Friday, February 20, 2009

My Oscar Picks

In about two hours, I'm going to be in the car on the way to Atlanta for a fun weekend of Oscar and Kate. But first, I thought I should put my picks out there...because it's nice to have proof ahead of time about how right I was. Haha, just kidding. Every year I'm surprised when someone I wasn't expecting takes home Oscar. Well, except the year LOTR: The Return of the King won. No one was surprised about anything that happened that night.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog has the best chance of winning. It's the little film that could. No matter the hype, the hype worked. There weren't a lot of TV or even in-theatre previews; this movie can owe its success to word of mouth and a famous fan-base (e.g. winning awards left and right). I will cheer when it wins, and I'll be downright flabbergasted if it doesn't.

Best Director: Danny Boyle
Just like Slumdog, he's the little director that could this year. I would love to see Ron Howard win, but he's an extremely long shot that's not going to happen.

Best Actor: Sean Penn
I would love to see Frank Langella go home with this one. His performance in Frost/Nixon was spectacular. I also had tears in my eyes watching Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. But I think the Academy is leaning more towards Penn. He too gave an incredible performance, but I wouldn't be disappointed to see Rourke up there thanking his dogs again.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet
This is Winslet's year. The woman has been nominated six times. SIX! And she's not even 35 yet. As of now, I haven't seen The Reader (I'm seeing it tonight), but I have no doubt that she deserves it. Speaking of Doubt, Meryl Streep is the only one who could push her out, but I'm pretty sure that her 15 nods didn't matter when the votes were coming in. The jaw-dropping surprise winner would be Anne Hathaway, but I wouldn't put any money on that at all.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger
There are people that say he's getting all this posthumous glory because...well, because it's posthumous. Though I believe that, had he lived, he still would've gotten all the nominations he's gotten. His Joker was spooky and surreal and the absolute best work of his career. He may not have won the Oscar if he'd still been here, but he's definitely winning it now.

On a side note, Josh Brolin just worked his way into Rule #3 on my "How to Win an Oscar" book because his performance in Milk was good, but his performance in No Country for Old Men last year was better.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis
I hate this category. There has yet to be a year where I've gotten this right. This year, though, I'm going with my gut...not the populous. I loved Davis. She kicked ass on screen. She deserves the "Judi Dench" award, dammit. Penelope Cruz is the front-runner for this one, but I don't think she could've possibly been as wonderful.

Best Original Screenplay: Milk
Mostly because it's the only Best Picture nominee, but also because there are a lot of speeches. I've only seen two others in the category. Wall-E is mostly silent; it could win, but I doubt it.
And In Bruges is hilarious not necessarily for the words but for how Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson deliver said words.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
I think this is a close race. This could easily go to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The Academy isn't huge on adaptations from plays, so Doubt and Frost/Nixon are out. The Reader's attention has all been focused on Kate Winslet and nothing else, so I think it's really out.

Best Animated Feature: Wall-E
There's no need to explain. It's a Pixar movie up against Bolt and Kung-Fu Panda.

And the rest...
Editing: The Dark Knight should win, but Slumdog will probably win.

Cinematography: Benjamin Button deserves this one, but Slumdog could slip in here as well.

Art Direction: I'd love to see The Dark Knight take this one, but I would be equally happy to see the more traditional Benjamin Button win as well.

Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire and Wall-E are the only two in which the score stood out for me. My money's on Wall-E.

Original Song: Slumdog and Wall-E are the only two up in this category, and I'm giving this one to Slumdog for its closing song "Jai Ho." Everyone should have a little Bollywood in their lives.

Costume Design: The Academy never disappoints here. If it's big and lavish, it wins. The Duchess has it.

Makeup: Though a lot of it involved CGI, there was definitely some great aging makeup in Benjamin Button. I think it will beat out it's superhero competition.

Sound Editing: Wall-E...because a mostly silent movie has to have impeccable sound.

Sound Mixing: The Dark Knight because an action movie full of explosions, raspy-voiced Batmans, and car chases should blend beautifully.

Visual Effects: I'd like Iron Man to take this one home because those effects were amazing, but everyone's been going on and on about Benjamin Button, so it's probably going to win.

Foreign-Language Film: Entertainment Weekly picked France's The Class. I'll take them as the authority on this one.

Documentary Feature: Man on Wire is the only doc I've actually heard of, so that's the one I'm choosing.

Doc Short: Again, I've got to turn to Entertainment Weekly and say The Witness--From the Balcony of Room 306...which I would really love to see. Hopefully, it will be available on DVD.

Animated Short: Presto, the Pixar short before Wall-E seems to be a shoe-in.

Live-Action Short: When there's a Holocaust film, you have to automatically assume it will win. And there is: Spielzugland (Toyland)

And my final prediction? Hugh Jackman is going to be entertaining, but everyone's going to compare him to Billy Crystal. Enjoy Oscar night everyone!

Friday, February 13, 2009

15 Movies I Think You Should See Before the Oscars

EW had their list (which I'm doing better on now, if you haven't checked it lately). As always, it's released before the nominations are announced. I decided this year, for my own information, to make my own list. What kind of film blogger would I be if I didn't share it. Again, in bold are the ones I've seen.

Here's a list of the 15 movies I think you should see before the Oscars, in order of importance. I've also noted what major* nominations each has received.

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 13 nominations including Best Picture; Best Director, David Fincher; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Actor, Brad Pitt; Best Supporting Actress, Taraji P. Henson
  • Slumdog Millionaire 10 nominations including Best Picture; Best Director, Danny Boyle; Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Milk 8 nominations including Best Picture; Best Director, Gus Van Sant; Best Original Screenplay; Best Actor, Sean Penn; Best Supporting Actor, Josh Brolin
  • Frost/Nixon 5 nominations including Best Picture; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Director, Ron Howard; Best Actor, Frank Langella
  • The Reader 5 nominations including Best Picture; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Director; Stephen Daldry; Best Actress, Kate Winslet
  • Doubt 5 nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman; Best Actress, Meryl Streep; Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis & Amy Adams
  • The Wrestler 2 nominations: Best Actor, Mickey Rourke; Best Supporting Actress, Marisa Tomei
  • The Dark Knight 8 nominations including Best Supporting Actor, Heath Ledger
  • WALL-E 6 nominations including Best Animated Picture and Best Original Screenplay
  • Changeling 3 nominations including Best Actress, Angelina Jolie
  • Tropic Thunder 1 nomination: Best Supporting Actor, Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Rachel Getting Married 1 nomination: Best Actress, Anne Hathaway
  • Frozen River 2 nominations: Best Actress, Melissa Leo and Best Original Screenplay
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona 1 nomination: Best Supporting Actress, Penelope Cruz
  • The Visitor 1 nomination: Best Actor, Richard Jenkins

*The "major" nominations include the Big Four - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress as well as Best Supporting Actor & Actress, and Best Screenplay.

Monday, February 2, 2009

From Stage to Screen

I'm just going to put it out there right here at the beginning. Doubt would not have been a good movie if it weren't for Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and especially Viola Davis. The story is a bit lacking, but these four actors make it compelling and--at times--fascinating to watch.

Adapted from his stageplay of the same name, director/writer John Patrick Shanley's Doubt is set in the Bronx at St. Nicholas Catholic school in 1964. The forward-thinking Father Flynn (Hoffman) is trying to bring the school out of its old, strict customs. Standing in his way is the fearsome school principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) who rules the school like any mean-spirited nun in a traditional Catholic school. But, as it is the sixties, change is apparent, and the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II).

The sweet and loving Sister James (Adams), sees that Father Flynn is paying a tad too much attention to young Donald, and she shares her fears with Sister Aloysius. Without any solid proof but her own faith, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to find the truth and remove Flynn from the school.

You can tell from the way the film was shot that Shanley did his film homework. With the canted angles and long reaction shots, Doubt looks much like a classic Hitchcock with less shadows. But I guess when the only other movie you've directed is Joe Versus the Volcano, you probably need a little brush up. For some scenes, the shots worked, but there were others that completely took me out of the movie. This could be just me and all the other film students out there, so I'm sorry if I've now ruined it for you.

Camera work aside, the acting--as I've already said--is absolutely wonderful. I mean, there is no question that Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are some of the top players in their game, but Viola Davis. Holy crap. Her scene with Meryl Streep outside on the sidewalk had me glued to the screen. When Tim & I went to see it, the theatre was freezing, but for those few minutes I forgot I was cold. I forgot Tim was sitting next to me. She is only on the screen for 12 minutes, but I was completely enthralled.

Amy Adams is good too, but she's not nearly as good as her co-stars. Which, for a movie like this, isn't too shabby. She plays Sister James like the nun version of her character in Enchanted (thank you, Kate, for that one). She's timid, naive, and kind and hopes for the best in everyone. Every time someone steered her one way or the other, I felt she knew she was being manipulated but just didn't care to ruffle any feathers over it.

Being the film fanatic I am, I suggest seeing this movie in theatres just so you can cheer for Viola Davis when she wins her Oscar...or be thoroughly disappointed when she loses to Marisa Tomei. But you're not all crazy about movies like I am, and Doubt is the perfect movie for watching on your TV at home. It's low-key, actor-driven, and still holding on to its stageplay roots.