Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Winners 2009: Steve Predicts

Oscar nominations were announced this morning to little fanfare and few surprises. As it happens, 2008 was a ho-hum year for cinema, punctuated by predictable hits.

David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button leads the Oscar pack with 13 nods, including best picture and director. You heard it here first: the film will win both top prizes.

Why? There is no serious competition this year for Benji Button, an ambitious narrative about a man who ages backwards, with A-list talent and a maverick director who's overdue for one of those little golden men. Plus, Oscar politics are typically transparent for anyone who knows a little academy history. This year is no exception. Edgy material has to make do with the honor of a nomination; the top award invariably goes to the picture made in the grand, old Hollywood style: big production, sharp acting and superb craftsmanship, but very little in the way of a “message,” especially anything controversial. Sure, Best Picture winner Crash (2006) was a film about the evils of racism, but no one publicly argues with that. It’s just another film that takes a stand without taking any chances. Such are the choices before us this year.

Besides Button, these films are up for Best Picture:

Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon got a chilly reception at the box office, although this adaptation of the stage play, itself a recounting of David Frost’s historically significant 1977 interviews with a disgraced president, was met with almost-universal critical favor. Still, who thinks of Nixon in connection with a great movie? All the President’s Men (1976) centered around the 37th president, but we never actually had to look at him. There's another obstacle working against this fim: Howard won a directing Oscar eight years ago for A Beautiful Mind. Two in his lifetime seems a bit of a stretch for this former child actor and inconsistent directing talent, when you consider the appalling number of brilliant directors who never received an Oscar for their work. Stanley Kubrick, anyone?

Milk, directed by Gus van Sant, is the biopic of Harvey Milk, a gay San Francisco city councilman who was murdered by a political rival. Sean Penn will score Oscar gold for his performance in the title role and everyone in Hollywood will opine on the importance of Harvey Milk as an activist for gay rights, while lamenting the tragedy of his death. And academy members will quietly vote for a different best picture. It’s like people lying on exit polls on election day. More importantly, I’m still annoyed with van Sant for his stupid and unwanted “shot-for-shot” remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho a decade ago. Anne Heche as Marion Crane? Puh. Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates?! Zzzz.... Whatever credibility he may have had as a filmmaker went out the window like an errant fart when van Sant decided to pursue that silly-ass idea.

For The Reader, academy voters will tell themselves that just getting the Best Picture nomination is honor enough. A film dealing with an illiterate former Nazi, even if portrayed by Kate Winslet, doesn’t have the gravitas of a Schindler’s List or The Piano. Baiting for an Oscar can backfire when the ploy seems so obvious. When academy members screen “The Reader,” for Best Picture consideration, you can bet they’ll turn the page.

Slumdog Millionaire, directed by the intensely humanistic Danny Boyle, plays more like a foreign art-house effort. Filmed on location in India, Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal Malik, a street urchin who, against the odds, manages to land a spot as a contestant on a TV game show – and starts winning. It’s another triumph-of-the-human-spirit picture wowing audiences who apparently haven’t seen many triumph-of-the-human-spirit pictures. A nomination for Slumdog also allows the academy to acknowledge the importance of diversity without handing the top honor to a film that, at its heart, explores universal human feelings. In sum, they will consider the nomination good enough for this little indie film that's been kicked around the studios for nearly two years.

Just a glance at past Oscar winners shows the academy really has only one clear choice this year.
Benjamin Button has A-list stars (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett), a solid yet unusual storyline, and the immense talents of director Fincher, whose dark, misanthropic vision plays to maximum effect in films like Se7en, Fight Club and the hugely underrated Zodiac. Here, Fincher goes for pathos and flexes his directing muscles in new ways. Academy voters like that.

The film received 13 nominations this morning (surpassed or matched only by All About Eve 1950], Ben Hur [1959], Titanic [1997], and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King [2003]). Frequent collaborator Pitt got an Oscar nod for his work in the title role and the picture is up for a slew of technical awards, so it's already approaching critical mass. Bet on it: Benjamin Button will beam like a three-year-old on his birthday come Oscar night.

Every Best Picture nominee this year is also up for the Best Director award. That’s common. What’s uncommon is the year when a film wins Best Director but not Best Picture. So if Fincher makes an appearance on stage clutching an Oscar, start collecting on your bets, for Benjamin Button will have surely won the top prize.

Oh: that Batman movie everybody loved -- What was it called? The Dark Knight? -- picked up eight nominations, but only one in a major category: best supporting actor for the late Heath Ledger. The nom was an all but foregone conclusion. If Ledger wins, it will be the first posthumous Oscar to be presented since Peter Finch failed to show up for his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Network (1976). I doubt any of this will enhance Ledger’s career, although it will probably goose DVD sales of his movies.

Here’s the full list of nominees, with my predictions for the winners (in bold):

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor” (Overture Films)
Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon” (Universal)
Sean Penn in “Milk” (Focus Features)
Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Josh Brolin in “Milk” (Focus Features)
Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” (DreamWorks, Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt” (Miramax)
Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)
Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Angelina Jolie in “Changeling” (Universal)
Melissa Leo in “Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Meryl Streep in “Doubt” (Miramax)
Kate Winslet in “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in “Doubt” (Miramax)
Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (The Weinstein Company)
Viola Davis in “Doubt” (Miramax)
Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler” (Fox Searchlight)

Best animated feature film of the year
“Bolt” (Walt Disney), Chris Williams and Byron Howard
“Kung Fu Panda” (DreamWorks Animation, Distributed by Paramount), John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Andrew Stanton

Achievement in art direction
“Changeling” (Universal), Art Direction: James J. Murakami, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt, Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Art Direction: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Peter Lando
“The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Art Direction: Michael Carlin, Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
“Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage), Art Direction: Kristi Zea, Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

Achievement in cinematography
“Changeling” (Universal), Tom Stern
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Claudio Miranda
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Wally Pfister
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Anthony Dod Mantle

Achievement in costume design
“Australia” (20th Century Fox), Catherine Martin
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Jacqueline West
“The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Michael O’Connor
“Milk” (Focus Features), Danny Glicker
“Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage), Albert Wolsky

Achievement in directing:
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Fincher
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Ron Howard
“Milk” (Focus Features), Gus Van Sant
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Stephen Daldry
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Danny Boyle

Best documentary feature
“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)” (Cinema Guild), A Pandinlao Films Production, Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
“Encounters at the End of the World” (THINKFilm and Image Entertainment), A Creative Differences Production, Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
“The Garden” A Black Valley Films Production, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
“Man on Wire” (Magnolia Pictures), A Wall to Wall Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn
“Trouble the Water” (Zeitgeist Films), An Elsewhere Films Production, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

Best documentary short subject
“The Conscience of Nhem En” A Farallon Films Production, Steven Okazaki
“The Final Inch” A Vermilion Films Production, Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
“Smile Pinki” A Principe Production, Megan Mylan
“The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306” A Rock Paper Scissors Production, Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

Achievement in film editing
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Lee Smith
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
“Milk” (Focus Features), Elliot Graham
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Chris Dickens

Best foreign language film of the year
“The Baader Meinhof Complex” A Constantin Film Production, Germany
“The Class” (Sony Pictures Classics), A Haut et Court Production, France
“Departures” (Regent Releasing), A Departures Film Partners Production, Japan
“Revanche” (Janus Films), A Prisma Film/Fernseh Production, Austria
“Waltz with Bashir” (Sony Pictures Classics), A Bridgit Folman Film Gang Production, Israel

Achievement in makeup
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Greg Cannom
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (Universal), Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Alexandre Desplat
“Defiance” (Paramount Vantage), James Newton Howard
“Milk” (Focus Features), Danny Elfman
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), A.R. Rahman
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Thomas Newman

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
“Down to Earth” from “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
“Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
“O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

Best motion picture of the year
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), A Kennedy/Marshall Production, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), A Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Production, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, Producers
“Milk” (Focus Features), A Groundswell and Jinks/Cohen Company Production, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Producers
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), A Mirage Enterprises and Neunte Babelsberg Film GmbH Production, Nominees to be determined
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), A Celador Films Production, Christian Colson, Producer.

Best animated short film
“La Maison en Petits Cubes” A Robot Communications Production, Kunio Kato
“Lavatory - Lovestory” A Melnitsa Animation Studio and CTB Film Company Production, Konstantin Bronzit
“Oktapodi” (Talantis Films), A Gobelins, L’école de l’image Production, Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand
“Presto” (Walt Disney), A Pixar Animation Studios Production, Doug Sweetland
“This Way Up” A Nexus Production, Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

Best live action short film
“Auf der Strecke (On the Line)” (Hamburg Shortfilmagency), An Academy of Media Arts Cologne Production, Reto Caffi
“Manon on the Asphalt” (La Luna Productions), A La Luna Production, Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
“New Boy” (Network Ireland Television), A Zanzibar Films Production, Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
“The Pig” An M & M Production, Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh
“Spielzeugland (Toyland)” A Mephisto Film Production, Jochen Alexander Freydank

Achievement in sound editing
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Richard King
“Iron Man” (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Tom Sayers
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
“Wanted” (Universal), Wylie Stateman

Achievement in sound mixing
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
“Wanted” (Universal), Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

Achievement in visual effects
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
“Iron Man” (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Adapted screenplay
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
“Doubt” (Miramax), Written by John Patrick Shanley
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Screenplay by Peter Morgan
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Screenplay by David Hare
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Original screenplay
“Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics), Written by Courtney Hunt
“Happy-Go-Lucky” (Miramax), Written by Mike Leigh
“In Bruges” (Focus Features), Written by Martin McDonagh
“Milk” (Focus Features), Written by Dustin Lance Black
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

1 comment:

Cinema Uprising values comments and feedback from readers. Although we cannot reply to every message, we do read comments and take your thoughts into consideration as we continuously produce fresh content.