My wife and I love each other dearly but she does not share my film obsession (unless it's a superhero or sci-fi movie.) So, don't cry for me Argentina, but I will most likely be sitting hunched over my laptop alone on Sunday night while my wife is upstairs flipping the remote randomly between home shows and the Sci-Fi Channel, and my daughter is bouncing up and down the stairs, trying to figure out which of us she can bribe for the most junk food. That will be me, because I think I will order a greasy pizza in your honor, wave a slice in the direction of Glendale, and wish we could be there with you and yours. My daughter, of course, will be anxiously awaiting the coronation of Cars and it could be a really ugly night if Lightning McQueen loses to a penguin or a scary house. So, I better pack in some extra chips to console her (and me.)
Ah, we're getting down to it now, aren't we? But, first, let's give some props to the people who make the magic happen. My guess is that an Oscar means the most to the artisans who toil in the often overlooked technical categories. Many times, it seems the Academy uses these categories as a catch-all way of acknowledging some of the really good films that got critical acclaim, but didn't have enough mojo to get acting, writing and directing nominations. They were solid hitters, but just couldn't make it to "the show," as Kevin Costner said in Bull Durham. (Hey, you should be ashamed that I had to provide the first baseball analogy.)
Anyway, let's look at Art Direction — not only does it have such expected high-profile pics as Dreamgirls and that horrific Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (one of the few movies I walked out of last year), but it also rightly acknowledges the naturalistic settings of Pan's Labyrinth, Robert De Niro's intriguingly gray-toned The Good Shepherd and the muddy, also gray 1800's London of Christopher Nolan's The Prestige. I'm sure one of the first two will win, but I'm pulling for De Niro's movie, which I really want to see again to form a definitive opinion. It seemed both ambitious and flawed (why did Angelina Jolie age but Matt Damon didn't?And, once again, when is the fine, steady acting of Damon gonna get its due?) But it was about something, and perhaps De Niro's biggest crime was trying to tell the history of spying in one movie when he really needed two or three. (Chant the mantra: Extended director's cut DVD! Extended director's cut DVD!) Still, I recall the range of sets — bombed-out World War II Europe, pre-war East Coast society, '50s buttoned-down, gray-flannel Washington, the cold, metallic gleam of Iron Curtain hopelessness. I hope it wins, thereby acknowledging a worthy, serious film.
Cinematography. First off, Dion Beebe's pulsing, deep-focus video work on Miami Vice should be here, but it's hard to knock any of the nominees. This may be one of the rare categories where everybody is solid. It's curious that neither The Departed nor Eastwood's two films are nominated. Truth be told, I'm a little tired of that desaturated, gray-blue Spielberg war look that's been picked up not only for Flags/Letters, but also is apparently the look of the near-future, according to Children of Men. Time to retire a cliche, people. It's nice to see The Black Dahlia here: I'd like to think this is as much an acknowledgement of De Palma's visual sense as it is Zsigmond's photography. The film had a smooth, noir-ish polish that was easy on the eyes, and should have gotten a nod for Art Direction, as well. Still, I think the winner will be Children of Men for all the rigorous long takes, and the hand-held set pieces when the car is attacked and the final siege on the camp. Despite my lighting reservations, it's visually hard to beat. Those cinematography aspects may carry over to the Film Editing category, as well. But this category would be the perfect opportunity to honor the jittery immediacy of United 93.
And some quick hits: Makeup. Give Adam Sandler's makeup artist an Oscar. Just for the sheer perversity of it. The toughest category of the evening might be Best Costume. How do you choose between the eye-popping, rapturous designs of Curse of the Golden Flower, The Devil Wears Prada, Dreamgirls, Marie Antoinette, and, uh, The Queen? Granted, the stiff plaids of Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe might seem a dull choice next to the French pop queen's frilly gowns and awesome shoe fetish, but the horse-and-hounds couture really does say a lot about Elizabeth's character. Still, put your money on the shoes.Dennis, I'm the ignorant slut. I haven't a clue on Sound. It always goes to the most expensive, special-effects laden movie, doesn't it? Speaking of, Visual Effects. I'm guessing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but I still say the most awesome special effect of the blockbuster films was that bullet bouncing off Supey's eye in Superman Returns. For that alone, it deserves the Oscar.
Okay, now to the last of the big ones (I really don't care who wins the documentary award, since Spike Lee's When The Levees Broke is ineligible but still better than all of them. I'm also mezzo-mezzo, as Jeffrey Wells likes to say, on the Screenplay awards, but maybe we should root for a Borat speech. Not gonna happen, I predict. And I'll concede to the majesty of Jennifer Hudson in the supporting actress category. But she really ought to thank the writers of "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going." How much of her performance is acting, or just singing the hell out of The Song?)
We've been talking a lot about "locks," but there's got to be a surprise somewhere and I hope it will come in the supporting actor category. I know our good friend Ross Ruediger is backing his pal Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children, as he should, but I just don't get what was so award-worthy about that performance (or, with the exception of Miss Winslet, the movie itself). Still, the man's heartwarming comeback story has been thrilling to watch, and I hope the nomination is indeed enough. I really don't know why Wahlberg was singled out over Alec Baldwin or Martin Sheen or Ray Winstone or, for that matter, Nicholson. I'd have no problem with Wahlberg winning, or even Eddie Murphy, but I'm really pulling for an Alan Arkin upset here. First off, his sharp comic timing was excellent in Little Miss Sunshine and the movie died along with him, proving how important he was to it. And he has been excellent in so many movies over the years, showing off an admirable range of dramatic and comic chops — The In-Laws, of course, but also Glengarry Glen Ross, Freebie and the Bean, Catch-22, Slums of Beverly Hills, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Four Days In September, Gattaca, Hearts of the West, and Joshua Then and Now (a really underrated movie). If the Academy believes in make-up awards, here's the one. Plus, he'll give a great, acerbic Arkin speech, I hope.
And now we come to Best Picture. Obviously, I think it should go to The Departed, but while we're wildly speculating, I can see the voters deciding to reward Scorsese for direction and giving old pals Eastwood and Spielberg another prize for their shelf and letting Letters From Iwo Jima take the Best Film. I could live with that (and somewhere in the recesses of my brain, something is telling me that I'm going to like Iwo Jima more in a couple of years). Dennis, I think you have already eloquently summed up my problems with Babel better than I ever could. The Queen doesn't stand out for me beyond the script and Mirren's performance and it looks like it was made on the cheap, which bugs me for some reason. But what I really can't bear is the idea of Little Miss Sunshine, the "sentimental" favorite, winning. And here's why: The first half is well-written, brilliantly acted, a model of tight, smart ensemble filmmaking. And then the minute Alan Arkin's character dies, the movie turns into a goopy farce that I have previously titled National Lampoon's Beauty Contest Vacation. Everything about the second half of the movie strains the bounds of even comic common sense: The feel-good dance-off ending, the easy way Kinnear's character wraps up disposing of Grandpa's body, and have I mentioned that truly ludicrous, idiotic ending? Hey, Kinnear's lost his book deal and his philosophical underpinning, his wife is permanently pissed off, his son has just lost out on a future opportunity that he was staking everything on, the Proust scholar has lost his boyfriend and his job, the little girl has been profoundly humiliated (and isn't it so precious and easy to make her performance bad to begin with?) and, oh yeah, Grandpa's dead in the back seat, but c'mon, people, get happy! Dance all your cares away! I am profoundly insulted by this film's simple-minded, self-destruction and its by-the-numbers resolutions. Michael Arndt, the screenwriter, should be ashamed if he wins the Screenplay Award for this patched-together hackwork that begins so scintillatingly well and devolves into an unintelligible narrative. It is the Crash of comedy.
Well, now, that was quite a gusher of venom, wasn't it? And Little Miss Sunshine deserves every drop of it. It will, I predict, also win the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday night.
Say, this has really been a blast, Dennis. Thanks for me inviting over to your blog house, I hope I didn't spill anything on the carpet, and I hope your readers have enjoyed it. A modest proposal: We should do this again sometime. Oh, I almost forgot. I've long been planning to have a little fun with the idea of Sherry Lansing copping the Jean Hersholt statue-that-doesn't-look-like-an-Oscar-but-a-futuristic-head-from-Metropolis. But in an industry that has the ability to honor Little Miss Sunshine and create the Jack Valenti Humanitarian Award, all I can say is that satire is truly dead.
Reeling back at ya,
(Go, Cars! Go Marty!)