Oscars: Movies, predictions, and other fun stuff

We love to hate the Oscars because in theory they are supposed to reward the best performances of the year; in practice, the Oscars are often handed out as 'mercy' trophies for past slights, as part of some Academy agenda, or as part of some rotation or quota. While you can quibble over the categories and the winners, at least give the Academy credit for doing a good job of noticing the best movies of the year. But griping about the Oscars is as much a tradition as is Martin Scorsese being passed over. I am also waiting for the bitching and moaning that follows the next morning - best exemplified by Annie Proulx's (despite her disclaimer) grapes-are-sour gripe last year. If 'the Oscars suck' and they 'didn't really care' why even bother watching or attending? Who would really watch or care about the Golden Globes if they were not presented before the Oscars?

The hosts in the last two years have been somewhat disappointing. Jon Stewart and Chris Rock were nothing to write home about. Rock was out of control and Stewart too restrained. Ellen Degeneres might provide the right balance and might be a worthy pretender to the throne that Billy Crystal vacated.

Thanks to the Michigan Theater, I shall be able to watch all the nominated short films making this year the closest I have ever come to watching every movie that has been nominated. (I will update those categories later today Updated.)

Before getting to the predictions I would like say that it is a bit of a shame that one of the best movies of the year - Robert Altman's Prarie Home Companion - did not get a single mention. The overlapping dialogue between Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the Johnson sisters is priceless. Another fantastic movie not to make it in some of the technical categories was - Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Best Supporting Actor
What's Mark Wahlberg doing here? Haley doesn't have much of chance too. The serious contenders are: (in order) Hounsou, Arkin, and Murphy. In a presence that is felt up to the last frame, Alan Arkin's performance as the crochety, foul-mouthed, heroin-snorting grandpop was lovable and all his advice is well taken and useful. In a movie where all the roles were stereotypes the challenge and beauty was in doing something original and unique; Arkin, unlike Breslin, just played what he was supposed to play - a wise, but maverick dirty old man. Hounsou has an outside chance, but easily Eddie Murphy as the soulful, can't-keep-me-down Jimmy Early (a thinly disguised James Brown) has stolen the show.

Should Win: Eddie Murphy
Second Guess: Alan Arkin

Best Supporting Actress
If you were really looking for a puzzler then this is the category. So far, the acting awards have never been shared and if there was a year for trophies to be shared - this is the year. For reasons mentioned earlier if not for Abigail Breslin's unbelievably natural performance Little Miss Sunshine would have totally fallen apart; it would just be another cute family movie. Rinko Kikuchi has been a revelation (no pun intended) as the wounded deaf-mute girl in Babel. Adriana Barraza playing the Mexican maid reiterates just how awesome she is playing character roles. Cate Blanchett? What can I say? She is not only beautiful on the bicycle, but also can convince us to sympathize with a teacher who decides to have an affair with a 15-year old boy. In this crowd of talent, I would still pick Jennifer Hudson to edge them all out. Hudson has given it her all. While Deena Jones(Knowles) is the just another pretty singer, Effie White is a real artist. She is loud-mouthed, emotional, independent and knows how to throw a tantrum. Hudson might have been booted out of American Idol but it looks like tomorrow is her night on the stage.

Should Win: Everyone or Jennifer Hudson
Second Guess: Rinko Kikuchi

Best Actor
Forest Whitaker has saved the nominees in this category the trouble of writing speeches. In the Last King of Scotland he has stolen every scene, even scenes in which he is not present. Whitaker plays Idi Amin better than Idi Amin. Not only does he play Amin from the outside - the accent, the booming laughter, movement of the eyes, and the half-crazed look, but he is also Idi Amin from the inside. He conveys Amin's magnetic personality and how charisma can blind an entire nation. In a sense, Whitaker's performance is a disservice to the movie. The movie would have garnered more appreciation for its other merits if the magnificent Forest Whitaker had not overshadowed everything.

Should Win: Forest Whitaker
Second Guess: Forest Whitaker

Best Actress
There was a time when playing characters with some physical, mental defect was a sure-shot at Oscar success. Lately, the trend has been towards playing real characters. Six out of the last ten Oscars for Acting have gone to people playing real characters. Perhaps, since people have a better sense of a real person, it is easier to judge and reward such a role. In order, Streep and Dench have given the other best performances of the year, but the Queen is all set to rule.

Should Win: Helen Mirren
Second Guess: Judi Dench

Foreign Language
I was happy to see Water nominated and it deserves some sort of award for perseverance on the part of the filmmakers in the face of the most idiotic, politicized opposition. The best of Deepa Mehta is yet to come, this ain't it, I'll wait. Guillermo Toro's Pan's Labyrinth does not belong here; it should be in the Best Picture category. It is the finest film of year and the host of nominations in other technical categories vindicate the claim. Sergi Lopez as the vicious captain in Franco's Spain and Ivana Banquero as the innocent, fable-loving step-daughter are simply fantastic in this 'adult fairy tale'. It is hard to describe what the movie is about, because it is simultaneously about a lot of things - good and evil, honour and duty, reality and dreams. A masterpiece.

The Black Dahlia, an otherwise uninspired movie, gets a honorable mention here. Children of Men will win only if it is better than Pan's Labyrinth.
Should Win: Pan's Labyrinth
Second Guess: Children of Men

Costume Design
This is a toss up between Marie Antoinette and Dreamgirls. Looks like soulful Motown has an edge over gay Paris.
Should Win: Dreamgirls
Second Guess: Marie Antoinette

Best Documentary
God may or may not exist, Iraq is a mess, but global warming is a much bigger danger and given the misinformation about it, the truth better get out.
Should Win: The Inconvenient Truth
Second Guess: The Inconvenient Truth

Glass's insistent sound ruined an otherwise fantastic movie - Notes on a Scandal. Santaollala's work for Babel sounds much like his work for Brokeback Mountain. Navarette's score for Pan's Labyrinth struck the right note.
Should Win: Javier Navarette
Second Guess: Gustavo Santoallala

There is talk that three nominations will split the Dreamgirls vote, but they have a winner here.
Should Win: Dreamgirls
Second Guess: The Inconvenient Truth

The Departed felt apart in the end because of poor writing. Some of the loose ends were rather unsatisfactorily resolved. Notes on a Scandal deserves the award for cleverly adapting Zoe Heller's novel told from Dench's point of view without having too much of a voice-over. Good to know that you have Dench and Blanchett to pull it off.

Should Win: Notes on a Scandal
Second Guess: Children of Men

Original Screenplay
This is a tough one. It was amazing to know that Pan's Labyrinth was not written by someone like Marquez. Babel was a good effort but some of the connections in the story were a little tenuous and Arriaga could have made it a little tighter. A good contender is Letters from Iwo Jima. Here I would have to hand it to Little Miss Sunshine for a fresh look at a cliched theme.
Should Win: Little Miss Sunshine
Second Guess: Letters from Iwo Jima

Animated Film
Should Win: Cars

Animated Short Film
Should Win: Lifted

Live Action Short Film
This category is often overlooked and it was two hours well spent. I sincerely hope the Academy doesn't put the nominees in this category in the cheap balcony seats and imposes it usual 'no-speeches' rule. The most impressive adaption of Romeo and Juliet via West Side Story is Ari Sandel's musical satire - West Bank Story which features two competing falafel stores called Kosher King and Hummus Hut. Helmer & Son features a father who locks himself in a closet at a retirement home and refuses to come out. It has laughs, comic situations, and insights in family relations equivalent to films that take 4 times the amount of time. Éramos Pocos (One Too Many), the Basque-Spanish movie, is easily the best. When Joaquin's wife suddenly leaves him and his adult son, he struggles to manage the household. They both decide to bring Joaquin's mother-in-law back from a retirement home which works out great for the both of them.

Should Win: Éramos Pocos

Best Director
Unless the Academy has finally decided to take mercy on Martin Scorsese, the real contenders are Inarritu and Eastwood. Like Scorsese fans everywhere, I would rather not have him win at all than win for The Departed. It might be worth just giving him the award to watch his expression and hear what he says - that is stuff for legend. Realistically, the strongest contenders this year are Eastwood and Inarritu. They are a study in contrasts. Inarritu has done a great job of handling all the talent in his transnational, butterfly-effect movie and while the movie has been criticized for lacking 'follow-through', it is perfect in its details. If the Mexican Inarritu is bursting with talent, the American Clint Eastwood, at twice his age, is bursting with energy. In contrast to the colorful spread of Babel, we have the dark Letters from Iwo Jima, the story of Japanese soldiers stuck in the tunnels with no hope but of certain death. While Inarritu could leap from one timezone to another to move his story, Eastwood had to make a movie of soldiers in tunnels speaking in a language most of the audience would not understand - interesting and explore war from a fresh angle. He has largely succeeded.

Should Win: Clint Eastwood
Second Guess: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Best Picture
The Queen has the weakest chance and should be happy just to be nominated. The Departed is a good thriller, held together by some great acting by Jack Nicholson, DiCaprio and others, but lacks a deep theme that is so needed to be a winner. Why was there no place for Pan's Labyrinth? Little Miss Sunshine's story of a family in crisis is entertaining, but certainly not worthy of the big prize as it lacks the depth that is shown by the next two contenders. I feel that this year, the best director and best picture prizes are going to be split again. Babel has a much richer palette and while the directorial work is not as challenging as it was for Eastwood, essentially stuck with a dreary tale of soldiers and war, it has the correct soaring multi-ethnic, human theme that is always a favorite. Every element is so Best Picture Oscar-friendly that it might actually go against it. But, if my impression when I first saw months ago, before the horse-races were on, is correct Babel should win.

Should Win: Babel
Second Guess: Letters from Iwo Jima


Ashutosh said...

Great analysis! Whitaker is a highly talented and until now underappreciated actor...it will be great if he is finally recognised.

Sid Rege said...

Wow, This has got to be my worst year ever. Have not seen any of movies mentioned except Departed, which I did not really like. Maybe it was because 2006 was a really good year for Bollywood and we ended up going to hindi movies instead.
Anyway, from your write up I think Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima and the Idi Amin movie are the types I usually like, so I'll make it a point to see those.
Anyway ghats, I was not going to see the OScars (since I had not seen any of the films)but now I might just to see if you are proved right or wrong!!

Ashutosh said...

Congratulations...most of your guesses seem to be coming true already!
(12.01 a.m., Monday)

PuneBoy said...

actually, the acting award was shared for the category Best Actress in 1968 I think.. by Katharine Hepburn(The Lion in Winter) and Barbara Striesand(Funny Girl)..

Hirak said...

@puneboy: Yes. Not they can, but it might be interesting to know this years votes.

GuNs said...

Back on your blog after a LONGGG time . Was sifting through old posts on my blog and came across your comments.

Will blogmark you once more !


Sumedha said...

Elements of discord:

Mark Wahlberg was great in 'The Departed',
Preferred Rinko Kikuchi to Jennifer Hudson,
'The Departed' had a fantastic screenplay,
Didn't think much of Alan Arkin or Abigail Breslin's performance in 'Little Miss Sunshine',
'Letters from Iwo Jima' was too predictable,


You haven't watched 'The Queen' yet!