I DIG THE OSCARS. This’ll be the third year in a row that I’ve made a conscious effort to see each and every movie nominated in the Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress, and Supporting Actor/Actress categories. Years past, I’d see many of the films, but not all. It’s important to differentiate between what one wants to win, what will win and what should win, and I’ve found I like putting my two cents in for each, and that may only be done fairly in viewing all the submitted work. Here, a half-cent’s worth, or so …The film is almost feverish with optimism, and hope to overcome, with a sense that one must always try, nothing less would be satisfactory.
Slumdog Millionaire! I’d so love to see it win for Best Picture! Went into this film without having seen a preview or a poster, just a one-line synopsis from Bean. Arrived to a packed house, and was enamored within minutes. Its visual style, bright colors of blue, and yellow, orange and red, coupled with the best treatment of subtitles (the majority of the film is in English) I’ve seen to date, and scored by songs from M.I.A., all go far to enrich the excellent content that is Slumdog Millionaire. The story follows a street kid, or “slumdog,” Jamal Malik, who appears as a contestant on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He is interrogated by local police on the suspicion of cheating, where the story unfolds in flashbacks over his impoverished and often brutal childhood. The way in which his experiences are woven in to produce the game show’s answers is nothing less than brilliant! Kudos to Danny Boyle for adaptation from the book (resulting in a win, too, please!). Despite the portrayal of horrific conditions with orphans and squalor, brutality and crime, the film is almost feverish with optimism, and hope to overcome, with a sense that one must always try, nothing less would be satisfactory. The scene that plays during the end credits is really what clinched it for me, as both a testament to India’s film making history and a major play to my own personal tastes.
Milk is also a contender for Best Picture, still I’d much prefer its leading man, Sean Penn, to win for Best Actor versus see the film take it as a whole. Penn really captures the humor and enthusiasm projected by Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay man elected to public office, a fact the picture is centered and built on. Despite its sad outcome, the film manages to offer up encouragement above all, a great tribute to Milk. Aside from Penn for Best Actor, Mickey Rourke may be a nice choice (still deliberating), for his go as a past-his-prime pro wrestler in the aptly named, The Wrestler. I found myself constantly evaluating whether he was truly good, or just because he sooo looked the part, is being credited with a performance that was simply his natural state of being swathed in the outer visual trappings of that aged and leathery exterior.
It was with heavy resignation that I plopped down to watch Best Picture nominee Frost/Nixon, as all of the interest I held upon viewing the preview months back, had dwindled away. The first in a three-movie marathon to be had that particular day, I was eager to check it off the list and move on to what I deemed more enticing fare. Au contraire! It wasn’t long before I was highly engaged, with timing and editing handled in such a way as to produce wit and humor. The film covers the televised 1977 interview of former president Richard Nixon by David Frost, a popular British talk show host. Although typical Hollywood liberties are taken and it strays from the truth, the fun lies in the hours seen spent prepping for the interview, with those backing Frost concerned with cornering Nixon and weening an admission of wrongdoing of time spent in office, most notably, in the Watergate scandal, while Nixon and his camp looked to set an untarnished image in the minds of the American people. A deserved nomination, a potential win.
The Reader, I still have difficulty accepting as worthy of a Best Picture nomination, as it felt like it fell flat somehow, just short of providing a satisfying emotional impact, I guess. Kate Winslet portrays Hanna, a woman who has an affair with Michael, a 15-year-old boy, in 1950s Germany. Their brief romance centers on much bedroom activity (note her nifty come-on with that towel move) and the reading of many a book. Hanna leaves abruptly, only to be seen again nearly a decade later by Michael, a university law student. She stands trial for crimes of war, and Michael, torn by a desire for justice, holds secret knowledge that may reduce Hanna’s sentence significantly. The always lovely Kate Winslet may very well take the Oscar for Best Actress, yet I found her portrayal of Hanna as an old woman, lacking, if not a bit hokey, largely in part to the cakey and implausible makeup application meant to transform her into an older Hanna.
TANGENT: In fact, the only role that comes to mind in which a younger actress plays an aging one well, is that of Marion Cotillard in last year’s La Vie En Rose. It was the very last film I had to watch on my Oscar list, and I did so in the wee hours of the morning, long after posting my thoughts on the 2008 Academy Awards. Had I watched beforehand, I would surely have raved on about Marion’s transformation into that of Edith Piaf, France’s most beloved singer of her time, some would even say, century. The makeup job was by far the best I’ve seen in the way of aging an actor, it won, deservedly so, as did Marion. The makeup provided a bridge of sorts, enabling her to cross over the barriers of time to effectively embody Edith, instead of impeding the transformation, as with Winslet.
Frequently, I struggle to feel passionate about what the Academy nominates in the way of women’s roles, and this year proves no different. Meryl Streep need merely grace the screen to be bestowed a nomination (as does Dame Dench). Aggravating though I find this, her turn as the stern and seemingly single-minded nun in Doubt, is marvelous. She interjects an almost droll humor with a variety of smart quips into a film brimming with stark simplicity, her prim and plain look doing much to further define her character. Though I’d like her not to win this time around merely for the sake of letting others have a turn. All the same, she’s commendable (again) and most pleasantly, she tends to offer up delightfully, and surprisingly, entertaining acceptance speeches. Personally, I’d like to see Anne Hathaway win for her portrayal of Kym, a recovering addict, full of vulnerability and narcissism in Rachel Getting Married. Multiple scenes attest to her deservedness, one in particular. Her sister, Rachel, is getting married (clever title) and the reception dinner provides an opportunity for loved ones to stand, mike in hand, in honoring the betrothed couple with words of love and reminiscing. Kym begins well, but quickly deviates to a self-glorifying rehab exercise, blathering on in supposed apology, and the discomfort to be felt was palpable. Fellow theatre goers began squirming in their seats hoping, willing, her to just move on already. Penélope Cruz takes on the role of a tempestuous ex-wife in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. She’s downright funny in her perceptive and moody fussing, and though I may still be overly warm towards her due to the capture of my heart via song in Volver just a few years back (lip-synced, or not, well done), I’d like to cast her as the winner of Best Supporting Actress. Viola Davis would serve nicely as well, she was deeply moving in Doubt, as a mother choosing the lesser of two evils in attempts to protect and provide for her son’s needs.
In the Best Supporting Actor category, I must say, I was so pleased to see the stodgy Academy recognize a comic performance! Robert Downey, Jr., for Tropic Thunder. But geez, Louise, not while up against perfection! Brolin’s nomination for his turn as conflicted elected official Dan White in Milk seems overly generous (the personal turmoil one must feel in determining White’s course of action hardly appeared to play out on Brolin’s face, nor in his manner). However, Michael Shannon’s nomination is spot on. As a man who’s suffered a mental breakdown, his visits to the home of the outwardly ideal 1950s couple in Revolutionary Road are harrowing. The filter one employs in social settings is clearly gone in his case, allowing him to cut deep, right to the truth, revealing a gaping wound in their marriage, and Shannon is relentless in his depiction. Let’s swap out Brolin’s nomination in favor of The Changeling’s Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott, who relays a seedy fervor on screen, making one glad they’re not alone in a room with him.
So, that’s that. The mentioning of cinematography, art direction, editing, song and score, makeuping and costuming, documentaries and animations, shorts and otherwise, screenplays and adapted, shall all remain delicious fodder for the savoring of tomorrow night. I leave you with the words of Johnny Carson, words many may regard as truth. “As you all know by now, this is the 51st annual Academy Awards. Two hours of sparkling entertainment spread out over a four-hour show.”
To which I ask, “Oh, pleeease can’t we make it five?” ♦