Tuesday, 16 December 2008

If I Were An Academy Member

Ah, Christmas. Yuletide logs roasting on an open fire, chestnuts singing Silent Night, and carollers hanging from the trees. Doctor Who is on the box, turkeys are drying in the oven, and Miramax are so busily following the template of their former CEs Harvey and Wallbanger Weinstein that we might as well rename the holiday Miramaxmas. Yes, as Canyon acknowledged with glee the other day, this is the time of year when the prestige movies come out and hunt for an Oscar nomination, and despite ourselves we love it.

Of course, Hollywood is so desperate for award recognition at this time of the year that it packs US cinemas with prestige movies starring Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet, but even though that manouevre is just as cynical as the summer season heralding dozens of movies featuring flying men and exploding cars, it's okay, because Christmas is a time for great art to be released into the arms of a culture-starved audience. Summer is where the downtrodden are avenged by robots or ubermensch. Winter is where the downtrodden are given a voice to speak of how hard it is to be a quirky teenager in an age of conformity, or a genocide survivor, or a racist who humiliates Thandie Newton and then saves her life because OMG that's three-dimensional characterisation right there.

This year, though, the disdained Hollywood product that I love has begun to generate more critical appraisal than usual, and it's possible that genre fare, so often dismissed by the critical establishment, might see some award season love. So far this month the Los Angeles Film Critics Association has chosen Wall*E as its film of the year, the AFI has added The Dark Knight and Iron Man to its 2008 list, and Robert Downey Jr. and James Franco have been nominated for "edgy" performances (i.e. uncomfortable for square audiences) in Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express respectively. Though the Foreign Press Association members decided The Dark Knight isn't worthy of as much respect as the pitiful crowd-pleasing monstrosity Mamma Mia!, the bleak superhero crime saga still might sneak past the anti-genre bias of the Academy (thanks to Skyblade for providing me with some perspective on that).

It's fair to say that the nominations are still going to feature many of the usual and predictable candidates, with nominations going to Stephen Daldry, Sam Mendes, and other respectable and approved directors (I'm not denying they are talented, but they are rather safe choices). For instance, industry favourite Ron Howard is sure to get a Best Director nomination for Frost/Nixon, which I'm in two minds about. His work on that is far less adventurous than that of Chris Nolan, or Andrew Stanton, or Matteo "Gomorra" Girrone (just off the top of my head), but it's the best work of Howard's career, and as the movie is such a convincing success that I would feel churlish for being upset about it. Stanton might get a nod, which would please me despite reservations I've expressed before. Sentimentality aside, Wall*E was more daring than almost everything else released this summer. Mind you, I have to say, of all the likely nominations to come, my favourite will probably be Kate Winslet, English Rose, playing an illiterate Nazi who shags a teenager and ends up as an OAP after spending years in jail. Will Ricky Gervais get a namecheck if she wins?

Other than Best Picture, a category which seems sure to be populated by Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, and either Happy-Go-Lucky or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I think each category could possibly feature a surprise. With that in mind, our new poll is to see which unlikely but deserved nomination would you most like to see happen. I'll be honest, I don't expect many votes for this one, because I don't expect everyone to have seen all of them, but I remain curious about it nevertheless.

I'm leaving out Best Picture as I don't think there's any room for surprise there (though I really hope Dark Knight crushes the Mike Leigh-helmed affront to the world of cinema), but the rest of the main categories are represented. Only a couple of these possibilities really stand a chance, but I've tried hard not to come up with anything too outlandish (like a Best Director nod for the Wachowski Siblings, or a Best Actor nomination for Jack Black in Kung Fu Panda). So, vote for the one you would like to see happen, and I'll end the poll before the official nomination announcement in Feb. Here are the candidates, and yes, in the poll I removed the word Best. It's fair to say I don't think any of these should be nominated for Worst anything.

  • Best Director - Martin McDonagh (In Bruges)
  • Best Actor - Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man)
  • Best Supporting Actor - Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight)
  • Best Actress - Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading)
  • Best Supporting Actress - Emily Mortimer (Redbelt)
  • Best Photography - Caleb Deschanel (The Spiderwick Chronicles)
  • Best Art Direction - Peter Francis (Hellboy 2)
  • Best Costume Design - Eiko Ishioka (The Fall)
  • Best Visual Effects - Speed Racer
  • Best Foreign Language Picture - Let The Right One In
  • Best Original Screenplay - Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay - David Gordon Green (Snow Angels)

  • Or you could ignore the poll and just tell me your dream nominations in the comments.

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