January 8, 2009

Oscars 2009 - And We're Off...

On the first Sunday of every January the New York Times publishes its special Oscar section. Last year I highlighted three articles about potential nominees for Best Production Design (There Will Be Blood), Best Sound (No Country for Old Men), and Best Editing (The Bourne Ultimatum).

This year’s section was readable, but it disappointingly didn’t really shed light on some of the lesser-celebrated categories like last year. But really, can I complain about a lack of coverage? There are thousands of blogs and websites on which I can find what I’m looking for about each category. Needless to say, I’m getting pretty charged up for February 22nd already. The shortlists for Best Documentary Feature, Best Song, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup have been released in recent weeks, and heading into the final week of voting (and the Golden Globes this Sunday), I have to say this is one of those great years where there is no obvious front-runner to sweep every category. Chances are the most awarded film this year will walk away with no more than 5-7 awards on Oscar night, but of course I’ve been wrong many times before.

Anyway, back to the Oscar section. Here are the articles worth your time:

Mirror Reflections on Time’s Dualities” – Manohla Dargis gushes about her favorite film of the year, Synecdoche, New York. I have to say, reading this I was convinced that the screenplay was even more brilliant than I realized. For his creative vision alone I think Charlie Kaufman deserves Best Original Screenplay over well-tread stories like Jenny Lumet’s Rachel Getting Married, at least among the likely nominees.

A Method Performance, Alright” – For those of you who have seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this article and accompanying slideshow will be a real eye-opener. I would have given the Best Visual Effects award to Hellboy II a week ago, but considering how Button was created, this may be a two horse race.

Big, Important Picture? Sure. But Is It the Best?” – How does the New York Times always get away with article titles like that? Dave Kehr runs down the historical record of Best Picture winners that weren't the most deserving from their respective years. I’d heard all of this before, but towards the end of the article he makes a really, really intriguing point about the state of Hollywood and the need for a popular Best Picture winner. If enough people have seen Slumdog Millionaire by now I think it will remain the favorite, but this is the first time I’ve thought The Dark Knight and WALL*E have a legitimate chance at the biggest award.

A Hollywood Party, And You’re Invited” – An article about the Oscar ceremony and the challenges of getting America to watch the proceedings (last year’s telecast drew a record-low audience). With Hugh Jackman as the host this year, and the general vagueness with which the ceremony’s producers answer the questions, all I learned was that they still have no idea how to make this an engaging show for the masses. Of course I’ve never had a problem with it; I wait for it all year, and if nobody watches but me it really doesn’t matter. In fact I’d rather them not make a lot of significant changes. They’ve tried that (presenting from the audience, bringing all the nominees on stage) and it was silly. Just announce the awards, throw in some jokes, play the tributes and retrospectives and be done with it. If people want more than that they can watch the MTV Movie Awards.

So Nixonian That His Nose Seems to Evolve” – Validation! I thought I was the only one who thought Langella in no way resembled the appearance or voice of Richard Nixon. It doesn’t mean he was the wrong actor for the part, but at least I don’t think I’m crazy anymore. Also, I found it funny that Charles McGrath describes Langella during the interview as acting in some ways like Nixon (“In person Mr. Langella carries himself with an almost papal bearing. He accepts compliments graciously but with a little nod that suggests you’re not telling him anything he doesn’t know already.”). Also, Langella was with Whoopi Goldberg? Whaa?

For Your Consideration, Academy” – Scott, Dargis and Holden fill out their imaginary Oscar ballots. Some surprises:
  • Scott nominates Abigail Breslin (Kit Kittredge: American Girl) for Best Actress and Jeff Bridges (Iron Man) for Best Supporting Actor…!
  • Out of left field, Dargis chooses the two main actors from the little-seen Reprise for Best Actor over Penn, Rourke, Langella, DiCaprio, and Jenkins. She also fills out her Supporting Actress category with four actresses from Synecdoche, New York.
  • Holden goes deep to nominate Hiam Abbass from The Visitor. From that movie I would have chosen Danai Jekesai Gurira over Abbass, but still, nice pick.

Films Reach Theaters a Drib Here, a Drab There” – Not like we didn’t already know this, but at least there’s some explanation for the extremely slow releases of some of this year’s most anticipated movies. Frost/Nixon opened here early in December but remains in one theater, while Gran Torino and The Wrestler are coming out this week, nearly a month after they opened in New York and L.A.. I love this guy’s quote: “I expect films to come out when they say they’re coming out.” Ain’t that the truth.

Thoughts on these articles? On this year’s Oscars in general? I doubt I’ll write much more about them outside of nomination and winner predictions, so here’s your chance to spout off.


  1. I'm glad to linked to these articles. I'm still so behind on '08 releases, so I have little by way of meaningful commentary on what should or should not be nominated. I'm happy Scott and Holden think Wall-E should get the nod, although many people seem content to let it be restricted to the animated film category. I'm ambivalent about those two saying Kelly Reichardt deserves a directing nod for Wendy and Lucy, which I thought was really sweet but predictable and somewhat too manipulative. Dargis, well, there's really no way to map her – she's a force to be reckoned with. ;)

    I do think there's safe money on The Dark Knight getting nominated for Best Picture. I always thought it was likely, but the recent producers' and directors' guilds nominations probably make it a lock. Regardless of whether it deserves it (and I still have a lot left to see, but I think it's a damn fine movie), the benefits of nominating it seem to outweigh the cons. People might tune in to see if it can win, and that might help with the poor ratings over the last decade. Sad, but true, and that's one of the flaws in award shows, period.

  2. Well if you're behind on some releases you're way ahead on others. I don't get Wendy and Lucy until February. Though I did really like Reichardt's Old Joy two years ago.

    Yes, Dargis is a whirlwind of opinion, to say the least. That's why everybody reads her!

    I'll honestly admit I didn't think TDK was going to last this long into awards season, but there it is on all of the lists. It won't make my top 5 but yeah, for the greater good I'm fine with it winning a couple of Oscars and getting the public off their couches and into movie theaters this year.


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