint in this Sunday's NY Times:

http://carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/24/oscar-broadcast-a-lovehate-story/

Now we watch the big show, here in the States. Go Michael Clayton!

johnilf said...

wow, No Country For Old Men, im delighted. Well done the Coen brothers. I'm actually not disappointed with this years Oscars.

Masticator said...

Canyon wrote:
this did not keep UK papers from declaring, as they always do, "Brits sweep at Oscars!" Apparently a "sweep" counts as "more than one win.

- Goodness, how this annoys me. Even more so this year, when it seems that they are including Day-Lewis who is not just Irish these days but actually chose to be Irish because he fucking hates Britain so much. Take him out, and the British sweep consists of Tilda (who is surely an alien or something anyway) and a costume designer who won because her film was set the furthest back in history. (I am assuming she is British)

So anyway - acting sweep for Europe! It's like the Ryder Cup of acting!

Seriously, has that ever happened before? No Americans winning an acting Oscar? It seems very unlikely.

sjwoo said...

I'm sure you've read by now -- it's only happened one other time, in 1964, when all four acting wins went overseas. I think it's just more outsourcing...oh, excuse me, smartsourcing.

The best part of the ceremony was Stewart bringing back Marketa.

And how funny is it that the movie that got the second most hardware is the Bourne Ultimatum, with no noms in pic, dir, or screenplay? Ha!

sjwoo said...

We just saw There Will Be Blood...and I don't know, Admiral. I'm just sort of laughing. Obviously the movie is fiercely independent in its thinking, but lord, I can't with good conscience call that a good movie. It's a 2.5 hour character study, which I suppose you could say about Citizen Kane, except CK also had a great story. Don't think this one had it. Thank goodness it didn't win best picture.

But, as we all know, we are in a serious minority. All I could think as I was watching this movie was, "Okay, I get it, let's move on." It started with the discordant music (was Greenwood's score nominated? If so, that's...wow...). Yeah, I get that, too. He's bad. He's evil. DDL should be wearing an eyepatch and be twirling his mustache and tying a girl up to the railroad tracks while smoking and talking on a cell phone.

Admiral Neck said...

Jonny Greenwood's score wasn't nominated as it featured music used prior to Blood's release, which is, as I pointed out in the sequel to this post, a bunch of bullpoop, as Babel had music that had been used before but that didn't disqualify it. I really don't get these rules. It's a shame, as that music is such an integral part of the movie, or should I say the effect the movie has on you. That oppressive, menacing pulse alters your perception of what is going on throughout. To be honest, I wonder what the movie would be like without it. Not as good, perhaps.

As for Daniel Plainview being evilevilevil, I'm not sure. He has a distorted view of the world, and does bad things, but I never saw him as a movie villain. I wouldn't say he was a villain either. He was just... I don't know, something other than a human. The Howard Roark of the oil business, you could say. Only the final line gives you a hint as to what has been going on in his head throughout the movie, and it's chilling and kinda perfect. IMO.

It was not a bad night. Some of the nominees I was rooting for actually won, and though I would have liked Blood to win Best Picture, I certainly don't begrudge the Coens, as Country was amazing. In a perfect world Zodiac would have won everything, though.

Yay Europe! More "Brits" won Oscars than won Baftas. (I didn't check that fact, so feel free to correct me.)

Admiral Neck said...

BTW, Mr. Ilf, I left X-Files 2 off the list because I thought it was out next year. But it's out this year! ZOMG! Even so, it wouldn't have been able to beat the late burst of support for It's The Baby Mama With Tina Awesome Fey, which seems very popular.

Rambone made me laugh until I coughed, it was so violent. It was just demented.