A last-minute Oscarnalysis

Sunday, 27 February 2005 — 2:04pm | Film, Oscars

I will preface this with that rare, hard-earned endorsement of a fellow blog; several in the immediate University of Alberta circle popped up earlier this week. There are few that completely win me over as a regular reader within the first two or three posts, but Lycée Stephen Potyondi is one of them. Now give the guy an audience as a sign of positive reinforcement so I don’t have to wait another month for his next substantial post.

As was the case last year, I will now proceed to offer my eleventh-hour endorsements and commentary on the golden statuettes to be awarded tonight.

Actor (Leading): Incredibly, Paul Giamatti got screwed out of a nomination for the second year in a row. Even judging only by American Splendor and Sideways, he has already established himself as the best everyman actor since the pre-superstardom Tom Hanks. The Academy has also always been loath to recognize Jim Carrey, even though Joel Barish in Eternal Sunshine was probably his most engaging role since The Truman Show seven years ago. No matter; this year, the award should and will go to Jamie Foxx. His portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray was not just the most compelling performance of 2004 – it’s one that only comes about once every few years.

Actor (Supporting): Of the final selection, my personal preference is for Thomas Haden Church for his embodiment of testosterone gone awry in Sideways. Pundits are calling this a race between Clive Owen for Closer and Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby; I did not see the former, and as for the latter, I think while Freeman portrayed a very interesting character, it was as much a typical Morgan Freeman performance much like how Clint Eastwood pulled off a typical aging post-Unforgiven Eastwood performance. It was very, very good, mind you, but almost a bit too constrained within the typical Freeman mould. On statistical grounds I predict Owen, but Freeman could take it just as easily.

Actress (Leading): Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby. Case closed, though an Eternal Sunshine upset by Kate Winslet would be awesome. It won’t happen, though, and given that I consider Swank’s performance in Baby to be worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of great movie boxers, this is hardly problematic. I did not see Vera Drake, but word is that Imelda Staunton is the closest in contention.

Actress (Supporting): Please, please, please give it to Cate Blanchett for being as perfect a Katharine Hepburn as you could imagine (aside from the distinctive Blanchett look) in The Aviator.

Animated Feature Film: What’s the thoroughly mediocre Shark Tale doing here instead of The Polar Express, which – while entirely a surface-level visual experience and not that great of a narrative – was, well, not irritating? As for the win, I think it’s pretty obvious where I stand. Shrek 2‘s box-office clout is the only worry here, but I find that Pixar will win the day this year whereas it did not with Monsters, Inc. back in 2001.

Art Direction: This category presents an incredible lineup, and one hardly notices that missing in action are Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and, more significantly, The Incredibles. I have never quite understood why animated films get no recognition here, but that may be partly because this prize rewards set construction just as much as it does concept art. As much as I love the lavish opera house in The Phantom of the Opera, I seriously think this should and will go to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I never posted a complete review of that film, but it really is a Brett Helquist illustration come to life, equal parts Gothic, Victorian, and vintage 1920s. Count Olaf’s tower, Aunt Josephine’s house on Lake Lachrymose – gorgeous to behold, and it’s a pity that the film did not achieve a similarly extravagant replication of the wit and substance of the source material.

Cinematography: Yet another strong category, though I favour Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is strangely absent here as it is from so many other categories. That aside, this should go to House of Flying Daggers, though none of the others can truly be ignored. In terms of light and colour, A Very Long Engagement presented itself as an older, darker Amélie bathed in yellow, and the end result is the same mix of beauty and melancholy as is present in the movie itself. One should not ignore that for better or for worse, this award will be consolation for two foreign releases that did not make it into the Foreign Language category.

Costume Design: Where’s The Phantom of the Opera? That said, give it to A Series of Unfortunate Events. The look of the film exceeded my expectations, even if the rest of it did not.

Directing: It is a crime, a crime, that Michel Gondry is not on the shortlist for his work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; if you see it, you would understand. That said, I really think Scorsese should take home his first Directing Oscar for his breadth of imaginative acumen he displays in The Aviator. I can name shot after shot from that movie that I want to frame, and scene after scene that I envision I will cite in future cinematic discussions for some time to come. Gangs of New York sputtered and died in its final act; The Aviator didn’t. But all this aside, I just have a sinking feeling that Clint Eastwood – who, after all, some may feel was ignored last year for Mystic River (not me, as the real travesty in my mind would have been to ignore Peter Jackson) – is going to pull an upset here. That would be no surprise, either, as the intimacy of the character work in Million Dollar Baby is something to be treasured.

Documentary Feature: I’ll pass on this one, having seen none of the nominees, though two of them – Super Size Me and Tupac: Resurrection – have high profiles on their side. Not as high as, say, Fahrenheit 9/11, but its disqualification here was Michael Moore’s own doing.

Documentary Short Subject: Pass. They really need to start screening these once nominations are announced.

Film Editing: On one hand, we have Ray, with the lasting image of its record-label transitions and tactfully-inserted watery flashbacks. On the other, we have The Aviator, with its superimpositions over Howard Hughes films, spectacular aviation sequences and Hughes caressing Kate Hepburn one moment and his baby aircraft the next. I err on the side of the latter, and once again, bemoan the absence of Eternal Sunshine (and to a lesser extent, House of Flying Daggers).

Foreign Language Film: A Very Long Engagement was not in the running for deadline-related reasons, but there is absolutely no excuse for the absence of House of Flying Daggers; both would have been prime choices to take this one home. It will instead go to The Sea Inside.

Makeup: A Series of Unfortunate Events will take this one, once again for the work done with Jim Carrey as Count Olaf, which is every bit how I expected him to be handled. It is interesting that The Passion of the Christ essentially got a gore nomination, which is appropriate, because damn, it was gory.

Music (Score): Where’s Giacchino for The Incredibles? Where’s Williams for The Terminal? Where’s Rolfe Kent for Sideways? I think the score to Azkaban is easily Williams’ best and most original of the three, but traditionally, Williams only wins if he knocks one out of the park in comparison to his already impressive oeuvre, as he did with Schindler’s List. Kaczmarek delivered some very gentle, sentimental incidental music for Finding Neverland, and will likely win. I quite enjoyed Thomas Newman’s work in A Series of Unfortunate Events, but it was stylistically too similar to his win for Road to Perdition and moreover, his amazing compositions for Finding Nemo last year.

Music (Song): Perennially the silliest category to keep around given that the original movie musical is extinct, I can’t even see Phantom winning it with the new “Learn To Be Lonely” motif, which was basically stuck in the movie in a bid for this award, and even sounds extraneous. The Globe winner, “Old Habits Die Hard” from the Alfie remake, isn’t even in the Oscar shortlist, so there is not point of reference. That said, I will in fact go with “Vois Sur Ton Chemin” from Les Choristes, which I haven’t even seen, but intend to. This one is anybody’s game, and irrelevant nonetheless.

Best Picture: This is between The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby, with the latter suddenly becoming the talk of the town at the expense of the former over the past few weeks. Baby is the tighter, better-paced and more emotionally engaging film, albeit at the expense of novelty. Remember, this award isn’t about winners or losers so much as it is about what people will come back to rediscover years, even decades from now. Given its scale, ambition and overarching sense of fun – not to mention the best senate commission hearing scene since The Godfather, Part II – I am rooting for The Aviator. I do not in any way consider Baby to be an “inferior” film; it takes a wholly different approach to storytelling and does some things much better. But on a holistic level, and looking at a film as a complete production in terms of both the whole and the parts, The Aviator would be my pick. (Well, no – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be my pick, and I also think it a shame that Phantom got killed by the press before it even made it into the lower nomination slots – and let’s not get started on A Very Long Engagement, which would be a contender if it were not French, which it cannot help being.) My wavering prediction of who will actually win is a split: The Aviator will take Picture, Clint Eastwood will take Director.

Short Film (Animated): Let’s hear it for Ryan!

Short Film (Live Action): As with all the other categories recognizing shorts, they really need to screen these every year after nominations are announced, so I can actually begin to comment. Word is that Wasp will take it, but I can neither confirm nor deny.

Sound Editing: Perennially almost as bogus a category as Original Song, but the nominees this year are not quite as bogus as in the past few years. I see a Spider-Man 2 sweep of the technicals as a distinct possibility, but the more Oscars The Incredibles wins, the better.

Sound Mixing: As before, this will likely go to Spider-Man 2, though by this point my predictions are pointing to an Aviator near-shutout in the minors, and that does not bode well statistically for its Best Picture chances when Million Dollar Baby scored three acting nominations.

Visual Effects: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow got the shaft, but after watching more DVD features and reading articles on the effects pipeline of this year’s visual powerhouses, I am convinced that Spider-Man 2 should win this one. The blending of old-fashioned mechanics and newfangled computer wizardry to create Doctor Octopus is alone worthy of recognition.

Writing (Adapted): Traditionally the writing awards have been recognized as a sort of consolation prize for the small-scale films that do not have the grand, epic production values clout of the heavyweights, but it is usually well-deserved, given that the small films rest on the strength of their screenplays and principals anyway. In other words, Sideways, though a Million Dollar Baby win is not out of the question, nor would it be undeserved.

Writing (Original): Can it be? Can it be Eternal Sunshine‘s one gasp of air, one moment of recognition this Oscar night? One can only hope. I am already elated that Brad Bird was recognized with a nomination for The Incredibles. Then again, The Aviator needs to pick up what it can, or it will undergo the biggest nomination-to-win drop since, well, Gangs of New York (zero for ten). That would be unfortunate, because unlike Gangs, The Aviator was consistently fun to watch, and it boasts a screenplay full of moments worthy of study. But seriously – please give this to Eternal Sunshine.

This is probably the closest year since 2000, so the race tonight will be a fun one to watch. Keep your eyes peeled for Marlon Brando being featured in the annual obituary clips, and whatever it is Chris Rock comes up with in his first turn as the host. Quite frankly, I’ve never been too impressed with the guy, but let us see what he comes up with before we start evaluating.

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