I don’t know about you, but it seems as if I’ve always known the voice of Judy Holliday. As a kid, I recognized it long before I even knew who Judy Holliday was, probably through the occasional vocal impersonation on Warner Brothers cartoons and the like. And when I finally saw Born Yesterday as a kid gobbling up movie history (I was probably 12 or 13), I fell in love with her as a performer. I loved not only with her slightly goofy beauty, and of course the strangulated, slightly fazed sound of the words as they fought their way out of her mouth, but I also found it endearing and, I guess, kinda sexy the way her intelligence slowly emerged and became more important than the way she filled out that closet full of gangster moll couture. Later, as an adult, I still loved Judy Holliday, but when I saw the movie again it seemed rather prosaic, especially situated in the oeuvre of the man (Howard Hawks) who directed Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. And as much as I loved Holliday’s performance, I’ve never quite forgiven the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences for lacking the self-awareness to honor Bette Davis’ lacerating work as Margo Channing in All About Eve or, even more egregiously, overlooking Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. In 1950, Oscar overlooked (or was it punished?) one of the most devastating one-two punches in movie acting history, perhaps because the punches landed too close to home, and gave the gold instead to the busty, good-natured blonde who looked even sexier with glasses and a brain. No, I’ve never quite forgiven the Academy for this upset, but somehow I’ve never been able to hold it against Judy Holliday. So when I found this great picture of Holliday holding her Oscar, looking like she could have just as easily been one of my mom’s friends circa 1965 as she was a Broadway star and Oscar-winning movie actress, I couldn’t resist using it as the lead-off image for my last Oscar post on the 2006 Academy Awards. She doesn’t look like she stole anything, does she? She looks like she deserved it.
I wonder, will Penelope Cruz feel the same way Monday morning when she wakes up clutching her little golden man?
Wait for it… Wait for it… Gotcha! Just kidding! Ms. Cruz, as dynamically sexy as she looks with hair piled up over hoop earrings, in a skirt and a cotton blouse to better accentuate her ample bosom, and a kitchen apron, need not worry about rehearsing an acceptance speech. Kate Winslet can relax too. Meryl, nice of you to come. And Dame Judi, even though you’re the only one with a hairsbreadth of a chance among the four of taking the stage to do anything more than announce the Best Film Editing nominees, better to not get your hopes up. This is the year of Mirren. Helen Mirren. Why, there hasn’t been this big of a lock since Dewey defeated Truman… Er… okay, Dame Judi, draft a speech just in case, but still, don’t get your hopes up. Any kind of upset here is likely to knock the Earth (or that tiny portion of it on the corner of Hollywood and Highland, anyway) right off its axis and send us all hurtling straight into the sun, and we know that kind of thing only happens in splashy Hollywood blockbusters, certainly not in the kind of quiet, microbudgeted British or indie movie that tends to steal Oscar thunder from the boffo b.o. of its bloated American brethren.
This year’s Academy Awards will have its upset, all right, but not in this category. And I’ll get to that in a moment. First, my wife, she who shuns any violence that would not be appropriate for a Disney straight-to-video Cinderella sequel, played a little last-minute Oscar catch-up by sitting down to watch The Departed last night. She’d already been primed for the movie’s heavy spraying of head-wound marinara sauce when I spun the DVD a couple of weeks ago—DiCaprio’s wielding a hat rack on an unsuspecting goombah, or Ray Winstone rearranging DiCaprio’s arm cast made much more of an impression on her sensibilities. She found the first hour and a half of little use as drama or anything else. There was lots of derision directed toward the movie’s structure—“People keep having the same conversation over and over again!”—and Scorsese’s choice of music—she decided that “Gimme Shelter” should be permanently retired from any movie and wondered how the Dropkick Murphys, being a band formed in 1996 and having nothing to do with Scorsese’s favored ‘70s-and-older pop milieu, ever made the cut. (I think it was that accordion riff, definitely.) But she liked the last hour a lot—“It picked up the kind of steam I was hoping for, whereas the first hour and a half just laid there.” One interesting observation she made was that, for a movie being touted as a return to form (and I think we can all agree that’s a fairly specious notion in itself), The Departed didn’t seem particularly Scorsesean to her, meaning that it lacked the fire, the intensity, and even the wealth of stylistic flourishes that she associates with a “real” Scorsese picture. I’m not sure that I agree—to my eye, it looked plenty like a movie made by Martin Scorsese—but what I think she was getting at is that it seemed more like assignment work to her (she didn’t say hack work). And she made another interesting observation that perhaps so many people have either appropriated or absorbed Scorsese’s basic approach to cinema and devalued it to whatever degree that even the man himself doesn’t necessarily stand out as himself anymore. Whether you buy that last part or not (I haven’t decided yet), I was grateful that she sat down with a movie she wouldn’t normally be attracted to and hashed it out with me for a while. She provided something thoughtful to chew on in these last few hours remaining of Scorsese’s status as an Oscar-less film director.
Cartoon by Peet Gelderblom--There's more sharp cartoon work and excellent film commentary available on his blog Lost In Negative Space. Peet will be staying up all night in the Netherlands watching the Oscars live. Have you gotten that case of Red Bull I sent you yet, Mr. Gelderblom?
Right now, like you, I want to spend a bit of time in the back of the auditorium. Yes, I’m one of those hopeless Oscar nerds who actually find the below-the-line nominations something more than just filler in between Beyonce costume changes and snappy Ellen DeGeneres one-liners. I shush the room when the winner of Best Sound Editing suddenly can’t be heard over amped-up chitter-chatter and the crunching of potato chips. And I get annoyed when publications like Entertainment Weekly imply, in their snarky way, that these nominations are somehow less important that the same four or five “major” categories over which everyone (including you and I, I suppose) maddeningly obsesses. I’d wager the prospect of winning an Oscar is likely pretty damned important indeed to Patricia Field, who designed the nominated costumes for The Devil Wears Prada, or to Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon, whose The Blood of Yingzhou District is one of four movies that could be named Best Documentary Short Subject.
I wish I had something meaningful to add to the conversation about that category, or the animated and live action shorts, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see any of them, so I don’t. (This presumes, of course, that anything else I’ve had to say was in any way meaningful, but I’d rather not cross that rickety bridge right now—remember, this article is for entertainment purposes only!) But the Best Documentary category is, for the first time in a good, long while, populated by recognizable titles that more than just a few Oscar voters have actually seen. It is a damned shame that When the Levees Broke wasn’t eligible, and I wonder why Spike Lee didn’t do for this film what he did for Four Little Girls (which was nominated) and arrange for some theatrical screenings before sending it to HBO. Was he afraid of being accused of pandering to the Academy? Seems unlikely. That said, as much as I’d like to see Iraq in Fragments take this honor, the prospect of seeing Al Gore on stage will be too much catnip for Oscar to resist, even harder than it has been for practically every journalist and blogger who has written about it thus far to resist talking about how Al Gore could be an Oscar winner come Sunday night. Al Gore did not direct An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim did), nor is he listed among the film’s 10 (!) credited producers. Gore’s convincing case against global warning may receive Oscar’s biggest endorsement Sunday, but Al Gore himself will have nothing new for the fireplace mantle, unless, of course, he borrows Guggenheim’s statue for a weekend.
A lot of people like Germany’s The Lives of Others, but I think the fact that Pan’s Labyrinth has six nominations— more than any other movie except Babel and Dreamgirls-- speaks volumes about its chances in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It has more than a shot in the technical categories in which it is nominated, but this is, I think, the only sure thing for Del Toro’s grim fantasia.
Best Visual Effects is often (but not always) the category where the biggest blockbuster gets the nod, often because the effects are the only thing worth noting about the movie in question. It’s hard to argue that that isn’t the case this year, where Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest will likely muscle its way to the top through sheer overkill, in just the manner that it swamped the box office this year. I wish the award could go to Superman Returns for that plane sequence alone—I love the way the fuselage of the plane ripples against gravity when Supey stops it from landing on the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium. (Whew! Finally, there’s that pesky baseball reference! Jeez, TLRHB, I’m embarrassed too!) But for perversity’s sake, I’m pulling for Poseidon, just to spite everybody who smelled blood in the box-office water and insisted, against all evidence to the contrary, that the effects in the movie were somehow bad.
Best Sound (or as it is known now, Sound Mixing) is usually the award that goes to the movie with the loudest THX-enhanced explosions and/or showiest music, so look for Pirates to reign supreme here as well. Best Sound Editing, on the other hand, has subtler criteria—it’s more about how innovatively the sound is put to use, or how well created or enhanced sound is integrated with existing, or wild, soundtracks to create an audio collage that complements or bolsters the visual design of the movie. Bird won its only Oscar in this category for the innovative way in which existing Charlie Parker solos were integrated with new recordings performed by the musicians who appeared in the film. I always eye the most subtle achiever here, and remembering Bird, I’m picking Letters from Iwo Jima to be named inside the envelope. It may be the only Oscar this Clint Eastwood movie wins as well.
We’ve already talked about (trashed) Best Original Song, but I’ll reiterate: An Inconvenient Truth is a non-factor here, all three Dreamgirls tunes will be shown the door, and Randy Newman will win Best Original Song for the second time, for “Your Town” from Cars. This time it’ll be for a song that deserves to win. As for Best Original Score, Babel’s guitar noodling seems like an afterthought, and Philip Glass’s score for Notes on a Scandal finds the composer in his bullying, insistent mode—Glass is a bizarre choice and a major distraction in a movie that would have been better served by a much more subtle score. Alexandre Desplat is a composer who has done great work, for Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, and he’ll be nominated many more times in the future, I suspect. His work for The Queen is serviceable, if unmemorable. And Thomas Newman’s score for The Good German I have not heard. No matter: I think the winner will be Javier Navarette and the haunting themes from Pan’s Labyrinth.
And your can rack up a third Oscar for Pan’s Labyrinth in the Best Makeup category. Remember that Earth-spinning-off-its-axis theory? Apply that to an Adam Sandler movie winning anything. Ever. Apocalypto has a shot, but the kinds of full-body applications that comprise the make-up designs in Pan’s Labyrinth are precisely the kind of work in which the category is rooted— work like Rick Baker’s An American Werewolf in London and Ed Wood, or Chris Walas’s in The Fly. At the center of the labyrinth is yet another Oscar.
Best Film Editing is a category whose winner is often linked to the name called out for Best Picture. Anyone not talking or crunching their potato chips too loudly when Hughes Winsome picked up the Film Editing award last year for Crash were probably among those who weren’t completely floored when Crash ended up winning Best Picture. But only the year before, Thelma Schoonmaker won an Oscar for editing The Aviator, which got the Scorsese contingent all lathered up mid-ceremony, anticipating a win for Best Picture, if not best Director. Then Million Dollar Baby swept in for Best Picture and gummed up the odds on the whole previously-sure-bet Editing-Picture connection. So though three of the nominees in this category don’t have corollaries in the Picture category, no movie can be counted out except maybe Blood Diamond, which has little heat behind it in any category. Babel is an attention-getter here for all it’s time-and-place trickery, and The Departed is sharp overall, but that whole police psychiatrist subplot could have been cinched up and made the whole movie feel leaner. Personally, I might choose Children of men, only because a long shot can be made even more powerful if it starts and ends at the right moment, and Children of Men has a swiftness, an immediacy that’s due to the strength and lack of ostentation in the way it is edited. In the end, though, TLRHB, I agree with you—I think this is going to be the place in the evening where the Academy will neatly choose to acknowledge the emotional impact of United 93.
Marie Antoinette is the obvious candidate, based on precedent, to take home the Oscar for Best Costume Design, though the movie’s teenage mallrat sensibility and obsession with fashion, not at all the crushing liability the movie’s detractors claimed, is it’s true raison d’etre, not history. (The movie is so posh and laid back in practically sinks into that gigantic bed Marie is so loath to jump out of every morning and disappears.) And each shot of Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower is an orgasm of stunning clothing (and art direction, and set decoration) that successfully assumes all the viewer interest that the minor-key soap opera plotting cannot. (Seeing Flower so close to Volver, I found myself trapped in a variation of Pauline Kael’s “Who’s worse—Ali McGraw or Candice Bergen?” argument—based on the clothing and design of the movie, and how is woman is photographed, who is the most beautiful woman in the movies right now, Gong Li or Penelope Cruz? The answer: Whoever you’re watching at the time.) But something tells me that Oscar will go industry-savvy this year and present the award to the movie about fashion-- The Devil Wears Prada.
Interesting too is the fact that there is no overlap this year between nominees in the Costume and Art Direction categories. How Marie Antoinette and Curse of the Golden Flower could be overlooked here is perhaps the biggest mystery of all. I haven’t seen The Good Shepherd yet, though what you say about it makes me even sadder that I missed it on the big screen. As for Dreamgirls, am I the only one who felt this movie was a tad on the tacky side, in terms of the art direction and sets? Certainly everything wasn’t mean to look prefab and cheesy, was it? Pirates is big-budget Disneyland and hence of very little interest—well-mounted, but not standout work. And The Prestige, in it’s depiction of a rough-edged London bearing down on bearing in from all sides on its protagonists, is indeed superb. But here I’d like to suggest that the world of Pan’s Labyrinth, the seductive, razor-thin distance between the darkness of reality and the darker realms of fantasy, will bring the movie its fourth Oscar. I think it’s entirely possible than the movie will end up, in terms of amount of wins, the story of the night, the de facto best picture of the year no matter who wins the actual award.
I think the Best Cinematography category is notable this year not only for the fact that not one of the nominated films is also nominated for Best Picture (a rare phenomenon), but also that there are no egregious inclusions among the nominees among the five—each one of the candidates deserves recognition. Of the two magician movies, The Illusionist has much more of that gas lamp glow associated with portrayals of the 18th century and, while beautiful, seems slightly more routine than Wally Pfister’s ominous, claustrophobic and at times unexpectedly, eerily beautiful work in The Prestige. (I’m thinking of the visit to Tesla’s compound and not only the field of electric bulbs lighting up the winter landscape, but also how, textured into the near black of the background, all the lights in the town visible below, dim out as the bulbs are illuminated.) The Black Dahlia is gorgeously lit with, appropriately enough, an exceptional sensitivity to the shadows within the frame, and Vilmos Zsigmond, a formidable force himself, may benefit from the visual storytelling strategies cooked up in collaboration with director Brian De Palma, even in what I consider, generously, to be minor key De Palma. Pan’s Labyrinth is sumptuously dark too, and the dark greens and browns of its forest of the imagination couldn’t have been more profoundly realized by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. But this is Emmanuel Lubezski’s category—the vivid, deep-focus, you-are-there clarity of even the most routine master shot in Children of Men (if there is such a thing) is memorable. But those long action takes (the first of which, involving the escape by car from a roadblock and the unexpected death of one of the passengers, wholly achieves the status of an irreproachably classic sequence) are making the waves. Look for the movie’s lone moment of recognition to come here.
If my welcome hasn’t already worn out, I sense it surely will soon, so a swift pass through the “major” categories and then all that’s left is the waiting. Best Adapted Screenplay looks like a lock for William Monahan and The Departed. Children of Men is looked upon, even by many who admire it, as primarily a technical achievement, and it will have already nabbed Best Cinematography. Notes on a Scandal’s chances are entirely dependent on Judi Dench. If she misses, this movie is a shut-out. Little Children might have a chance if it were a strongr presence in the directing or picture categories. And Borat is looked at by many as a scriptless stunt, a largely improvised piece o performance art. For sheer perversity, it might get my vote. But the Academy’s will go to The Departed.
All of the other Best Picture nominees are corralled in the Best Original Screenplay department. If Pan’s Labyrinth pulls one of the evening’s three possible major upsets, it means a virtual lock for The Departed as Best Picture. But a win for any of the other four and the water is still too muddy to call with any surety. If either Babel, The Queen or Letters from Iwo Jima could claim a victory here and set up a classic Director/Picture on the order of 2005’s Brokeback Mountain/Crash split. If Little Miss Sunshine were to win, The Departed’s chance for a victory increases, because in Academy history only three times has a Best Picture winner ever taken the top spot without its director being nominated, which would seem to make the bright Sunshine an instant dark horse. On merit, I’d choose Letters from Iwo Jima. The Academy will disagree with me and crown The Queen.
The effects of a backlash will not be strong enough to derail the one genuine phenomenon to arise from the Phoenician ashes of the Oscar front-runner/also-ran known as Dreamgirls, and that is the strength of Jennifer Hudson’s screen presence as Effie, a dream, indeed, of Florence Ballard’s tragedy reimagined as Broadway, and Hollywood, redemption. After seeing the otherwise shoddy Dreamgirls, a lump swelled in my throat when the credit “And introducing Jennifer Hudson” came up, and so did all the wonderful emotions of the performance I’d just seen. They were good enough to nullify the indifference I felt toward the rest of the movie, and that was good enough for me. And so shall it be with the Academy. I’m hoping Norbit will blow a hole in the enthusiasm for Eddie Murphy’s celebrated turn as the James Brown-Marvin Gaye stand-in in Dreamgirls. It’s a celebration by rote, to be sure, for a standard comic actor ploy—if you’ve made people laugh in the past, all you have to do to get people to notice you is frown a lot. Well, Murphy frowns a lot in Dreamgirls, and it ay just get him the Oscar he should have not only been nominated for, but received, for The Nutty Professor. Which would be a shame, but no real big news, I guess. My heart says Mark Wahlberg, and I think there’s a possibility fo an upset here, but my head says Murphy all the way.
We’ve talked about Helen Mirren, who we both think is as sure a thing as the sunrise and/or Rush Limbaugh’s inability to make sense on a daily basis. We both think Cars is a shoo-in for Best Animated Feature. But what about Best Actor? You’re backing the big dictator, Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. And I was too, until I saw Peter O’Toole in Venus. O’Toole instantly became my choice. And over the past few weeks, the way he’s playing the media, and the way his very presence is stirring up memories of his great performances (Becket played here in L.A. theatrically while Oscar ballots were still out), I think he may be the Academy’s choice too. I’m going out on my biggest, perhaps shakiest limb of the evening here, TLRHB: I think Peter O’Toole is going to join the company of Paul Newman, who won a competitive Oscar after being given a Lifetime Achievement Award. You might be able to call me silly on Monday, but here it is, Saturday, and I’m telling you that your dreams of an Oscared reunion of the stars of Caligula is going to come true. Helen Mirren will win Best Actress for The Queen, and Peter O’Toole will win Best Actor for Venus over Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland.
And remember how I picked Babel as the Best Picture winner in my first post? Well, I changed my mind. You’ve convinced me. The Departed will win.
Here are my predictions in an easily digestible format (why didn't I think of this 3,000 words ago, my suffering friend?):
Picture: The Departed
Director: Martin Scorsese
Actor: Peter O’Toole
Actress: Helen Mirren
Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson
Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy
Original Screenplay: The Queen
Adapted Screenplay: The Departed
Animated Film: Cars
Art Direction: Pan’s Labyrinth
Cinematography: Children of Men
Costume Design: The Devil Wears Prada
Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth
Film Editing: United 93
Foreign Language Film: Pan’s Labyrinth
Makeup: Pan’s Labyrinth
Musical Score: Pan’s Labyrinth
Song: “Your Town” from Cars
Sound Editing: Letters from Iwo Jima
Sound Mixing: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
My friend, this has been, as Jason Mewes might say, tons of fun. I only hope our readers thought so too. When that flying saucer-sized pizza arrives, I will indeed dedicate the first slice to you and your family, all of whom I hope to actually meet someday. (Oscar party at my house next year?) And I accept your modest proposal: let’s think of another reason to do this again real soon, and maybe rope some of our other critically minded blogger friends into joining in too. Just in case I failed to make it evident before, let me reiterate how honored I have been to spend time in your company this week making far too much hash out of something that, in the long run, means not a hell of a lot. But if having fun writing means anything, then this has been a meaningful week indeed, for me, for you too, I suspect, and I sincerely hope for everyone who has read and followed us thus far.
Now on to the Kodak Theater, and Oscar pool victory!
*** For further reading, as if you don’t have anything else to do, here’s Steve Erickson on the Man Who Should Have Been Nominated, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Jim Emerson, who has a clip guaranteed to get you in the mood for Oscar night! Also, a couple of additions to the Ennio Morricone stack: K. Lindbergs has a great article over at her thankfully resuscitated Cinebeats site. She knows a lot about a lot, especially lesser-known Morricone, and she's very strong on his many giallo scores. It's great to have K. back in full force. And Peet Gelderblom points out old friend Robert Cumbow's review of the New York City Morricone concert over at GreenCine Daily. Thanks, K. and Peet and Robert for making our Morricone education that much more complete!
Also, SLIFR pal Sal Gomez points out a last minute Oscar Predictions Contest over at JoBlo.com that is easy, fun and potentially profitable-- you could win a video iPod! But you have to get your predictions in to the site before 6:00 EST-- that's 3:00 p.m. for those of us on the West Coast. As of this wrting, that gives you four precious hours. I threw in the predictions I made above just to see what happens. Do you dare?!
Finally, just so we know everyone has their priorities nice and straight, tech expert Philip Swann has issued a red-alert warning of major newsworthiness to Hollywood celebrities attending tonight's ceremonies regarding the truth-telling effects of HDTV. Swann says, "In HD, it's easy to see why Brad Pitt left Jennifer (Aniston) for Jolie. She has beautiful, sparkling blue eyes and full lips. (And Catherine Zeta-Jones), the star of Chicago and Traffic, is absolutely gorgeous and it shows. Pity the aging Michael Douglas when he has to stand beside her in the HD broadcast of the awards show."
Good night, and good luck.
Saturday, February 24, 2007