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Post-Oscar thoughts

So Crash won Best Picture. It seems some members of the Academy did know how to quit Brokeback Mountain after all. It’s a shame as Ang Lee’s film (along with all the other Best Picture nominees) were superior to the LA set racial drama. But just how often do the Oscars ever award the best film “Best Picture”? It is a surprisingly rare occurrence. The only one’s I can think of in recent memory were The Return of the King, American Beauty and Schindler’s List. And let’s not forget that recent Best Picture winners have included Chicago, Braveheart and Driving Miss Daisy. Maybe in the long run Brokeback Mountain will be more admired because it didn’t win, in the same way we now look back fondly at Goodfellas (beaten by Dances with Wolves in 1990) and Raging Bull (beaten by Ordinary People in 1980). But never mind.

Some other random thoughts:

  • How on earth did Memoirs of a Geisha win so many technical awards?
  • Jon Stewart was actually OK as a host despite some rocky moments of blankness from the Hollywood throng. The pre-prepared Daily Show-style segments were excellent but I think Stewart struggled to modify his style to a very different environment.
  • The whole ceremony seemed a lot better paced than in years gone by.
  • There was little sign of any tedious “This is Hollywood” dance routines. Thank God.
  • The main reason Crash won was the flood of Lionsgate DVDs
  • I think Flags of Our Fathers will win Best Picture next year.

Anyway, here are some post-Oscar links for you to peruse:

> David Poland dissects the Oscars at The Hot Button
> Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood Daily posts her ‘I told you so’ piece on the Crash upset (she predicted a Crash upset quite a while ago)
> Kenneth Turan of the LA Times is pissed that Crash won
> Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere is upset too
> The hilarious "Gay Cowboy Montage" from last night’s show over at YouTube
> The Guardian review the night in quotes
> Kristopher Tapley at Movie City News reviews the evening
> Defamer do a roundup of the Oscar live blogs
> Jackie Finlay from BBC News on who said what backstage
> Andy Denhart of MSNBC with a slightly unfair assessment of Jon Stewart as Oscar host
> USA Today on what we never saw on TV
> Jocelyn Noveck of the AP asks if there was a Brokeback Backlash
> Roger Ebert reports from the Oscars
> David Carr on the LA aspect to the Crash win
> Lynn Elber of the AP on the TV ratings drop for the Oscar telecast
> Wikipedia’s incredibly detailed entry on what happened at the 78th Academy Awards

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News Thoughts

Oscar Predictions

One of the interesting things about this year’s Oscar race is the high standard of the films nominated. Compared to last year, the standard is much higher. The three films that dominated last year (Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator & Ray) were good but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would declare them masterpieces (although some American critics did think the Clint Eastwood tearjerker was just that). Sideways was clearly the best film but, as so often with Oscar, suffered from the "best film rarely wins” syndrome. But this year is different. Nearly all the five nominees for Best Picture are worthy of the Oscar.

Let’s take a look at each one before analysing the individual categories:

Brokeback Mountain – Ang Lee’s beautifully made drama has been the awards favourite this year and there are several reasons why. Its highly likely that the taboo breaking gay love story has helped it become an ‘issue film’ – the kind that Oscar loves – and boost its box office. But with all the media chatter of a ‘gay cowboy’ film it’s easy to forget the numerous qualities of this remarkable film: Heath Ledger’s unexpectedly brilliant performance and some strong supporting turns from Michelle Williams and Jake Gyllenhaal; Roderigo Prieto’s wonderful cinematography; Gustavo Santaolalla’s superb minimalist score; the impressive adaptation by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana from Annie Proulx’s short story and Ang Lee’s masterful direction. The film has also penetrated pop culture to the point where it is difficult to keep up with the spoof posters and trailers circulating on the Internet.

Capote – Although a lot the attention for this film has been devoted to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s stunning central performance as Truman Capote, this depiction of the writing of In Cold Blood is a fascinating study of a writer as a literary vampire as he uses his sources to create a non-fiction masterpiece. From top to bottom, it is hard to find a fault with Bennet Miller’s film: the acting is uniformly excellent, the late 50s and early 60s are evoked remarkably well within a limited budget and the central themes of the film are a rich source for debate and reflection.

Good Night, and Good Luck – At just over 90 minutes long, George Clooney’s second film as a director maybe short but it is perfectly formed. In some ways it represents the awards season with its political edge complemented by an artful construction. David Straithern’s depiction of CBS newsman Ed Murrow is eerily good and Robert Elswit’s cinematography brilliantly evoked the creation of a 50s TV show. The story has a narrow focus that not everyone maybe familiar with but Clooney deserves a lot of credit in using his Hollywood clout (aka promising Warner Brothers Oceans Thirteen) in making a film like this.

Munich – Despite the (often unfair) criticism and controversy that surrounded Spielberg’s revenge drama, it is still a terrific piece of work – an intelligent (if largely fictionalised) examination of Israel’s revenge policy after the Munich Massacre in 1972. A few months back it looked a strong contender for multiple nominations but a succession of mistakes damaged its chances. Spielberg’s decision to not do press for the film and then give an exclusive interview to Time magazine alienated some sections of the media and when the vacuum was filled by a lot of empty but loud rants about the perceived politics of the film it was always going to be labelled as ‘problematic’ despite the largely positive reviews it got in the US (British critics were predictably sniffy about Spielberg taking on such a heavy and loaded subject). It’s nominations for Best Picture and Best Director seem to be a result of Universal’s heavy ad spending in the run up to the nominations rather than any great love for it amongst the Academy’s voters.

Crash – This intelligent but heavy-handed look at racism in LA is the only one of the five Best Picture nominations that I have some reservations about. Although parts of it are undeniably powerful, it has too many rough edges to be considered worthy of Best Picture. There are many things in it I like a great deal: Mark Isham’s atmospheric score; Matt Dillon’s performance as a racist cop; the cinematography by James Muro and Dana Gonzales. But, the way in which the central issue of race is handled is often clumsy and too dry. Characters say things as though writer-director Paul Haggis has copy and pasted them from an anti-racism leaflet. At the same time the patchwork plot is structurally impressive, so I have mixed feelings. It is a good film, but not a great one and I’d certainly place A History of Violence or Walk the Line above it. There is a certainly a feeling amongst some observers that Crash could cause a major upset and win Best Picture but I still don’t see that happening.

Two films that were overlooked for Best Picture (Walk the Line and The Constant Gardener) could also score some important wins (Reese Witherspoon and Rachel Weisz could both win in their respective categories). They are superior to Crash in many ways, but maybe they lacked the x-factor that endears a film to Oscar voters. With that in mind here are my predictions for the major categories, followed by who I think should win.

BEST PICTURE
Winner: Brokeback Mountain
What should win: Brokeback Mountain

It’s the film of the moment, and has broken through a lot of barriers since it won Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival last September. It is the clear favourite to win Best Picture although Crash has probably closed the gap in the final weeks of voting. An upset isn’t completely inconceivable but I can’t see it happening. Ang Lee’s film has dominated the awards season and I don’t see that changing on Sunday night. Let’s not forget Brokeback Mountain is also an outstanding film, marginally better than Munich, Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck.


BEST DIRECTOR
Who will win: Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain
Who should win: Ang Lee

A foregone conclusion. I simply cannot see anything other than an Ang Lee win. He has already won the DGA award – a reliable indicator of who wins the golden statuette.


BEST ACTOR
Who will win: Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote
Who should win: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Early on in the race I thought Heath Ledger would emerge as favourite but I think Philip Seymour Hoffman has this one in the bag. His performance is outstanding and arguably the most ‘showy’ of all the 5 nominated which probably means it stuck in the minds of voters more than the others.


BEST ACTRESS
Who will win: Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line
Who should win: Reese Witherspoon

The main rival here for Witherspoon is Felicity Huffman for her excellent portrayal of a pre-op transsexual in Transamerica. But Witherspoon is the strong favourite – she won at the Golden Globes and the SAGs and gives a dazzling performance in the Johnny Cash biopic as June Carter Cash. Judi Dench (Mrs. Henderson Presents), Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice) and Charlize Theron (North Country) are not in the race.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who will win: George Clooney for Syriana (just)
Who should win: George Clooney

The hardest category to predict. Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man) is neck and neck with George. Giamatti was stupidly overlooked last year for his brilliant performance in Sideways and maybe he’s getting the sympathy vote here. That said Cinderella Man suffered by being released in the summer and bombing at the box office and I have a feeling Clooney is going to get rewarded for his Oscar worthy work in both Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck. There is a theory that Matt Dillon (Crash) could benefit from a split vote. Even Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) could figure after his BAFTA win but I still think Clooney has to be the favourite. But only just.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who will win: Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener (just)
Who should win: Rachel Weisz

I felt for a long time that this was a two horse race between Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain). My gut feeling is for Rachel Weisz. But there are two others who could win. I have a nagging feeling Catherine Keener could sneak a win for her small but perfect turn in Capote, whilst Amy Adams (Junebug) could be a good outside bet. Frances McDormand looks out of it, although she was fine in North Country. I’m still not 100% on this but my gut feeling is for Weisz. She didn’t win at the BAFTAs but for some reason was nominated in the Best Actress category there. But in the Best Supporting category I think Weisz should win.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
What will win: Crash by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco
What should win: Good Night, and Good Luck by George Clooney and Grant Heslov

A tough call, but Crash has to be the favourite here. It might not get Best Picture but it ticks all the boxes for a screenplay award: it addresses a contemporary issue on LA’s doorstep; there are a lot of juicy moral lessons in it and there are moments of great power. However, if there is an upset Good Night, and Good Luck, shouldn’t be completely ruled out.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
What will win: Brokeback Mountain by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurty
What should win: The Constant Gardener by Jeffrey Caine

Another tough one to call. I’m split between Brokeback Mountain and The Constant Gardener. Both are terrific screenplays but I think Diana Ossana and Larry McMurty will win, especially if Brokeback Mountain starts cleaning up although Jeffrey Caine’s adaptation of The Constant Gardener is perhaps the (slightly) greater achievement.

OTHER PREDICTIONS

Best Animated Feature
Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Best Documentary
March of the Penguins

Best Cinematography
Memoirs of a Geisha (although Brokeback Mountain and Good Night, and Good Luck would be more worthy winners)

Best Score
Brokeback Mountain

Best Song
"Travelin Thru" from Transamerica.

Best Editing
Crash

Sound Editing
King Kong

Visual Effects
King Kong

Sound Mixing
Walk the Line

What do you think? Your comments are always welcome.

> The Offical Oscars site
> Wikipedia with all the nominations
> IMDb Special Section for this year’s Oscars
> Oddschecker with all the latest Oscar odds
> The Stinkers and The Razzies – ‘Alternative’ Oscars celebrating the worst films of 2005

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News Thoughts

Spider-Man 3 teaser picture

Super Hero Hype has posted an image of what looks to be an early teaser image for Spider-Man 3. The official site is saying it’s a black suit, but why am I sceptical? My theory: the filmmakers are trying to keep fans guessing about the whole Spidey/Venom angle. (Link via AICN)

> The image at Super Hero Hype
> Official Spider-Man 3 Site
> Wikipedia entry for Spider-Man 3
> More info on Venom at Marvel
> Kirsten Dunst’s comments on who will play Venom whilst promoting Elizabethtown

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Thoughts

BAFTA Reflections

OK, I admit it. I too was swayed by the by the biased media coverage in favour of The Constant Gardener in my BAFTA predictions. Listening to radio bulletins and reading newspaper stories it was easy to think that its ten nominations would count for something other than the 1 award it got for Best Editing. In particular, I thought that Rachel Weisz was a shoe-in for Best Actress but there is an important distinction between her BAFTA and Oscar nominations. Last night’s was for Best Actress whilst next month she is in the easier Best Supporting category. A win still looks likely for her there, although after last night chickens should not be counted.

In some ways I still think Reese Witherspoon was the more deserving recipient, but it is sad that a film as good as Fernando Meirelles’ adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel was not honoured more. Although I’m a huge Wallace and Gromit fan I’m perplexed that it trumped The Constant Gardener for Best British Film. Did voters ignore it in that category because they thought it would win Best Picture? But let’s not get carried away with the “British” disappointment. Previous years have seen BAFTA award clearly inferior British candidates for reasons that one can only assume amounted to little more than jingoistic backslapping.

Last year was a good one and one of the unfortunate side effects of having such a strong list of award contenders is that films and performances that would have been winners in past years will go unrewarded. Good Night, and Good Luck also suffered and you have to feel sorry for George Clooney. Having two nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category could well have split the vote. He deserved his gracious tribute from David Puttnam at the climax of the ceremony.

Speaking of which, it was refreshing to see the veteran producer of The Killing Fields and Midnight Express (perhaps his two finest films) acknowledge the good work going on now and admit that his pessimism seven years ago was misplaced. Although the director of the TV ceremony was obsessed with cutting away to a teary Thandie Newton, Puttnam’s speech was actually pretty moving and eloquent. Not only did his memories of his father and Ed Murrow have an incredibly serendipitous connection with his praise of Clooney but his quoting of a line from The Sixth Sense was as surprising as it was touching.

What did all of this mean for the Oscars? Brokeback still looks unstoppable in the Best Picture and Best Director categories. The great Philip Seymour Hoffman now looks certain to win Best Actor. Ditto Reese Witherspoon for Best Actress. Best Supporting Actor is tricky. I don’t think Jake Gyllennhaal is going to win despite his award last night. Instead it’s a three horse race between Clooney, Paul Giamatti and Matt Dillon. At the moment I favour Clooney but that could change. Best Supporting Actress should go to Weisz, although Michelle Williams can’t be ruled out. On a different note I hope Oscar voters have more sense than BAFTA did in awarding Memoirs of a Geisha a staggering three technical awards. The one it got for cinematography was perhaps the lowest point of the evening given the quality of the other candidates.

> Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian on the BAFTAs
> Pictures of the ceremony at BAFTA’s official site
> David Poland at The Hot Blog with his take
> Movie City News Oscar prediction chart (aka “Gurus of Gold”)
> Yahoo News on the winners and losers

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Thoughts

Crash – The Oscar dark horse?

The AP movie writer David Germain has joined the merry band of speculators that think that Crash may pull off a surprise Oscar win.

Whilst Brokeback Mountain has been the clear frontrunner for most of the awards season it isn’t too outlandish to suggest that Paul Haggis’ LA set drama could score an upset. I’m still sceptical that it will walk off with the Best Picture Oscar on March 5th but if it does, here may be a few reasons why:

  • Lionsgate’s DVD blitz: Unlike the other Best Picture nominees Crash has been out sine May in the States and is already on DVD. Without any DVD screener/piracy issues to worry about Lionsgate – the studio releasing the film – have bombarded voters with DVDs. Last month Variety reported that:

    "While most studios consider the mailing of 12,000-15,000 screeners to be a major push, the indie distrib is sending out north of 130,000 — including the unprecedented move of including all members of the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild”.

    It remains to be seen whether this ‘unprecedented’ move has any effect but it is hard to see it doing any harm.

  • The LA Factor: In a recent Q&A with readers, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times hit on some simple but telling points about the film:

    “There are a few obvious reasons why “Crash” connected with the Academy. First, Los Angeles, where most of Academy members live, is a profoundly segregated city, so any movie that makes it seem like its white, black, Asian and Latino inhabitants are constantly tripping over one another has appeal. If nothing else it makes Los Angeles seem as cosmopolitan as, well, New York or at least the Upper West Side. Second, no matter how many times the camera picks out Oprah Winfrey on Oscar night, the Academy is super white. Third, the Academy is, at least in general terms, socially liberal. You see where I’m going, right? What could better soothe the troubled brow of the Academy’s collective white conscious than a movie that says sometimes black men really are muggers (so don’t worry if you engage in racial profiling); your Latina maid really, really loves you (so don’t worry about paying her less than minimum wage); even white racists (even white racist cops) can love their black brothers or at least their hot black sisters; and all answers are basically simple, so don’t even think about politics, policy, the lingering effects of Proposition 13 and Governor Arnold. This is a consummate Hollywood fantasy, no matter how nominally independent the financing and release.”

    The last point is a little harsh but the LA aspect to the film is well made. Although a film set in the present rarely wins Best Picture (the only two I can think of in recent years were American Beauty and The Silence of the Lambs) a film about big, important issues is always going to go down well, especially if they are issues on your own Californian doorstep.

  • The Brokeback Backlash: Maybe because it has been frontrunner for so long, potential voters have become sick of Brokeback Mountain. Perhaps they will vote for Crash – or another of the nominees – just to be different. Nikki Finke of the LA Weekly speculated last month that Crash could emerge triumphant due to liberal hypocrisy and “Hollywood homophobia”. That notion seems a little too fanciful to me but if the clear favourite doesn’t win then expect the phrase “peaked too early” to be all over the awards blogs like a rash come the morning of March 6th.

So, who will win? For me, it still has to be Ang Lee’s film. Despite the reasons listed above it is surely too far ahead to be caught. That said, the idea of a Crash win seems more plausible by the day.

> The latest Oscar odds from Oddschecker
> The Awards Scoreboard at Movie City News
> Wikipedia on the 78th Academy Awards