Sunday, January 27, 2008

Handicapping Oscar

I’ve never been one to devote a whole lot of emotion to the Academy Awards, but I do enjoy picking the winners. I have a pretty good record of accuracy, too, though I never had the good sense to bet money on the race.

I don’t especially study the industry. I rely mostly on intuition. If you read off the list of nominees in a category, I can usually “feel” which one will get the award. I had all the main winners correct last year prior to my pre-Oscar guest shot on WCPN-FM’s “Around Noon” show, including dark horse Alan Arkin as Best Supporting Actor in Little Miss Sunshine — to me, a no-brainer (funny role, well-liked actor out of the spotlight for years). And yet, most were touting Eddie Murphy’s unremarkable James Brown-y turn in Dreamgirls.

Here are some preliminary predictions:

Best Picture. The nominees: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood.

First, what the heck is Juno doing here? Comedies rarely walk off with Best Picture. This annoying snarkfest seems to have captured the hearts of many people, especially critics, though God knows why. It certainly isn’t as funny as Knocked Up, which also probably isn’t Oscar-caliber, but is vastly more enjoyable. (More on Knocked Up vs. Juno in an upcoming post). Look for stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody to get the award for Best Original Screenplay for Juno, despite such cringe-inducing neologisms as "Homeskillet."

Intuition tells me the winner will be the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, the second for them after Fargo. I don’t share critics’ enthusiasm for No Country, a mostly unpleasant exercise in Western nihilism, but it has caused a stir. Closest contender is Atonement, this year’s popular Merchant-Ivory imitation, whose visual loveliness (and that of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as the star-crossed lovers) set many a movie matron-patron’s heart a-flutter, never mind the flaws in its narrative. I think Michael Clayton was thrown in for good measure, though the brisk legal thriller is a refreshingly cool drink of water.

As for There Will Be Blood, I finally mustered the stamina to endure its two-hour-38-minute length, and couldn't quite understand what all the gushing (so to speak) is about concerning this pseudo-majestic, ultimately unsatisfying film. As ever, the American West is the destination of filmmakers who want to appear profound. I, for one, find Westerns, with their sprawling desert vistas, immensely boring. They do, however, inspire critics to toss around words like "masterpiece." Ho-hum!

Best Actor.
The nominees: George Clooney, Michael Clayton; Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood; Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd; Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah; Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises.

I haven't seen all of these yet, but I believe it's a toss-up between Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. Day-Lewis won the Best Actor award in 1989 for My Left Foot; Jones has won only a Best Supporting Oscar for The Fugitive, so he may be due for a valedictory Oscar. A win for Elah would also stand in for his work in No Country. Day-Lewis' portrayal of a black-hearted oilman certainly was Acting with a capital 'A' — not my style, but superb considering what he had to work with. I believe Day-Lewis will win, but I may change my mind on this one.

Best Actress. The nominees: Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Julie Christie, Away from Her; Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose; Laura Linney, The Savages; Ellen Page, Juno.

This is easy: Julie Christie in Away from Her. This nomination has all the right elements: comeback role of sentimental favorite from the swinging ’60s, plus the real clincher, portraying someone suffering from a bad disease (in this case Alzheimer’s). Never mind that what Ms. Christie did was largely act with her hair, and that the movie was a laughable Canadian-made low-budgeter that turned a wry Alice Munro short story into an unrealistic disease-of-the-week tearjerker. Honestly, the movie’s production values reminded me of the deliberately bad Canadian TV movies they used to make for the SCTV comedy show, with cheap music and boring shots of snowy landscapes and cars driving along the highway.

I personally like Laura Linney in The Savages, but that means little enough. Marion Cotillard? Too French. Ellen Page? Um, no. Cate Blanchett? Maybe supporting actress for her bizarrely convincing Bob Dylan drag act in I’m Not There. There seems to be nothing this actress cannot do.

1 comment:

Mark Satola said...

Can't wait to see the rest of your predictions. I mostly agree, though I suspect that "You Gotta Have Blood" may overtake "No Country for Grumpy Old Men" simply because of its overwhelmingly somber tone (which I divined entirely from the trailer) and its seeming timeliness, purporting to show the gusher (Spindletop?) that started us down the road to our society's current (and seemingly irreversible) immersion in a seething cauldron of international oil intrigue....