Oscar the Grouch

Sunday, 29 February 2004 — 3:25pm | Film, Oscars

With the annual golden statuette announcement coming tonight, here is some obligatory pre-show analysis. For the most part, I will not be discussing predictions; there are other sites who do a far more comprehensive job of predicting Oscars within statistical and socio-political frameworks. As for my judgments on whom I endorse, keep in mind that there are a number of nominated films I have not seen, most notably City of God, House of Sand and Fog and, I am thoroughly ashamed to say, The Triplets of Belleville.

Actor (Leading): This really should go to Paul Giamatti for his note-for-note portrayal of Harvey Pekar in American Splendor, but that was one of a few barely-excusable shafts in the nominee pool. Of the contenders, Bill Murray should receive the prize. His career-best turn in Lost In Translation was subtle, believable, and full of the delicate nuance that was needed to put him on centre stage as an actor playing a washed-up actor.

Actor (Supporting): Tim Robbins. He takes his shivering, guilt-ridden character in Mystic River and runs with it. This calibre of performance should not go unrecognized.

Actress (Leading): Everybody is calling Charlize Theron for Monster, and not having seen that, it is quite impossible to comment. However, where Scarlett Johannson is in all of this is just baffling. Everything that works in Lost In Translation falls on the shoulders of her interaction with Bill Murray’s character. At the same time, it is a pleasure to see Keisha Castle-Hughes recognized for Whale Rider, in what is certainly one of cinema’s great child performances.

Actress (Supporting): Renée Zellweger’s delightful and goofy performance in Cold Mountain was a show-stealer, but was a source of some of the tonal inconsistency that kept the film from being something really amazing. Marcia Gay Harden, however, delivered the best performance of Mystic River amongst an already stellar cast, and in the psychologically crumbling manner characteristic of the entire film. Reward her.

Animated Feature Film: Yes, it’s true that I have not seen The Triplets of Belleville, but unless it’s an undisputed Citizen Kane of animation that revolutionizes the entire medium – and point this out to me if it is indeed the case – there is nothing in the world that should take this away from Finding Nemo, which was already shafted from its deserved spot in the Best Picture final five.

Art Direction: This is a strong category. The Lord of the Rings has yet to win it, having had the misfortune of being nominated beside the gorgeously-designed Moulin Rouge! when Fellowship was nominated. This is not, by itself, the rationale by which it should win. It should win on the grounds of visually emulating the most believable history in any film this year, despite not being a history. In a year without Rings, Master and Commander would have been the clear choice.

Cinematography: Where is Kill Bill, Vol. 1? If it was deferred on the grounds of not being a complete film, that would be acceptable, though Oscar has wavered on this point before (see: The Fellowship of the Ring). These are all strong contenders, however. Ignoring for a moment that my vote would go to the non-nominated Down With Love, I would favour the Depression-era yellows of Seabiscuit or the ocean blues of Master and Commander – leaning towards the latter, as the 1920s look has been done countless times before (the late Conrad L. Hall’s work on Road to Perdition being the most recently awarded, and only one year ago), while few nautical movies have achieved such a consistent tone and feel of being a grand, watery canvas in motion.

Costume Design: See “Art Direction”, word for word.

Directing: Any director who stages the entire Siege of Gondor with such frightening authenticity deserves not only eternal respect, but his first directing Oscar after three consecutive nominations. This statuette should reward vision, and Peter Jackson has shown himself to be a visionary.

Film Editing: Notably missing in action are Kill Bill and Hulk, 2003’s two showpieces of how to cut a film. That said, The Return of the King and Seabiscuit are both deserving for their own reasons. The latter’s transitions between motion picture and sepia still photography add a whole other level of flavour to the piece, and that is not mentioning the exhilirating racing sequences themselves. If Seabiscuit posts a win tonight, it should be in this category, though with the footnote of the two strongest contenders being out of the race.

Makeup: The Return of the King. Pirates is a fully acceptable second choice. Both films do the dead and zombified far better than actual horror movies.

Music (Score): Howard Shore’s work on The Lord of the Rings has been recognized, but the score to The Return of the King is a great listen, and one of the great symphonic scores. It is a distinctly fresh composition as well, not only building minor themes introduced very briefly in the first instalment and developing them to grandiose fruition, but having several thrilling cues to call its own, an exemplar being the Shelob sequence. However, Thomas Newman delivers a Celtic score in Finding Nemo that even upstages the work he did in Road to Perdition, and is one of the supports that make the movie the masterpiece it is. It should be noted that both composers have won in the past two years, and may fall shy of the podium on that account; this would be a shame.

Music (Song): Here is the worst omission of them all: “Here’s To Love”, Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger’s duet at the end of Down With Love, the kind of original musical number this prize was essentially created to award. This category has little legitimacy in the first place, but absolutely none if such clear winners are going to be consistently overlooked. As for the rest, it is a hard one to call, though I would not give it to The Return of the King. “Into The West” has the consonance of a fitting conclusion, but is musically weaker than “May It Be” and “Gollum’s Song” before it, largely due to harmonic oversimplicity.

Best Picture: The Return of the King, with the asterisk that for the real version comes out on DVD next year. Someone please tell me what any of the other four are doing here in Finding Nemo‘s place.

Short Film (Animated): I cannot comment on who should win, but the one to watch out for is Destino, the Walt Disney / Salvador Dali collaboration that went unfinished for decades until Roy Jr. resurrected it. The Michael Moore Moment of Oscar 2004 is what happens if Roy indeeds get the win, but Jim Hill explains it far better than I can.

Sound Editing: Three aquatic movies, all of which handle the ocean in a very unique and sonorous way, make this a close one to call. I’d go with Finding Nemo, for the whale.

Sound Mixing: The Return of the King.

Visual Effects: Incredible – The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions got the Attack of the Clones backlash treatment. Let’s see The Lord of the Rings pull off a one-two-three in this category like Star Wars did twenty years ago.

Writing (Adapted): As biased as I am in favour of The Return of the King, and as likely as the tight and thematically cohesive Mystic River is to win this, this should really go to American Splendor – a movie about a movie about the life of a guy who writes a comic about his life, and done well. As far as concept screenplays go, it is this year’s Memento or Adaptation.

Writing (Original): Lost In Translation, though I would jump up and down in joy, or at least swim around in circles in joy, if Finding Nemo were to be recognized. In all seriousness, though, Lost In Translation is a piece that – as dependent as it was on the strength of its leads – had to start somewhere, and this is where its success begins.

I did not cover the Documentary, Foreign Language and Live Action Short categories, being grossly unqualified to comment on them this year. Stay tuned for a review – or more likely, a few brief remarks – about The Passion of the Christ… for which I am now late. Never mind – expect it later this week.

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