Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lets Talk Oscar

The first post of several to dissect the decisions of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Here is a breakdown of how today’s nominations succeeded, failed and are just plain stupid.

Best Picture
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

This is the best that the big race has looked in a long time. It is unusual for the Academy to embrace originality so openly. Michael Clayton may have taken a spot for Into the Wild, but I don’t think there was one major snub to complain about, each film deserves to be here.

George Clooney: Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis: There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp: Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones: In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen: Eastern Promises

If In the Valley of Elah had to have just one nomination, I’m glad it’s for Tommy Lee Jones, who delivered a career-best performance in this underrated marvel.
Although he did a nice song and dance, Depp doesn’t deserve to be here. After his joke nomination for Pirates of the Caribbean (his first), it seems like they nominate him for anything. Emile Hirsh (Into the Wild) or Gordon Pinsent (Away From Her) would fill out the fifth slot much better.

Cate Blanchett: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie: Away From Her
Marion Cotillard: La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney: The Savages
Ellen Page: Juno

It is silly to nominate Blanchett twice. Why waste a slot on someone that is a lock in another category? Tang Wei from Lust, Caution gave such an implosively powerfully performance, brilliant debuts like hers should not go unrecognized. Hell, past nominees and/or winners Keira Knightely (Atonement), Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart), or Nicole Kidman (Margot at the Wedding) would fit the bill nicer.

Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem: No Country for Old Men
Hal Holbrook: Into the Wild
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Charlie Wilson's War
Tom Wilkinson: Michael Clayton

Why not nominate someone for the best work of their career? Philip Seymour Hoffman could’ve been nominated for three different films, and they chose the least impressive of the bunch. Nominating him for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead would’ve been magical.

Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett: I'm Not There
Ruby Dee: American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan: Atonement
Amy Ryan: Gone Baby GoneTilda Swinton: Michael Clayton

Amy Ryan has the swan-song story, but this is really Blanchett’s show. Her uncanny take on Bob Dylan marks a milestone in cinema.
I’d replace Ruby Dee’s bitch-slap of a nomination with Kelly Macdonald, who stole most of her scenes as Josh Brolin’s distraught wife in No Country For Old Men.

Julian Schnabel: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman: Juno
Tony Gilroy: Michael Clayton
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen: No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson: There Will Be Blood

Reitman and Gilroy are worthy surprises, but Sean Penn deserves to be here. Passion bled into every frame of his Into the Wild. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Coen brothers and Anderson cancel each other out and Schnabel’s visionary eye snags him the prize.

Original Screenplay
Diablo Cody: Juno
Nancy Oliver: Lars and the Real Girl
Tony Gilroy: Michael Clayton
Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco: Ratatouille
Tamara Jenkins: The Savages

The best quality about Juno was its quick-witted, fast-paced flush of words. But Gilroy delivered a fantastic throwback to 70s cinema with smart, clever, incisive dialogue.
Kelly Masterson’s script for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is one of the biggest sins of omission this year.

Adapted Screenplay
Christopher Hampton: Atonement
Sarah Polley: Away from Her
Ronald Harwood: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen: No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson: There Will Be Blood

These are all great, but, if not given a director nod, Sean Penn’s omission for his Into the Wild script is inexcusable.
Would it have been terrible to give David Fincher’s marvelous Zodiac at least one nomination?

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

This is the hardest category to call. The look of each of these films was beautiful and poetic. Roger Deakins has two chances with Jesse James and No Country to finally win the prize that has eluded him for his entire career. As one of the best living eyes behind a camera, he is long overdue.

Now, Let’s Talk Oscar Stupid
The Academy is notorious for finding rash reasons to exclude films from particular categories. The fact that Jonny Greenwood’s musical score was left out the Score competition due to a technicality is just plain idiotic. This is the biggest mistake committed by Oscar this year.
Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood is like nothing you have ever heard. Powerful, embracing, and completely haunting, it shifts the film’s focus, scene by scene.

Likewise for Eddie Vedder’s original songs for Into the Wild, or the foreign language category leaving off Romania's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and France's Persepolis.

But all and all, Oscar is getting better. They are nominating and awarding bolder, more courageous films, but it’s about time for the Academy to stop bitching and moaning and to start embracing daring aspects of great films.

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