Sunday, February 8, 2009

Oscar Season! Reviews, predictions, and oversights galore.

Let's talk Oscar, shall we?

Every year I do my damnedest to see as many of the big nominees as possible, and this year I have to say I'm doing incredibly well. With two weeks to go, I've knocked down one hell of a lot of 'em, and have arranged access to the four or five that still remain (two in theatre, the rest all rentable). I wish I had more friends within easier distance who are as movie-obsessed as I am, because I throw a mean Oscar party, but this year it'll just be a quiet evening, methinks. My Dad has seen several of the contenders, too (he's actually taken me to a few of them; it's been cool to have him back as my regular movie buddy on Saturday mornings), so he and I can settle in together and rob each other blind on high-stakes award show betting.

So, for those of you who are not nearby but who've seen some of these films, I shall share my thoughts and see who among you is willing to place wagers for February 22nd. (Terms to be negotiated. I say the one who guesses the highest number of winners correctly should have a movie bought for them off their WishList. I'm in if you are! But we'll hold off 'til the 21st, since there are still unseen nominees...)

Here goes: What I've seen (as of now; I'll edit as the next two weeks rack me up), what I've loved, the reviews I've written on Facebook, and what's yet to be watched. (And my bets on who'll win.) Be prepared - it's a loooong entry! (Reprinted from my private blog.)



  • KATE WINSLET (The Reader)
    This role, when I finally found myself invested in the movie, blew my mind. Kate was barely recognizable, and not just because of the makeup. She became Hanna, with a harsh voice and Berlin accent, with new mannerisms and expressions... I've always loved her, but this really put her up to the next level for me. My review of the movie: I spent the first hour-plus wondering why I wasn't more emotionally invested in these characters. Certainly Kate Winslet gives yet another brilliantly layered performance, and her young co-star does a good job of keeping pace...but I wasn't IN IT. There was just something putting distance between me and the screen, and aside from the vague but persistent dread in my gut, I wasn't feeling as much as I'd expect to feel about such obviously painful moments in life and history. Until the last fifteen or twenty minutes, that is. At which point my heart began to hurt, and it hasn't stopped. Complex material that'll leave you turning so much over in your mind for a long time coming. (A side note: I can't recall a movie in recent history with as much full-on nudity as this one. Goodness me.) I'm told the book is far more haunting. I don't think I could take it. The man sitting next to me in the theatre turned to me when the closing credits began and sighed, "Well, THAT was...uplifting." I could only sniffle and smile before we all scattered out into the snow with very, very heavy hearts.

  • MERYL STREEP (Doubt)
    I don't think I've ever seen Meryl give a sub-par performance (of course, I've purposely avoided Mamma Mia...), but this one stands out. She managed to be brash on the surface while still keeping a few tiny nuances that let us know there was more going on underneath. My review of the film: I've been unable to stop thinking about this haunting film since I saw it a week ago. Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance was so perfectly nuanced... My loyalties were torn from the first frame to the last, and what Streep and Adams brought to the table just added to that feeling of conflict...and, well, doubt. Serious props to Viola Davis for one of the most searing, painful scenes I've witnessed in a very long time. See it.

  • ANGELINA JOLIE (Changeling)
    Haven't seen in yet. It's out on DVD on the 17th. I'd wanted to see it as soon as I heard it was out, but I missed it. This may be one of two major oversights (in my opinion) involving Clint Eastwood, who directed Changeling and was the mastermind behind a completely ignored and horribly underrated Gran Torino. As for Angie's performance, I expect it'll be solid, but not enough to knock Kate or Meryl off the stage. And I feel like Cate Blanchett should have been given this slot (for Benjamin Button) instead...but, again, I can't say for sure until I've seen it.

  • ANNE HATHAWAY (Rachel Getting Married)
    Will be seeing it on Wednesday, as it's been re-released in Toronto (yay for that!). I'm impressed that Anne has made it from bubblegum Disney movies to serious indie flicks so early in her career, and I'm really looking forward to seeing this one.

  • MELISSA LEO (Frozen River)
    It's on DVD, so I'll be seeing it this week sometime. I have to say, this one surprised me, mainly because I'd heard nothing about this movie before the nominations came out. Still, Leo has been a great character actress for a while now, so it's nice to see an underdog in the race.

Who I think SHOULD win: Based on the only two performances I've seen thus far, Kate Winslet deserves to finally get a bloody Oscar. Her role as Hanna Schmitz is jaw-droppingly convincing. I forgot it was Kate on screen, quite frankly, after only a short time - long before the makeup and costume wizards aged her so many years. She was fantastic. To be fair, Meryl Streep's turn in Doubt gave me chills, too; she managed to pack so much emotion into such a restrained performance. But between the two, Kate wins for me. I can't see that changing even after I see the other three, but you never know...

Who I think WILL win: Kate. Her only real competition, I think, is Streep, and I think the many awards Kate has already won for the role tell us that the Academy is ready to pass the torch, rather than add to Meryl's massive collection. Again, though, I have to reserve my final opinion until I see the others!



  • FRANK LANGELLA (Frost/Nixon)
    Wow! Who woulda thunk it?? I've loved Frank for eons, so it's pretty cool to see him get nominated for his first Oscar (especially for a role that has already earned him a Tony Award). The odds of him winning are slim to none, I fear, but that's not for lack of a strong performance; the competition is just too strong this year. My review of the movie: Having been only a baby when this historical interview happened, I went into the film not knowing a whole lot. I came out thoroughly impressed with how well I was filled in, and how bizarrely sympathetic Langella's Nixon managed to be without twisting who and what the man really was. As for Michael Sheen...I was afraid this was going to be kind of like his Tony Blair impersonating David Frost, but no! He even got the speech patterns down. Truly impressive film. But I still can't get over the fact that it made the Best Picture short list over "Gran Torino". THAT I cannot abide. Even so, a worthwhile 2 hours all around.

  • MICKEY ROURKE (The Wrestler)
    Augh. This one's still too fresh. I may have to cry again now. Looking at Rourke's once-beautiful face, you'd think he'd have a hard time conveying emotion because of all of that surgery...but man, that couldn't be further from the truth. Every eyebrow raise, every half-smile, it all spoke volumes about this broken man and how desperate he was to make something - anything - right again. He was brilliant, playing what he knew but never stepping over the line into parodying himself. My review of the movie: The night I saw "Slumdog...", I came out of the theatre and heard two guys - who were just leaving "The Wrestler" - saying that they wanted to kill themselves after "that experience". I had forgotten about that moment...until I saw the movie for myself last night. Mickey Rourke has officially broken my heart into about eight thousand pieces. He has my vote come Oscar night. Marisa Tomei is so good you forget she's naked for 90% of her screen time. The whole experience... Just see it, and be ready to feel a little bit shattered when the lights come up.

  • BRAD PITT (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button)
    As a rule, I'm not a Brad Pitt fan. That's probably a weird thing to say, coming from someone who includes Fight Club and Se7en among her favourite films, but it's true. He's okay. He's done some fine work. But I'm not a fangirl. Having said that, though, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at the gentle way he handled his character's evolution. It was unlike anything I've seen him do before, and he did it very effectively. I don't think he deserves to win, but I can see why he was nominated. (I just wish it hadn't been at the expense of Clint Eastwood! There I go again...) My review of the film: I started crying about 15 minutes in. I didn't stop, not for a moment, until the end credits. Even then I had to suck it up. The performances were outstanding, especially by Blanchett and Henson, and the direction and cinematography made me feel like I was there...but there were parts that dragged on a bit too long, and that yanked me out of the frame. I also felt like some of the sentimentality of it all was heavy handed and emotionally manipulative, rather than being sincere (using Hurricane Katrina as the current setting?? Ouch)...but maybe I'm just angsty because I cried for three hours in public. It doesn't deserve to win Best Picture, and I still can't believe it was nominated instead of "Gran Torino", but it IS a beautifully made film. Just make sure you bring Kleenex.

  • SEAN PENN (Milk)
    Haven't seen it yet. The plan is to catch it the same night as Rachel Getting Married this week.'s Sean Penn. He's going to be great. Great enough to blow the other guys out of the water? Maybe, maybe not. But he's won before, which may leave room for a sentimental favourite like Mickey Rourke...

  • RICHARD JENKINS (The Visitor)
    Another one I have yet to see - it's out on DVD already. I actually said aloud, "What the HELL??" when I heard he was nominated instead of Clint Eastwood?!? WTF!!?!?, but he's kind of like Melissa Leo in my mind: a solid actor who's put in a lot of great performances and has paid his dues, and it's nice to see him being recognized for the first time. I hope I enjoy the movie, even though I can't for the life of me see how he could win over Pitt, Rourke or Penn.

Who I think SHOULD win: OH, MICKEY, YOU'RE SO FINE... Of the performances I've seen, his moved me the most. I wasn't expecting to be as impressed as I was; I thought it would just be too easy, with him playing a character that mirrors his real life too closely. But he hit hard, and he hit deep, and for that reason I would love to see him getting a standing ovation as he walks up to accept an award he probably never imagined could be his.

Who I think WILL win: I'm kind of afraid that Sean Penn will swoop in and snatch this one up. I can't say he wouldn't deserve it, since I haven't seen his movie, but the guy is walking Oscar-bait every damn year. With the timing of Prop 8 and the buzz around the film, there's a very good chance Penn's got the cards stacked in his favour.



  • TARAJI P. HENSON (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button)
    This woman blew me away when I saw her in Hustle And Flow, so it's great to see her getting recognized for a very solid turn in Benjamin. But, really, as good as she was, I don't know that it was a performance that was Oscar-worthy. I think she will have a lot more chances in the future to be a winner, but there wasn't quite enough to her character, for me, to put her up against the likes of Marisa Tomei this year.

  • MARISA TOMEI (The Wrestler)
    Anyone who thought Marisa's Oscar for My Cousin Vinny was a fluke can set that aside now. She brought almost as much heartache to the screen this time around as Mickey Rourke did, and that's saying a lot. Extra props to her for A) having the guts to spend most of her screen time naked and grinding against a pole, and B) looking absolutely fabulous (and convincingly broken) while doing so.

  • AMY ADAMS (Doubt)
    I fell in love with Amy Adams as soon as I saw Junebug. This is a woman who has a lot of nominations, and likely wins, in her future. The trouble is that Doubt was so much an ensemble piece that it seems like she had the least amount of stuff to do on screen, which makes it hard for me to see her winning this year. On the flipside, she made the most of the time she did have, and she played someone completely unlike any of her previous characters...and she was spot on with it. I'm kinda torn about this one, but she definitely deserves the nomination, and I look forward to what great things she'll be doing in the future.

  • VIOLA DAVIS (Doubt)
    This goes almost completely against what I've said about Amy Adams and Taraji Henson, but considering Viola had only a single 12-minute-long scene in the whole film, I can scarcely believe the impact her few short moments made on me. Her scant dialogue with Meryl Streep cut like a knife and added something to the film that was essential in creating the entire atmosphere of it all. Truly one of the more powerful appearances I've ever seen, and she managed to stuff everything we needed to know into twelve measly minutes. Commendable.

  • PENELOPE CRUZ (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
    Haven't seen it. Don't want to see it, but it's on DVD, so I'll suck it up. I loathe Woody Allen movies (the sole exception being the astonishing Match Point), and on top of that I completely disagreed with Cruz being nominated for Volver a couple of years back (overrated in a big way, IMO). But I'll give it a fair chance, since both Cruz and Allen have managed to surprise me in the past.

Who I think SHOULD win: Augh. This is hard! I'm gonna have to go with Viola. Even though half of my brain is rooting for Amy. Augh. (This does prove, however, that Doubt was another oversight in the Best Picture category, doesn't it?)

Who I think WILL win: I honestly don't know if it'll be Amy or Taraji. Both are fairly new-ish to the Big Time, and both have created a lot of buzz with their performances, this year and in recent years. If I had to guess, I'd say Taraji will get it.



  • HEATH LEDGER (The Dark Knight)
    I really hate hearing people say that Heath only got the nod because he's not with us anymore. If you saw the film, you know bloody well that his performance was one of the greatest things to witness all year. All sentimentality aside, I'd have been pissed if he'd been left off the consideration list; his Joker blew everyone and everything away (literally and figuratively). My review of the film:

    Interesting to note that Hoffman's Capote won out over Heath's cowboy in Brokeback Mountain a couple of seasons ago. And this time around, a win would be well deserved, indeed. He left me completely dumbstruck when I saw Doubt; I watched every expression on his face, every bit of body language, and I was so impressed with the complexity and depth that he gave to the priest he played. I have a feeling that he'd be a lock in this category if not for Heath.

  • MICHAEL SHANNON (Revolutionary Road)
    This was another "WHAT THE HELL???" moment for me when the nominations were announced. Shannon has been one of those guys who has turned in a lot of good performances as a character actor, and I'd like to see him in more films, but...I cannot for the life of me figure out how he landed on the short list with his very brief (and not terribly consequential) role in ...Road. He did a great job with what he had, but what they gave him wasn't much, and in my world it just doesn't feel like an Oscar kind of role. If anything, Leonardo DiCaprio should have gotten this nomination for the same movie. I like Shannon, and I liked what he did in the film, but it's not even in the same stratosphere as the above-mentioned performances.

  • ROBERT DOWNEY JR. (Tropic Thunder)
    Aaaaaand yet another "WTF?!?" from me. Don't get me wrong; I adore RDJ, and think he should be swimming in Oscars by now, AND I haven't even seen the film in question yet (another renter) maybe I should just shaddap until I see what the deal is. But...seriously?? Of all the great parts he's played...??? Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) should have gotten a shot at this instead. Or Leonardo, again. Or Colin Farrell for In Bruges! This one baffles me. Maybe it'll make more sense once I see Tropic Thunder, but I can't imagine a comedic performance in blackface alongside *shudder* Ben Stiller and Jack Black could possibly hold a candle to the other guys I mentioned.

  • JOSH BROLIN (Milk)
    Again, haven't seen it yet, so I have no idea whatsoever about this one. His last few roles have impressed the hell out of me (and I kinda thought he might even get nominated for his brilliant portrayal of Dubya, actually), so I'll be waiting on this call.

Who I think SHOULD win: This sucks. I want Heath Ledger to get it, but knowing how much he hated award shows, plus the fact that he's not here to receive the recognition for his amazing role, I feel like Philip Seymour Hoffman should really be the one to walk away with the Oscar. I'm positive it'll be one of the two, and I know I'll be both happy and sad no matter which one wins.

Who I think WILL win: Heath. As a salute not only to the brilliance we've seen, but also to what we know we're going to miss out on.



  • DANNY BOYLE (Slumdog Millionaire)
    I love Danny Boyle. He's made so many of my absolute favourite films (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later, Millions), and he's never been recognized for any of them. Now he's been nominated for something that is miles away from his most famous endeavours, which gives him points for amazing versatility. The undertaking of such a huge production with Slumdog earned him a spot at the top of this list.

  • DAVID FINCHER (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button)
    Another one of my favourite directors. (I've forgiven him for the atrocity that was Zodiac.) And I love that he took on a project that's so different from the films for which he's best known. He, like Danny, has proven that he's no one-trick pony, and Benjamin had to be one hell of a big job. He pulled it off and the end product was beautiful.

  • STEPHEN DALDRY (The Reader)
    If I'm not mistaken, this fellow has only directed two feature films - the first being The Hours - and is therefore batting a thousand in terms of nominations. He really caught the atmosphere in this one, so I'm glad he's gotten a nod, but I think it was his direction that caused the disconnect I felt through the first chunk of the movie. I'm not sure how I feel about who got left OFF the list as a result of his nomination (Clint, again, and Darren Aronofsky). I dunno. I think we can expect more good things from this guy, but I'd sort of like to see him establish himself a bit more before he starts collecting statues.

  • RON HOWARD (Frost/Nixon)
    I liked the movie quite a bit, but...nothing about it felt like there was a Ron Howard signature to it, if that makes any sense. Had I not known it was his film, I wouldn't have been able to pick out his style. (Does he have one?) I generally like the movies he puts out, but as I said above, I think Eastwood or Aronofsky were overlooked and deserved a shot for their films more than Howard does this time.

  • GUS VAN SANT (Milk)
    Once more: haven't seen it. Gus is hit-and-miss for me. (He, at least, has a distinctive style, like the first two nominees; sometimes it works, in films like Elephant, whereas other times it misfires - Psycho and Last Days come to mind.) I'll reserve judgment.

Who I think SHOULD win: Danny Boyle. The way he managed to weave that story together and never lost any momentum is extraordinary. But I can't say I'd be disappointed to see David Fincher get it, for similar reasons.

Who I think WILL win: Danny. He took such a unique approach to Slumdog, and made it into something unlike anything we've ever seen before, that I'd be surprised if anyone else won.


BEST PICTURE (my rating out of five stars)

Who I think SHOULD win: Slumdog Millionaire. Hands down.

Who I think WILL win: Having not yet seen Milk, I can't be confident in saying Slumdog will get it. I'm even a little nervous about Benjamin getting in there. But I think I'd have to put my chips on Slumdog. Here's hoping I'm right.

That took me TWO AND A HALF HOURS to write.

I'll post an actual poll (on my private blog) when the date gets closer, but in the meantime, fill me in: Which ones have you guys seen? What have you loved/hated? Have any of you seen the ones I haven't (and if so, are they worthy of their nominations)? Am I on crack for being so bent out of shape about the Clint Eastwood/Gran Torino thing?? (I'm also a bit baffled about the barely-there recognition for Revolutionary Road.)


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